Remote work is our new reality!

How can we make this sudden shift! Tsedal Neeley[1], a professor at Harvard Business School, provided the needed guidance. The following summary, drawn out of the conducted video call in which listeners were able to ask questions she offers guidance on how to work productively at home, manage virtual meetings and lead teams through this time of crises.

  • Organizations are not prepared for this sudden transitions. Looking at the scale and scope of what we are seeing, with organizations exceeding 5,000 employees, asking employees very quickly is unprecedented.
  • First thing that leaders and individual managers can do to help their employees get ready is to get the infrastructure right. To insure the technology requisite or access is delivered to all employees. Laptops, mobiles, software,
  • work resources and any other special requirements should be facilitated to all, so no one feels left behind.
  • As for people who are not accustomed to remote work, and to get themselves psychologically ready, schedule a starts and an end time. Have a rhythm. Take a shower, get dressed, even if it’s not what you would usually wear for work, then get started on the day’s activities. If you’re used to moving physically, make sure you build that into your day. If you’re an extrovert and accustomed to a lot of contact and collaboration with others, make sure that still happens. Ask yourself: How will I protect myself from feeling lonely or isolated and stay healthy, productive, and vibrant? Create that for yourself.

Remember, too, that you might actually enjoy working from home. You can play the music you like. You can think flexibly about your time. It can be fun. As for managers, they need to check in on people. Make sure they’re not only set up but also that they have that rhythm and contact. Ask: “What can I do to make sure that this sudden and quick transition is working for you?”

How those check-ins should happen? As a group or in one-on-ones? Via phone calls or videos chats? Well, first thing managers should have a group conversation about the new state of affairs. Say First, you should have a group conversation about the new state of affairs. Say, “Hey, folks, it’s a different world. We don’t know how long this is going to last. But I want to make sure you all feel you have what you need.” This should be followed by a team launch to jump-start this new way of working. Figure out: How often should we communicate?

  • Should it be video, phone, or on one of the communication and collaboration platforms that you use. Strat doing this regularly at least once a week. Frequency of contact cannot go down! In fact, contact should probably go up for the whole team and its members. Newer employees, those working on critical projects and people who need more contact will require extra one-on-ones. Remember, too, that you can do fun things virtually: happy hour, coffee breaks, lunch together. All these things can continue the connection you had at the office. And there’s ample research showing that virtual teams can be completely equal to co-located ones in terms of trust and collaboration. It just requires discipline.
  • People get used to having these unplanned watercooler or cappuccino conversations with colleagues, and they are actually big, important parts of the workday that have a direct impact on performance. How do we create those virtually? For some groups and individuals, it’s will be constant instant messaging. For others, it will be live phone conversations or video conferences. Some people might want to use WhatsApp, Facebook, or any other preference. A leader can encourage those types of contact points for psychological health. People are not going to be able to figure this out organically. You’ve got to coach them. There’s one more thing: Exercise. It’s critical for mental well-being.
  • Top three things that leaders can do to create a good remote culture. Leaders should make sure that their team members constantly feel like they know what is going on. You need to communicate what is happening at the organization level. Being remote at home might bring the feeling of extraction from the organization mothership. Make sure to email more, share more…

People will also start getting nervous about revenue and goals, so you also have to make sure the feel like they are all going to be ok.

Lastly, leaders need to make sure that no members feel like they have no less access to the leader than others. At home people’s imagination begin to go wild. So leader have to be accessible and available to everyone equally. While running group meetings, a leader also need to aim for inclusion and balance airtime to everyone feels seen and heard.

  • Productivity does not have to go down at all. It can be maintained, even enhanced because commutes and office distractions are gone. Of course, you might be at home with your partner or kids and those issues will need to be worked out.
  • If social-distancing policies go on for a while, entrusting employees is the most effective measure for employees’ productivity.
  •  Virtual meetings best practices, beyond the general advice to clarify the purpose, circulate an agenda, prepare to be called and so forth, to have some explicit ground rules about multitasking during the meeting, turning off phones. Whenever you have the ability it is recommended to have video calls conferences. It really makes a difference when people are able to see each other, and then trust people to follow the ground rules. When a meeting starts, spend the first six to seven minutes for checking in. Don’t go straight to your agenda items. Use this time to go around and ask everyone “how are you guys doing?”. Lastly, insure to follow up these virtual meeting with redundant communication to ensure that people have heard you and they are OK with the outcomes. You should have multiple touchpoints through various media channels to continue the trial of conversation. Don’t forget to encourage speaking up and allow people to disagree in order to sharpen the teams thinking which is a very positive thing.
  • For people in client-facing functions, the best advice is to do the exact same things. Take whatever you would be doing face to face and keep doing it. Maybe you can’t wine and dine. But you can do a lot. Be creative.
  • In organizations where you have blue-collar workers (blue-collar worker is a working class person who performs manual labor). You need to support those workers, by kind of collective action to help them because otherwise you are completely isolating people who are critically important to your operations.
  • In case you sense that, despite your best efforts and employee is struggling, not focused, lonely, what can you do? In light of such signs, fewer emails, inhibition in group conversation, talk to them. Increase contact and encourage others to, as well. Understand where they are, and what they need.
  • This crisis is for sure changing the teams and organization priorities. Organizations, teams, and people will experiment more with virtual work. Many of them have always wanted to test it as way of expanding their reach or labor force. It’s not that people are going to permanently adopt this new format of work, but this experience will expand everyone’s capacity. If there’s a tiny positive aspect to this mess we’re finding ourselves in, it’s that we’re developing certain skills that could helpful in the future.

Author: Ammar Daghlas

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