Without question, COVID-19 has disrupted and challenged our conventional approach to work and communication, and has forced many organizations to pivot toward remote work. For many companies, the reactive shift has exposed holes in their understanding of many remote tools from video conferencing platforms to a basic lack of standard operating procedures.
If you haven’t already accepted remote work into your workforce but have acknowledged the reality that you need to, we offer the following considerations and tips:
What’s in the toolbox?
Once you have identified those roles that can be done without physical presence on a worksite, the most critical aspect of remote infrastructure starts with technology.
At the very least, your toolkit should include the following:
- Equipment with the right features (cameras & mics?)
- Cybersecurity protection & training
- IT support
- Individual access to Wi-Fi and/or VPNs
- Cloud-based file sharing
- Video conferencing and audio conference platforms
- Project-management tools
- Time-tracking tools/meeting planners
- Informal chat or communication channels
- Electronic signature applications
What’s the plan?
Acquiring and distributing the equipment and resources necessary may very well be the easiest box to check. Regardless of how your staff is assigned, managing a team remotely can present a challenge for any manager.
As a leader, how do you keep your team unified, motivated, and productive?
- Setting clear expectations becomes essential for a dispersed team. Organizations will want to establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or quickly modify existing SOPs to accommodate remote work to ensure work is performed consistently and seamlessly across the workforce. Deadlines and planned progress check-ins should be programmed into expectations for deliverables from the beginning.
- Regular communication needs to be nurtured. Leaders should lay out how day-to-day formal and informal communication chains will take place. These may be in the form of weekly team video conferencing meetings for updates and accountability, scheduled 1:1 meetings, Q&A chat forums online, phone calls, etc. Tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams offer channels that can be customized and compartmentalized to aid in the communication flow. Electronic whiteboards encourage collaborative brainstorming and idea-mapping.
- Replace the open door with an accessible phone line. Leaders who want to keep their team engaged and motivated are not only easily reachable or responsive, they are also supportive and reassuring when team members call for help and questions. Can’t answer the phone all the time? Then respond to your emails and texts in a timely manner. Being responsive reinforces trust and builds confidence that you have your employees’ backs.
- Leaders should lead by example and reinforce proper data storage and sharing. In a remote workforce, piles of paper on a personal desk is not ideal. Employees will no longer be able to pop their head in someone’s office and abruptly ask for the “TPS report” off their desk. (That’s a little “Office Space” reference there.) Not only do paper records make it more difficult to collaborate remotely, they increase the risk of company data loss if they never make it back to an actual office. Employees need to understand how to maintain their data electronically and securely, how to file it, and who to share it with so that the team can work fluidly.
- What is work time? What isn’t? For non-exempt employees, a clear expectation of how to track time worked, when an employee must be accessible, and how long work should be performed are critical for remote compliance and/or morale. For exempt employees, “leaving work” and transitioning to personal time might become more difficult, but will be very important to maintain their effectiveness. An enlightened remote leader acknowledges that “working from home” does not equate to “always working.”
Change is hard…
With an unplanned transition to remote work, organizations risk missing leadership of a key component that is outside of their direct control: the remote workspace.
Many employees may not have a space in the home that is “work ready.” Employers who truly want to set their employees up for remote work success need to share tips and resources on home officing.
- Are your employees able to set “office hours” at home with their family members? Being able to separate personal and work time may not be realistic for home workers depending on the presence of young children, pets, spouses, roommates, or extended family/friends in the household. When employees cannot set work time without interruption, organizations need to factor this in and either accept the cat on the lap in a video conference or reframe work hours, so that employees can best leverage time when they can focus.
- Do your employees have the personal resources they need to work from home, like a desk? Don’t be surprised if you find your employee on a video conference with a headboard in the background while sitting on the floor. Either allow them to turn off the camera or give them access to a vetted VPN, so they can work from a location that is a little less personal. Encouraging employees to share best practices and ideas on a conference call huddle on how to make their homes more remote-work friendly not only maintains participation in group conversation, but also allows the team to build support networks and possibly have a much-needed laugh.
- Do your employees have access to headsets or headphones with mics for their audio conferences? Not everyone has these at the ready, and it may take time to acquire them. Organizations should factor these in as a business expense/essential equipment if they don’t want to hear the kids in the next room.
Back to that much-needed laugh…
Having fun and informal communication should not be underestimated in a remote workplace. Take advantage of opportunities to share “knucklehead” moments with each other in meetings or have virtual “happy hours,” as these can be critical to maintaining an actual remote team.