Where many of us go to work has changed radically in recent times. Organisations have had to rapidly transition the majority of their workforce to remote working and this will be the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future. This brings new challenges for the way work is conducted and accomplished, how customers needs are met, and how employee energy is harnessed and led.
“Companies that did not yet have a culture of working from home in place, are suddenly shifting now very quickly.”
Frederik Andseel, UNSW Business School Associate Dean of Research
In these unprecedented times, it is critical for organisations to understand how to keep their remote workforce safe, supported, connected and productive.
Here are some insights on how to ensure that the needs of your remote workers are met, and that the required level of engagement, collaboration and performance is maintained.
Operating Rhythm Essentials
Set clear expectations in advance of what your rhythm and the work plan for day will be. Be aware of individual work plans to ensure that they are aligned to the overall team plan and contribute to the achievement of the team’s goals.
By doing this, your team will understand what needs to be attained in terms of the routine and work.
Check-in with each of your people on a regular basis. Predictability is as important as the frequency so ensure your people know when you’re checking in and what you’ll be asking them about. Make sure you ask them about how their work is progressing and their general well-being.
Understand and adapt to new routines
Your team’s routines will not be like what it was in the office. Take the time to understand individual working styles. When are they most productive? Do they have family obligations to attend to? This will help you decide the most appropriate times to schedule meetings and check-ins. It will also help you determine how to get the best results from the team and each individual, e.g. setting higher targets in the morning for people who are more productive during this time.
Operating Rhythm takeaways
1. Cover the basics
Ensure people are equipped with the technology and tools to do their job and make sure they work for everyone — email, access to information, collaboration and communication tools, laptops, internet connection, and all other basic essentials.
This means communication, collaboration and productive work can continue to happen with every team member.
2. Hear and see each other regularly
Get on the front foot by setting up communication norms and encourage your people to connect with each other.
Don’t just rely on email and texts. Use video and voice calls as they are a much better vehicle for developing rapport, creating empathy and fostering a sense of belonging. Having this audio and visual connection will help to reduce the feelings of isolation, maintain the team’s morale, and remind everyone what they’re working towards and with whom.
3. Create an intentional space for socialising and celebration
“One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.” https://hbr.org
Informal interactions such as team lunches, kitchen run-ins and water cooler conversations won’t happen anymore and people will start to feel that. Not every communication needs to be work focused. Establishing a virtual space for these social rituals can strengthen relationships and drive collaboration.
For example, create a ‘virtual water cooler’ portal so team members can interact with each other spontaneously and independently across the day. Another option is to allocate time during the day where people can have non-work related conversations, e.g. after a regular team meeting.
4. Establish a Daily Operating Rhythm
While it is not usual for an entire workforce to be working remotely, it is still ‘business as usual’. Teams are still expected to achieve targets and deliver to customer expectations. The work has not changed; the way it is conducted has. Having a daily Operating Rhythm provides the necessary structure and clarity for the team. The routine will provide a sense of security and stability through a pattern of regular, predictable interactions and activities to coordinate:
- Communications within and across teams;
- The work and priorities; and
- Measurement and discussion of results to ensure the team is still delivering the outcomes customers expect.
5. Promote and maintain well-being
Taking care of employee well-being is important for all organisations and even more important for those with a remote workforce. Transitioning from working in a traditional office to working remotely is not always a straightforward and seamless process. Feelings of stress, detachment an isolation can arise and take their toll. For those working from home, establishing the appropriate work-life balance can be even more challenging as their living space suddenly becomes a work space.
A survey conducted by social media start-up, Buffer, whose entire workforce works remotely found that “49 percent of remote workers claimed that their greatest challenge is related to mental health. To get specific, 22 percent are unable to unplug from work, 19 percent suffer from loneliness, and 8 percent struggle with motivation.” 2019 State of Remote Work
Managers need to be aware of these issues, and put the right framework in place to ensure their people feel:
- Socially connected, and part of the team and wider organisational community;
- Maintain healthy boundaries and don’t burn out; and
- Have the resources available to support them, including external services.
Creating an environment of openness and inclusion can be done through your check-ins on your team’s personal well-being, gauging how they are handling their workload and maintaining regular team communication.
6. Continuing culture
Culture is regarded as the metaphorical operating rhythm of an organisation. It hums in the background and has a direct bearing on how an organisation operates and functions. The concept of culture is often tied to a physical workforce – the negotiated product of how people share and work in a physical setting. But culture isn’t a place, it’s a mindset.
“Culture must go far beyond the physical workforce.” Melanie Perkins, Canva
In a remote working environment, culture is reinforced through ongoing communication to maintain a strong connection to you as a manager, colleagues and the organisation.
- Team members need to feel that they know what’s going on so maintain communications like you would in the office – share updates, challenges, achievements and relevant news at both a team and an organisational level.
- Use collaboration and connection tools that match the organisation’s culture.
- Make face time a priority and make sure there’s plenty of it.
- Aim for inclusion and balance with regards to the access and airtime you give to team members so everyone feels that they are seen and heard.
- Integrate team building and social interactions as part of the team’s Operating Rhythm.
- Build a shared sense of accountability by setting clear goals for the team.
Mastering remote working is not just about having the right equipment and infrastructure. It is also about creating the right environment, understanding individual working styles and looking after your people’s wellbeing. By doing this, you can maintain an engaged workforce and a productive business that remains focused on delivering the right outcomes for your customer.