Coronavirus is now spreading inexorably round the globe and businesses are having to consider their part in trying to limit its spread. Thousands – if not millions – of employees may soon choose, or be asked to work from home. Facebook, Google and Amazon have already done it, and many UK companies are following suit. It’s a huge worldwide test for the widespread feasibility of remote working – but how do you make it work for you and your staff, without compromising output or team dynamics?
First, think about the practical requirements of working from home. Your employees will need a desktop or laptop, a good internet connection, and a workspace where they won’t be too distracted. Test all of this now so that your IT team can work on any problems before it becomes a necessity.
If your staff have children, get them to consider how they will continue to work if schools are closed. Conference calls with extra little heads popping in seems inevitable! But understand that childcare may be out of their hands, as with so much of this unprecedented situation.
The psychological impact
Successful remote working relies on more than just a good wi-fi connection though. Suddenly shifting all your staff to separate locations linked only by email and Skype will have a significant impact on team dynamics, and on individual employees’ performance and mental wellbeing.
What might at first seem like a great novelty and freedom (like a snow day from school!) could soon turn into frustration and inefficiency. Some people might really suffer from the isolation (while others will no doubt flourish).
To foster a high-performing remote team, your staff need to feel connected across the ether, and stay informed. Certain behaviours need to be nurtured that might not occur to you in the normal office environment. Trust needs to be established, and expectations managed.
Here are our top tips:
- Trust your people to do a good job from home – and make sure they know you trust them. There’s no need to monitor or micro-manage. The vast majority of people work better when they feel trusted, and will in most cases get their tasks done. It’s about overall productivity, not when or how they’re working.
- Set clear expectations, particularly if you are expecting something slightly different of them now they are outside the office. Make sure everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing when, and check they have what they need to do it.
- Use video for meetings and conversations – and encourage people to turn on their cameras no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first. Video will always enable better quality communication than just audio – it helps maintain relationships and trust. Do make it clear, however, that there’s no need to look dressed up – home clothes, home hair and no make-up is fine in Coronavirus world!
- Make good use of collaboration tools that support great teamwork. Interacting via the chat pane in meetings or by using collaborative documents, via tools such as G Suite (Google Docs) or Evernote, provides an opportunity for more introverted team members to contribute.
- Build some time into meetings for some personal chatter. Encourage some conversation about what you did last night etc. as you would while making the first cuppa of the day in the office. This will help keep relationships strong, and lessen feelings of isolation.
- Encourage impromptu conversation. Use chat groups to enable people to ask spontaneous questions of one another, just as they would ask a quick question in the office.
- Those little one- or two-word emails matter when you work remotely. It might feel unnecessary in the office, but when you’re no longer face-to-face a quick reply saying ‘thanks’ or acknowledging you’ve received something and are thinking about it is essential, so that nobody feels ignored or in the dark.
- Encourage people to take a break from their desk. When working from home it’s easy to end up stuck at your desk all day. Schedule time to take regular breaks and stretch your legs.
- Be aware that some people will suffer more than others with isolation. Those people for whom the social connection at work was really important may need a little more remote attention now.
Whilst Coronavirus lock-down is a highly unusual team leadership situation, there are always plenty of other challenges to face, especially in scale-up businesses expanding quickly. Want to learn more about successful team leadership yourself, or how you could get your people trained in it?
Willow and Puddifoot are experts in helping your leaders lead. And all of our programmes are also available virtually – so there’s an idea for a team bonding day while we’re all stuck at home 🙂
Find out more at www.willowandpuddifoot.com