As businesses around the world shift to a remote working environment, many are grappling with best practices and tactics to ensure productivity and well-being in their workforce during these challenging times.
To make the transition as smooth as possible, those who lead remote teams need to be equipped to lead their teams effectively.
The number of remote employees in the workforce has grown exponentially in recent times. According to Careerswiki, remote work opportunities have grown by 44% in the last five years, and remote work positions have increased by over 159% since 2008.
In regular times, more than 5 million Americans now work from home at least half the time.
Today, with businesses across the continent forced to shift to remote work, as many as 80-100 million workers could be plugging away in their home offices.
Acknowledging the challenges
The benefits of remote work have been well-covered in the past: increased productivity for certain tasks, work-life balance, family lifestyle and of course, no commute.
But there are potential downsides to remote work as well.
When employees no longer gather together in the same physical location, it creates a very different dynamic. Face-to-face meetings, casual conversations in the hallways, and break-room socializing all bring people together in unique ways: when people no longer work together on location, those shared experiences no longer exist.
It doesn’t mean that organizational culture, team dynamics, and employee engagement levels have to suffer, but HR professionals and managers do need to find new ways to recreate these workplace assets through different channels.
With the emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020, many companies who may have allowed some remote work are now forced to dive headfirst into full-time remote operations, with entire workforces dispersed.
For all the management training that your departmental heads might have had, this may be the first time that many of them are trying to manage entirely remote teams; this while employees who might occasionally work from home, are trying to adjust to their new reality of not seeing their coworkers for the forseeable future.
So if you’re in those shoes, here are three ways to support productivity and maintain a healthy workplace dynamic during these challenging, unprecedented times.
(And since we’re the competency experts at HRSG, we’ll also include our suggestions for key competencies that can foster effective remote working for managers and employees.)
1. Set rules, expectations, and regular check-in points.
When employees are “out of sight,” they shouldn’t feel invisible. They need to know that their work is important and their efforts are integral to the organization’s success.
An employee’s contributions should never be measured in terms of the time they spend at their desks, but when people work from home, it’s even more important to quantify their performance in terms of responsibilities, targets, and deliverables.
Set clear expectations and predictable schedules around the times they need to be available to clients or other members of the team, and set up regular check-ins where they can report on their progress.
By the same token, remote employees need to be acknowledged when they make progress.
When in-person meetings are replaced by email threads, conference calls and video chats, the communications can become very task-focused, but remembering to publicly acknowledge remote team members' hard work hard work can go a long way towards making them feel appreciated, connected, and motivated.
Competencies that support this approach:
Ensuring Accountability and Team Leadership for building new accountability and recognition structures
Planning and Organizing for ensuring predictable schedules and regular check-ins
Project Risk Management, which incorporates business continuity and contingency planning.
2. Prioritize team building
When people don’t share the same space, there are fewer opportunities for spontaneous and informal interactions.
The opportunity to chat in the lunchroom or stop by someone’s desk to say hello are simply not an option for remote workers, and those moments are an important part of building familiarity and trust in the workplace.
Some organizations choose to schedule annual retreats where a globally distributed workforce can come together to socialize and brainstorm (obviously, not during the era of social distancing, though.) Others use social and networking technologies to create informal spaces where employees can let off steam and talk about topics unrelated to work.
Ultimately, in remote-work environments, managers and HR personnel need to take the initiative in creating spaces and processes that break down isolation and siloes and support interdepartmental collaboration and social interaction.
Competencies that support this approach:
Fostering Communication for building new formal and informal communication channels
Collaborating with Others, Embracing Diversity and Acting with Empathy and Compassion for bringing people from different cultures, regions, and disciplines together
Emotional Intelligence for effectively managing your own and others' emotions during a range of circumstances.
3. Leverage technology
The rise of remote work has only been made possible by technological innovation, and cloud technology will continue to enhance the remote-work experience. Supporting the remote workforce with the right technologies can make all the difference to their productivity and their sense of connectedness with the organization.
Of course, there are the baseline IT requirements that many organizations need, like VPN or other file access to ensure that employees can reach their files securely from anywhere.
In terms of tactical project management, email and phone calls will not go out of style any time soon, but newer platforms such as Basecamp and Trello provide more integrated tools that keep teams in sync and on track.
Socially oriented platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Yammer can support more informal, ad hoc text and video interactions among remote workers and foster a sense of connectedness for the company at large.
At HRSG, for example, employees have been using Yammer to share pictures of their new coworkers (i.e. their kids) during the mandated school shutdown in Ontario; memes and images that add a moment of levity to the serious situation on hand; and news updates as the situation continues to evolve.
New technologies are emerging regularly, and being able to understand, evaluate, and implement them is a key part of supporting the remote workforce.
Adaptability and Digital Literacy for adapting to and confidently exploring new technologies and processes.
Get in touch with the competency experts at HRSG to get started on your initiative today!