Even with some states beginning to reopen, the battle against the coronavirus is not over and the likelihood of a second wave makes it all the more important to ensure your business can be successful even when everyone is working remotely. When done badly, working remotely can breed inefficiency, damage work relationships, and demotivate employees but when done right, it has the potential to boost productivity and morale.
Establishing a structure for decision making and effective communication is key to being productive when working remotely. Being isolated from coworkers and superiors can lead to uncertainty about how to address specific issues. This can be mitigated by working in small teams with a clear mission and reporting line in place, which will make directions and tasks easier to implement. This kind of set-up also allows employees to feel more connected to one another and maintain the trust that forms organically in an in-person work environment. When implementing this structure, however, it is important to maintain a common purpose and unified goals across the company in order to keep everyone on the same strategic course.
Leaders need to set clear direction and communicate it effectively. Providing a strong vision and a realistic outlook for the company helps to motivate employees to be more productive. Similarly, fostering an outcome driven culture within the workplace empowers individuals and holds small teams accountable to produce high quality work. This kind of culture is dependent on open, honest, and productive communication, especially when working in a virtual environment. Along these lines, managers should increase their levels of interaction with employees and communicate confidently and consistently to combat the challenges of trying the lead and inspire their team while being physically remote.
It is important to consider that during these unprecedented times, employees may be facing other pressures at home in addition to the isolation and insecurity that can come from working remotely. Leaders ought to instill a caring culture in which they respect and address any concerns or additional needs from their employees. A good way to start is by increasing social interaction by setting up frequent one on one catch ups in order to create a sense of psychological safety. Additionally, it is important now more than ever to be inclusive in the decision making process to keep employees informed as working conditions change.
Transitioning to remote working means finding a new routine, the first step of which ought to be spending time with your team addressing how you will work together remotely. Managers should work with their team to anticipate things that might go wrong and make a plan for how to mitigate them. Most importantly, everyone should recognize that workflow needs to change and establishing robust working norms and lines of authority is critical to make your new routine work.
In order to make this new routine work, communication is key. In a remote work environment, choosing the right communication channel matters. Video conferences are great for discussing complicated topics that require face to face communication and for creating a sense of community but they become unproductive without coordination and focus. On the other hand, chat based communication is useful for easily answered questions and email allows for more formal communication. Another useful tool is backlog management software for keeping on top of tasks and documenting progress. When engaging in discussions, it can be beneficial to have a clear agenda and a moderator to help keep the discussion on track. Should these discussions take place over video call, employees should be encouraged to keep their camera turned on to build relationships and maintain the use of non verbal cues. Most importantly, when communicating online, leaders should avoid pulling employees from topic to topic, as it can complicate the process of communicating virtually.
There are a number of things companies should make sure they provide their employees with to make virtual communication as effective as possible. Most importantly, all employees should have access to fast, stable, and secure internet, which for companies could mean expanding VPN access and bandwidth. A single digitally accessible source for information can help to keep everybody aligned and on task. Some useful softwares for this are Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, and some employees may require training to ensure they can use these resources to their full potential. Using technology is vital to keeping on track, so it is vital to get the basics right in order to keep employees motivated and avoid technical difficulties.
The use of technology can come with added security concerns, so it is important to make employees aware of how to safely use any new software they may not be familiar with. This requires a strong, yet practical approach that gives the employees the tools they need to be productive while managing data confidentiality and access. Managers should make it easy for their employees to comply with security requirements while simultaneously investing in strong safeguards to protect their information.
The most important part of transitioning to working remotely is being ready to recognize what is not working and change it quickly. The most successful teams learn continuously and actively identify the best practices they should be implementing. This of course, comes with the ability to rapidly set up mechanisms to share ideas. Moreover, employees with a better work-life balance are likely to be more motivated and ready to mobilize so employers should embrace remote working to define a new normal that drives productivity and employee satisfaction. During these unprecedented times, employers should work to make their company fit for the future, whatever that may be.