As the Coronavirus crisis deepens day by day, remote working is going to become the norm for companies of all sizes.
This sudden and dramatic upheaval has executives scrambling to set up employees to work from home with as little disruption as possible.
According to a recent snap poll in the Asia/Pacific region, 91 percent of organizations have already begun to implement work from home strategies. In the U.S. there’s no reason to believe the number isn’t as high, and in the days to come get higher.
Some companies are in a better place than others—companies that have supported remote working. But not many. According to US Census data, eight million Americans were working from home in 2017, but that’s just 5 percent of the workforce.
What’s most important is to have a solid plan and infrastructure in place to ensure success.
1. The Right Tools
Not everyone has a laptop, so partner with your IT team to make sure the right software is in place.
Tools such as Teamviewer (which is free) is one option for remote workers who need basic desktop access. Slack is a popular real time chat tool that will also cut down on email. Tele-conferencing is also important. For smaller groups and one on one meetings, Zoom is free and very easy to use. Google Hangouts recently upped participant limits to twenty-five. GoToMeeting and WebEx are also great for team meetings. If you need a quick way to share screens, try join.me. For more ideas, check out https://www.zdnet.com/article/remote-working-101-professionals-guide-to-the-tools-of-the-trade/
2. Build in Social Time
When many workers are remote, we lose that impromptu chat in the breakroom or by the coffee pot. Most people do not want to be isolated, and when naturally occurring socialization is lost, we need to purposely create it. According to SHRM, Loneliness is a pervasive and growing problem, particularly with Generation Z (18- to 24-year-olds) which, based on the responses, is the loneliest generation.
Managers should set reminders on their calendars to call each team member at least once a week, just to touch base. After all, when you walk by someone’s cubical or office, you usually take a few minutes to chat. With remote workers, such spontaneous interactions do not occur; you need to make them happen.
3. Set Boundaries and Guidelines
First, establish some structure. This is especially important if employees are working from home for the first time. Make sure employees know what the productivity expectations are. Set weekly and monthly goals together and discuss progress at least biweekly. One option is to start out with weekly one-on-ones and if productivity is steady, reduce it to bi-weekly. Have an agenda for each of these calls but also allow for open discussion around projects, brainstorming, or for problem solving. Get these on a set calendar. Use tools like Zoom for face-to-face time rather than always using the phone.
Don’t micromanage. Trust your employees to get their work done. If you have structured discussions each week you will soon discover if they are struggling with working from home. Ask employees to write up a brief summary of each of these conversations, including accomplishments, next steps, commitments and deadlines. If your company uses Office 365, OneNote is a great tool to track these meetings.
4. Keep the Team Together
One of the hardest things about working from home is that people tend to “miss” each other. Camaraderie is very important for morale and people need to feel part of something.
If you used to have a weekly face to face team meeting, continue this process using a conference tool. Encourage participation by “going around the room” calling on people to provide their thoughts and ideas. People who are naturally reticent in face-to-face meetings might be even more so on a call. Get everyone’s voice into the “room” at least once. Acknowledge and recognize accomplishments during these calls. Brainstorm ideas and solve problems, just as you would if you were all in the same room.
5. Get Creative
If celebrating birthdays is a tradition, sing happy birthday. You may not be able to share an actual cake, so be creative. A virtual cake will make folks smile and remind people how much they care about each other. Hold a virtual potluck where people share recipes online and use their computer cameras to show the food they are eating.
6. Set Boundaries
One of the dangers of working from home is not that employees get distracted and work less but actually work more. Sometimes to their own detriment. Even before the Coronavirus struck an amazing 59 percent of workers admitted that they checked in with their bosses or coworkers at least once a day while on vacation. And 23 percent did so three times a day. What kind of vacation is that? So, when it comes to remote working they may well similarly over-do it. Make sure that they understand your needs for productivity but also encourage them to have time for themselves—quality time.
Enabling employees to work remotely is critical during our current health crisis. But more than that, it is one of the top perks employees desire. If you or your organization has been hesitant to try it, this is the time to expand your flexibility. Just don’t be surprised if you find an increase in productivity, engagement, and morale.