Written by Rita Trehan, CEO of Dare Worldwide
Remote working has been adopted by businesses around the world for decades – the practice allows for individuals to collaborate across various time-zones. Beyond collaboration, flexible working provides choices as to where the work gets done, as well as a range of other benefits, such as higher levels of empowerment, greater trust and engagement, and more often than not a higher level of productivity. While many companies have been keen to promote home working, for reasons such as reducing costs, or providing more flexibility for working parents, over the last month employers around the globe have been advised to ask staff to work from home for a very different reason – the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
This pandemic is causing an unprecedented global disruption, and many businesses are beginning to grasp the challenges and opportunities that this situation is surfacing. As employees are completely separated from each other, (some for the first time), companies are seeing staff not only trying to grapple what it means to work remotely under less than ideal conditions, they are also most likely to witness just how the business operates. From a lack of proximity to each other, to ill-defined processes for how and who makes decisions, remote working is showing itself to be far more complex than ensuring a person has access to the internet. Company culture is bearing its soul, warts and all. The epidemic may prove to be the burning platform needed for companies to take a hard look at their culture and see whether it matches with what actually plays out in practice.
It’s a period of real change and challenge for countless organisations and it’s impossible to tackle some of the more systemic issues that will surface at once, so the place to start is for business leaders to put into action the steps that they can take to manage, support and guide members of their team without meeting face-to-face.
Here are my top tips for successfully managing a remote team:
Set clear expectations
Managing expectations is a critical first step towards remote working, both for managers and employees. It’s important to discuss expectations around working hours, levels of communication, meeting agendas and availability to ensure your team is productive right from the beginning, while also retaining a good work-life balance.
Schedule daily video calls
When your staff are not sitting next to their co-workers in the office every day, they will miss out on all the non-verbal cues to help gauge what a person is thinking. Maintaining communication with daily on-camera calls is essential – and it’s very easy and inexpensive to implement. Services such as Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams are all ideal for group video conferencing. Managers should encourage staff to make themselves familiar with the technology they are using, dress appropriately and give each equal opportunity to share.
Take advantage of technology
Video conferencing is not the only tool at your disposal during this time – there are a number of great collaboration platforms out there to help businesses work together, while working apart. Email is simply not sufficient by itself, so take advantage of software like Slack, WhatsApp, Zoom and Asana to manage projects and stay on task.
Make time for social interactions
It won’t take long for employees to miss the informal social interaction of an office setting; chatting over coffee, lunch-time walks and outings with colleagues are sadly no longer the norm. Therefore it’s important to encourage a new type of social interaction. Set aside time during daily video check-ins to chat about anything non-work related, set up a new messaging group for staff to share gifs and jokes, and encourage your team to have those fun conversations when they need to.
Support individuals with one-to-ones
While companies are certainly struggling, it’s important to remember the needs of individuals. Self-isolation can be very lonely, especially for those without partners or family members to support them. I’d recommend scheduling regular one-to-one video calls to help anyone who might be struggling with the mental effect of working alone, to allow each person the time to raise any worries they might have.
There’s no doubt that we are in uncharted waters. With the majority of the population now advised to work from home and school closures forcing working parents to juggle their jobs and childcare, it’s vital for employers to be flexible. Allow for different working hours where possible, and distribute work fairly to take the pressure of those who may be looking after young children at home.
There’s no doubt that working from home will be the new normal for the foreseeable future. It’s a daunting prospect and it will take time for staff to adapt to their new working environment. It’s the role of managers and business leaders to be an example for their teams at this time of uncertainty. Be patient and above all, be understanding – we’re all in this together.