In the wake of the global outbreak of COVID-19, companies over the globe are encouraged to replace in-person interactions with telephonic and video conferences and let their employees work from home. Tech giants were the first to implement such arrangements, with Google, Facebook, and Amazon telling their US-based staff to work remotely.
With the mounting number of cases springing up every day, companies must implement flexible working arrangements for the protection of their workforce. However, when you are dealing with a large workforce, getting work done remotely can be quite a tough nut to crack. Communication gaps arise, managers are usually not prepared to supervise a horde of remote workers, and all this could lead to poor-quality output.
However, here’s the silver lining: Your productivity is likely to hit an all time high when working from home. A 2019 Harvard University study found that when employees are at a liberty to “work from anywhere”, they are found to be 4.4% more productive than those who work under rigid workplace requirements.
Well, the adjustment can be jarring if you are not used to remote working, and the isolation disruptive, but businesses are turning to technology to properly implement work-from-home arrangements to better manage remote workers. If you are making the jump to remote working, here are a few tips to help you get started:
Start From The Top
It all starts with the CEO of the company. They must be communicating proactively, present in online tools and channels, showing that they are available and approachable at all times, engaging in timely conversations where they are happening, listening more than pontificating, showing their personal side, revealing vulnerability, and praising and encouraging their people across the company.
When the CEO of an organization goes completely digital and remote, others will follow in their wake without hesitation. A caveat of remote working is that some employees tend to overwork without natural transitions throughout the day. The CEO can set a good example here by taking necessary breaks and going offline when work isn’t being done.
Provide the Right Tools For Communication
Managing efficient and effective communication is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to dealing with remote workers. Especially when your team members are spread out across various locations and you need to coordinate work hours or work across geographical boundaries, things become all the more complicated.
This results in confusion that causes delay in projects and slows down your progress. Without proper communication in place, employees can feel isolated and out of the loop, which further leads to issues with the management. Fortunately, companies can invest in digital solutions to help them manage tasks and keep everyone in the loop about projects and deadlines.
Ensuring inter-team communication can become quite challenging with a remote workforce. But software such as Microsoft Teams, Highfive, and Slack ensure effective communication between team members, and across departments.
The best part is that different chat channels allow people to stay connected to each other, brainstorm ideas and discuss work throughout the day. Even though your employees may already be using these instant messaging tools, encourage them to pay extra attention to their messages, which will become the main source of their communications during your quarantine.
Substitute face-to-face meetings in the office with video meetings where attendees can react to one another in real time and be in tune with each other’s expressions. Video conferencing software such as Zoom and Google Hangouts include live chat, recording, and screen-sharing capabilities, to imbue an extra layer of understanding to your meetings. Zoom has an added benefit of split-screen video conferencing to allow you to see all participants simultaneously, much like an in-person meeting.
Another challenge of managing remote employees includes maintaining regular workflows and keeping your team on track. For this, you would need a state-of-the-art project management tool. You can set up a software like Trello, Monday.com, Taskque, Asana, Airtable or Basecamp to assign and break down tasks, track project progress at a glance, and check status updates.
Another challenge of remote working is that employees lack access to the company’s internal servers. For this, cloud storage applications like Google Drive and Dropbox can come in handy. In order to make sure all your employees have 24/7 access to all videos, presentations, spreadsheets, and documents, you need to shift all your files to the cloud. Not to mention, moving to the cloud makes it easier to collaborate in real time and alleviates the need to send edited versions of documents back and forth.
Productivity and time trackers
If your employees are quarantined at home with their families, chances of them getting off the track is pretty high. Investing in quality productivity and time tracking apps such as focus booster, Todoist, and Toggl helps you take periodic breaks, track your progress, and better manage your time. With your time being managed, you can boost your productivity while working in a more comfortable environment.
Promote A Digital Company Culture
In most companies, interpersonal relationships and company culture flourish naturally when people are brought together, while business happens in the digital space. However, if the pandemic is making you go all digital, you need to discover online expressions for your culture.
Things that bring colleagues together in the office space, such as personal interests, family, community, gossip, celebrations, high-fives, office banter, and attention to each other’s personalities beyond the professional persona, need to be brought over to the digital world.
For this, you should create a virtual water cooler that allows for spontaneous encounters, letting employees play out their personal and human sides. Encourage employees to hold peer 1:1s or virtual coffee breaks to maintain human interaction and socialization.
Clarify And Re-clarify Goals
When your team is transitioning into remote working, you need to set clear boundaries and guidelines from the beginning so as not to create confusions. For a start, ask your employees to delineate their availability, such as how they are planning to address challenges such as childcare, how they can be reached for different needs and when they will be working. This clarity will set expectations for all team members and even prevent the go-getters on your team from overworking and becoming burnt out in the absence of the clear boundaries that office life provides.
Not to mention, since you will no longer be able to gauge employee performance based on hours spent in the office, you need to come up with new and measurable metrics of success and share it with all employees. When you are working with a remote workforce, you cannot even comprehend the importance of stay focused on goals and managing expectations. Instead of concentrating on “what is being done”, shift your focus on “what is being accomplished”. Accomplishment matters, not activity! As long as you are meeting your goals, all is well.
Maintain Open Communication Without Micromanaging
The importance of maintaining effective communication becomes all the more important when working remotely. Not only in terms of holding meetings and documenting decisions, but also when it comes to reaching out to your team. An HBR study states that 46% of remote workers preferred managers who “checked in frequently and regularly.” This further goes to prove that the best managers are often amazing listeners, err on the side of overcommunicating, instill respect and trust, and subtly inquire about progress and workload without seeming to micromanage.
Ask your employees what they are working on, if they need help in getting their work done, or what have they done this week. Conventional thinking says that a leader is responsible for coming up with ideas in a team meeting. However, if we throw conventions to the wind, remote leaders can make major productivity jumps. Asking the above-mentioned questions would allow all employees to stay accountable for their behaviors and actions.
Another crucial task for leaders is to recognize their cognitive biases as well. Research says that leaders are more likely to rely on employees who are similar to them – this behavior often leaves women and people of color feeling left out. Combat this behavior by ensuring that you are making conscious decisions about allocating information and tasks. Make sure to have touch points with everyone on your team regularly so that no one feels isolated.