Many workers have been thrust into working remotely, and leaders and employees alike are trying to navigate this new work reality. An abrupt shift to working from home can bring about a variety of challenges that can affect productivity, morale, creativity, and more. Employees are looking to leadership more than ever to provide a realistic and effective groundwork during this transition from working at your office to working in your living room. These six Cs of working remotely will allow leaders to continue to support their employees while working toward their mission during this most unusual time.
Although you may have seen this one coming from a mile away, there are details worth noting surrounding how our communicative habits are transformed from an office setting to a remote work environment. According to the Harvard Business Review, “email alone is insufficient.” Deploying a weekly, or even a daily, email won’t cut it if you want to keep your communication in line. Using video conferencing is a must, as the absence of body language and visual facial cues can create misunderstandings and foggy messages. “These misinterpretations create an anxiety that can become costly, affecting morale, engagement, productivity, and innovation.” Outline rules of engagement that touch on frequency, means, and timing, so that your entire team (including executive leadership) has a shared set of communicative expectations. Companies such as Merck have created acronyms for their digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that bring predictability and certainty to online conversations. In uncertain circumstances, structure is what will keep communication practices efficient and effective given the new climate.
Miscommunication and misinterpretation occur inside of office doors, so as a leader, you can expect that with the extra challenges and obstacles in place, conflict will arise between remote employees. Whether it’s due to emotions running high, an uncomfortability with remote work, or a lack of understanding between teammates, it’s essential to keep an eye on potential conflicts and prepare your leadership team to handle disaccord out of the office. Your strategy might change regarding how you resolve conflicts and strengthen your team’s bond. According to the Harvard Business Review, “conflict avoidance is one of the most corrosive attributes of many company cultures.” The worst thing you can do is expect the disagreement to dissipate by turning your head. “Because of the lack of face-to-face contact, which helps to accelerate empathy, task-related disputes can more quickly devolve into relationship conflicts.” Don’t let problems fester; address the issue when it arises and don’t wait until the next formal video meeting to figure it out. Anticipating conflict is the best way to head off potential escalations and being transparent about the issue will lead to trust and respect.
If you ask employees what they miss most about coming to the office (besides the free coffee), their answers will most often revolve around companionship. The 5-minute break room chats, the casual cubicle banter, and the conversations over lunch promote a sense of belonging and connection that is often the hardest part about working from home. To avoid feelings of isolation or an island-like community, prioritizing virtual social interactions is essential to the health of your team. An article on forbes.com lists 5 ways to connect virtually, including hosting virtual happy hours, eating lunch together virtually twice a month, and creating a separate means of communication for non-work-related casual chats about what you did over the weekend or a funny article that you just read. When you’re accustomed to face-to-face communication, you might be thinking that this virtual means of connecting sounds artificial, forced, or even awkward. After a couple of times, it’ll seem way more normal than you might think.
The game of telephone that we played as children seems to have prepared us for real-life communication at times. Messages can be misinterpreted without the presence of remote work challenges, so adding in those communication struggles only increases the chance that what you heard was not actually what was said or meant. In times of remote work, you can never be too clear. Overcommunication is your ally and brevity can be your enemy. Just as you find the lack of visibility on projects disorienting as a leader, a lack of project clarity can be just as devastating to your employees. Dropping by your desk to ask a quick question isn’t in the cards right now, so it’s essential that employees have the access to information and the answers to questions that their role demands. According to Slack, you shouldn’t make assumptions about things that may seem obvious to you,” and you must “describe exactly what you mean, even if you think you’re repeating yourself.” It’s all about insisting on specifics and “a good rule of thumb is to make sure that every action item has a clear owner, channel, and deadline.”
Every business has its own style, vision, and collaborative spirit that makes up their unique company culture. So how do you maintain a strong sense of culture when your team is spread out across the city? A Glassdoor study “revealed that most people believe a strong company culture will make them happier at work than earning a high salary.” Culture is imperative to the success of your business and its employees. Your business has outlined values for a reason, and when you switch to remote work, it’s essential to ensure that all of your actions continue to be tied to your value system. If your culture is strongly rooted in open communication, creative collaboration, and ongoing feedback, it’s time to decide how you want your team to operate now that you’re not in the same room, or building. Your culture is equally grounded in how you operate and how you celebrate. Keep up with your rituals and traditions, whether that’s a celebratory beer via video when a project is finished or a photo of you ringing the sales bell when you close that deal. Do everything you can to keep a grasp on those little ties that hold your culture together.
Checking-in is not synonymous with helicopter managing or micromanaging. Structured and established check-ins should be more about ensuring that every employee has the resources that they need and opening up the lines of communication for them to ask questions, raise concerns, and share their ideas. Depending on the size and scope of your team and projects, the chats can be daily, bi-weekly, or weekly. The point is not to surprise an employee or catch them off guard, so make the calls regular and predictable by putting them on the calendar. A WAR (Weekly Action Review) meeting is a useful way to get together with your direct reports and clear anything up before the weekend approaches. Also consider striking out a day for all meetings such as Monday, to start the week off on a solid note. End-of-day check-ins are an effective way to ensure that employees’ projects are running smoothly and that the next day will start without any unforeseen hiccups.
According to Harvard Business School, “Before the coronavirus hit, 5.2% of U.S. employees reported telecommuting most of the time, while 43% worked from home at least some of the time. Now, with the pandemic shuttering workplaces, that figure has skyrocketed globally.” Employees are missing the natural rhythm and structure of office life, even though it might be nice to throw in a load of laundry in the middle of the day. Remember that there’s a learning curve for leaders and employees so it’s imperative to give grace and be patient. As a leader, creating respect and stability should be your ultimate goal. The big “C” that is affecting the workplace will go, so just stay focused on how you can ensure that your company will stay.
Read more about tackling the new landscape of remote work.
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