In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, organisations globally are now living the reality of what their business looks like when the majority of its workforce is remote.
For those of us who work remotely on a regular basis, we know that it’s not as easy as it may seem. The distractions are plentiful, it can be harder to feel motivated, human connection is dramatically reduced – and all of this has an impact on how effective we can be.
A global survey last year found that many remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work (22%), loneliness (19%) and communicating (17%). Another study found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.
The first day or two of homeworking can feel quite fun – it’s different, you don’t have to get up as early, there’s no morning commute – but then reality sets in and it can become a real challenge. For people who are used to seeing colleagues or customers every day, feelings of isolation can creep in quickly as can a loss of focus, energy and creativity.
There are so many benefits of remote working, for both people and business spanning wellbeing, productivity and the environment. A possible upside of this situation is that it may prove the case for more flexible working within companies who have been slow to adopt it. However, these benefits only come into play if the very notion of remote working is carefully thought through and planned, at individual, team and company levels.
One of the greatest challenges is that many organisations assume that people will just do it well or adapt easily to it. Businesses may also provide staff with a virtual working tool – and consider the job to be done. However, dropping people into a completely different way of working with a new video communication platform but no support doesn’t work. We have to think about keeping people feeling connected, feeling that they’re still part of a team and feeling that there’s a strong support network in place.
How can we keep ourselves and our teams positive, connected and productive? Here are ten key things to think about.
1. Don’t focus on tools alone
With video communication, webcasting, messaging platforms and more, we have the technology to make this work. But attitudes and behaviours are just as vital – talk about what is important to make remote working effective in your team and how you’ll behave to support that.
2. Create a third place
There’s the office, there’s home and then now there is a virtual third place – where you and your colleagues need to collaborate effectively – whether that’s via calls, virtual meetings and more. Agree guiding principles for this third place e.g. it’s acceptable to send a quick message to say “I’ll call you back” if you’re deep in focus.
3. Ensure social continuity
When we work remotely, our exchanges become more formal and task focused. Pick up the phone, or send a quick message, just to see how someone else’s day is going. Create connection with virtual team check-ins at the start and end of each day replicating the usual social greetings.
4. Adapt working structures
What works in the office may not work remotely. Instead of lengthy meetings, try short virtual huddles with a strong chair. Ensure people’s voices don’t get lost because they’re not physically visible. Apply this thinking to team resourcing, scheduling and action planning.
5. How are we feeling?
When teams are remote it is critical to tune into their feelings. Spend five minutes at the start of every virtual meeting to say hello properly and see how people are. Choose two different people to call each day for a five minute check in.
6. Help people to manage distraction
The biggest barrier to homeworking is distraction. Think about what your main distractions are and talk openly with colleagues about how you’re managing them – specific break times and little rewards throughout the day work well.
7. Say thank you more
We have a human need to feel valued and when we work remotely the opportunities for this diminish. Say thank you to your colleagues and your team in a virtual way – and actively share stories of success, no matter how small.
8. Energising – your way
What gives us energy is different for everyone but you and your team need to work it out fast. A tried and tested formula is breaks + movement + fresh air (every so often). Plus avoid the lure of the biscuit cupboard with healthy snacks instead.
9. Embrace a different lens
The current COVID-19 situation may mean that you’re looking through a new window into people’s homes, families and wider lives in a way that you never have before. Embrace that and use it as an opportunity to take an interest in people and connect on a more human level.
10. Be human
With schools and nurseries closed, the impact on how we and those around us are able to work will be even greater. Be empathic with others as well as open and honest about your own working patterns (and limitations).
We have a saying in our business that ‘words create worlds’. We also have a belief that over and above everything, what we remember, especially at times like this, is how people made us feel. This is essential at a time when the colleagues around us (albeit virtually) will be facing a range of challenges, some very personal and difficult to manage.
My best advice, as we all weather these unprecedented times, is to challenge yourself at every turn to remember all of the human beings behind the laptops in both the words you choose and the course of action you take.