This winter, the prospect of more remote work weighs heavily on most of us. It’s yet another pressing issue for global organizations, amid all the uncertainty of 2020.
“How will we keep team spirit alive?” I’ve been asked,
“What remote working challenges do we expect?” and
“How can we support our teams, while people struggle with personal, professional, and safety concerns?”
While business itself has slowly warmed up, human issues have continued to lurk beneath the surface. But without addressing the ‘people’ needs of our fundamentally human systems, we can only expect so much success, for so long.
Remote Work: The Bigger Picture
Emerging from a chat with some of my concerned clients, it was clear that all had seen remote work as a TINA (There Is No Alternative).
Some strategic progress, despite the missing face-to-face element, was better than none.
But over the longer term, they knew their teams would face some challenges. I picked up on three ‘red threads,’ in particular, and here’s how I would address them.
#1) How Will We Communicate?
We depend on face-to-face contact for most of our communications. Without in-person interactions, non-verbal cues, and social perceptiveness, our risk of miscommunicating skyrockets.
Virtual meetings are no golden bullet, but in particular, they leave out:
- Customer feedback
- Cross-functional communication, and
- Opportunities to build strong team relationships.
Clear(er) long-term communication begins with clearer communication right now. Teams need a chance to air their concerns together, about how remote work is impacting them.
Some teams may feel certain issues need more attention, and want to to align more frequently. Others might believe ‘too many meetings’ are disruptive to a workflow. Still others struggle to align with other departments, while elsewhere, others battle with different time zones.
In all cases, a collective brainstorm helps you isolate your key issues. Information needs to flow across your organization as a whole for it to function at its best, and that will look different for each team.
Hold an organization-wide meeting to discuss important points, such as:
- Establishing a digital meeting ‘etiquette’ to ensure everyone has a voice
- Regularly cross-departmental updates to align and share ideas between functions
- Virtual meetups to connect people as people, and build relationships, and
- Proper connectivity tools to optimize time in meetings
Some teams may feel certain issues need more attention, and want to to align more frequently. Others might believe ‘too many meetings’ are disruptive to a workflow.
#2) How Can We Keep Our Culture Alive?
In crisis mode, organizational culture doesn’t feel like a priority. But when connectedness takes a backseat for too long, productivity suffers – along with people’s well-being.
Building togetherness while apart means making room for your team to meet as people. They need opportunities to connect on a deeper level and reintroduce that social element.
And it is possible, even virtually.
In my most recent work, I’ve heard some fantastic ideas for nurturing team culture, including:
- Monthly coffee meetings
- Virtual gaming sessions
- After-work Team Happy Hour,
- Team WhatsApp groups,
- Fun #hashtags for the little things, and
- Virtual quizzes.
Introducing a regular social meetup requires few resources, and all participants jumped at the opportunity. What works for you?
#3) How Will We Balance Work and Personal Time?
We have set working hours when we turn up physically, but the flexibility of virtual work often works against us.
It’s too easy for routines to fall apart when our work is always present, and for those with family around, there’s even more temptation to continue long after we’d usually stop.
As an organization, it’s important to set transparent guidelines around working hours. Outside these, it’s down to individuals to respect these boundaries. Detail what’s expected regarding response times and turnaround, and be conscious that meetings don’t eat into people’s productive time.
Where it’s necessary, renegotiate deadlines to suit different employees’ needs, and encourage breaks so people can recharge and relax.
While commutes and customers might not be around, remote work invites plenty of other distractions that can threaten people’s ability to plan in advance.
#4) What About Our Mental Health?
Conducting regular health visits and living condition checks ensures co-workers needs are met with regarding key health indicators (KHIs).
Remote working and the tumult of global health uncertainty undeniably amplifies the impact of life stressors for any team member, making people more vulnerable to mental health issues around depression, stress, anxiety, and isolation.
Organizations that recognize these concerns and take steps to support employees can greatly ease the burden felt by people, by showing that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.
Giving co-workers a voice, encouraging them to share their health-related fears, will likely reveal opportunities for management teams to respond proactively to key concerns.
Among them, co-workers may feel like they lack:
- Emotional support and empathy
- Structure and stability
- Communication, interactions, and connection, and
- Fears around the long-term mental health impacts of extended remote work.
Informal measures like virtual team get-togethers already go a long way toward helping people maintain morale and safeguard their mental health.
In creating inclusive environments where co-workers can connect and socialize, organizations help reinforce protective ‘buffers’ such as social support systems, which are a key coping strategy in uncertain times.
But there’s still more that organizations can do, given that mental and physical well-being go hand-in-hand. Conducting regular health visits and living condition checks ensures co-workers needs are met with regarding key health indicators (KHIs).
- Do team members have what they need to perform their work safely from home?
- Are they equipped to deal with emergency situations that arise?
- Is a reporting system in place for general health and safety, as well as psychosocial hazards?
- Is the co-worker aware of all resources the organization has made available?
- What arrangements have been made to ensure their mental and physical welfare?
Going the extra mile to ensure co-workers are coping, psychologically as well as physically, shows appreciation, while acknowledging employee voice by responding to their needs makes people feel valued.
Offering counseling, gym memberships, and mental health coaching are all great ways to reignite purpose, togetherness, and inspire positive outcomes in even the hardest times.
Over To You
While remote working can be more productive, it’s important for organizations to support the changing needs of their teams.
Every company will be different, and ensuring everyone’s concerns are voiced is the first step to planning for even more time apart.
Isolating different team members’ needs will offer insight into how you can support them, while revealing key themes that run through your organization. Some will be more high-involvement, but you’d be surprised how much low-hanging fruit is waiting to be harvested.
What are your key concerns about the prospect of more remote work? Drop me a mail on LinkedIn, I’d love to hear them.
Govert is Time To Grow Global’s Managing Partner, specializing in Strategy Facilitation, Leadership development and Organisational performance. Reach him on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.