Remote work is more mainstream than ever due to COVID-19. We share how you can easily cultivate a productive culture as a work-from-home team.
Given the unfortunate situation the world is in with the coronavirus pandemic, the internet runs rampant with discussions regarding how to effectively run an entirely virtual workforce and still drive connection, collaboration and productivity. Working remote is now not only practical but necessary.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, however, only 7 percent of all US companies offered remote working flexibility before the pandemic.
The current pandemic may become the catalyst for organizations taking a keen focus on moving to a remote workforce. But as Centric Consulting’s President, Larry English, shared, “the future of work is remote.” He says that “by 2028, it’s predicted that 73 percent of all departments will have remote workers with 71 percent of recruits saying working remotely would be a deciding factor in choosing a job, and 75 percent report being able to work remotely would encourage them to stick around longer.”
It’s coming up in conversations more and more – many employees want or need to work from home. Most organizations have portions of their company that work virtually, often in IT, but it’s not common across all areas.
Moving Forward with a Remote Work Culture
Processes and technical infrastructure are critical, but leaders must also adapt their management approach to support a remote workforce culture. Leading a virtual workforce can feel overwhelming and bring about new challenges, but it can also be gratifying. Below are seven areas leaders should learn to embrace to manage a remote team successfully.
1. Create Trust with a Capital “T”
Trust is the heartbeat of a healthy culture. The need for trust amplifies when transitioning to a remote culture. Remote working is a great environment to assess trust levels and provides an excellent opportunity to increase and build trust.
Many leaders fear the remote environment. But it’s not only about you trusting your employees. It’s about them trusting you. The more you show trust and abide by the norms and guidelines you and the team establish, the more trust will build between you. Also, consider:
- Responsiveness – Employees depend on you. Getting back to them promptly to address concerns or work-related problems will engender trust. As you plan your day and week, consider blocking time to address issues and respond to inquiries.
- Psychological Safety – Your staff wants to feel comfortable freely expressing their opinions and contributing without fear of judgment, harm or negative implications.
- Relationship Investment – It’s easy to walk by someone’s cubical or have a chat in an elevator in a physical office — so many great connections happen in just minutes. In a remote environment, this can be a challenge. Even if you manage a large team, setting aside time for one-on-one conversations is essential. These can take the shape of a quick, ten-minute touch base, but it’s important to connect with your team each week if possible. You don’t always have to talk about work, but be certain that you address any work issues.
- Recognition – Frequent and consistent recognition of team successes goes a long way in supporting and building trust. All too often, recognition gets lost in a sea of busyness. Use every opportunity to catch employees living up to corporate values, doing the right thing, and succeeding at challenges and tasks. Saying “Thanks” goes a long way.
- Two-Way Feedback – As a leader, regular feedback from your team will help you know how to keep them engaged and where issues might pop up. Ask for honest feedback, and accept any constructive feedback that might come your way. Then, share the feedback you received with the team and share what you’ll be doing to change. Take advantage of both formal and informal feedback loops to help you, your team and your company be successful in both the short- and long-term.
2. Practice Emotional Availability
Believe it or not, we all give off an emotional “vibe.” Most people can tell when someone is in a good mood or a bad mood when they see them walking around the office. Likewise, people expect leaders to “read a room” well.
In a virtual work environment, it’s harder to sense the emotional vibe. You’ll want to spend more time investing in how your tone comes across when on calls or video chats. Likewise, it’s easy to misinterpret word choices in emails and instant messages. Do your best to share your emotions, and be open to allowing more direct sharing by your staff. Don’t forget that a few smiley-face emojis can make a significant impact.
3. Establish Expectations Up Front
Whether you have an established team working remotely or this is all new to you, leading remote staff requires discipline. As a leader, establish expectations with your team from the beginning and revisit them regularly, starting with:
- Productivity. What are they responsible for accomplishing each day, week, month, and so on? Create clear deadlines and manage the outcome rather than worrying about what team members do minute-by-minute.
- Availability. Availability applies as much to the leader as it does to the team. The use of online calendars is a great way to help team members know when one another is available. In a remote setting, your availability should be clearly laid out and understood by your team, so work on keeping “open times” genuinely open.
- Breaks. Despite what some may think, remote employees often take fewer breaks, so you should encourage your staff to step away from their work throughout the day. For example, recommend your teams get up from the desk and move around for five minutes every hour. Ask that they go to lunch and leave the home office environment like they would in the workplace. And don’t forget to take this advice for yourself, either.
- Regular and frequent communications. Individuals and teams alike need regular communication, and they want to hear from you. In a remote environment, incidental or ad-hoc learning and communicating go out the door. You will want to create more opportunities to interact to keep everyone connected to the company and to you.
- Team norms. When you bring a new team together (or suddenly have to work differently), establish and periodically revisit team norms. These are the guidelines that shape team interaction and help newly formed teams operate smoothly. The same is true in a remote environment. Bring your team together virtually and establish your own set of norms. Revisit them periodically to make sure the norms are still appropriate for your team.
4. Conquer Collaboration Challenges
You’ll miss the old days when you could bring your best and brightest into a room with a whiteboard and let them spend an hour analyzing and solving problems. Collaboration in a remote workforce isn’t only about letting everyone give feedback on a presentation or document. Look for new ways to partner with your staff to solve problems.
Many tools, like Microsoft Teams, makes team collaboration easy. Along with instant messaging, group discussions, and the ability to share files easily, there are dozens of easy-to-use apps and integrations, including virtual whiteboards, to aid in collaboration.
5. Build Community
One of the biggest struggles in a remote environment is the ability to build community. Take advantage of technology to develop a virtual location where employees can go and talk about anything of importance to them. As the leader, toss in your own thought-provoking questions about weekend plans or favorite recipes. Think through all the conversations you have during a business day and translate that to an environment where all can participate.
When the coronavirus no longer prevents travel or large gatherings, if your team members are in different regions, plan to visit those spots at least once a year. Once there, find a gathering space (for example, a restaurant or a park) where you can bring together smaller, regional groups for some personal time and as a way to thank them for their work. The more you share, the more they’ll share.
6. Celebrate Successes and Champion Attempts
Intellectually, we all know we need to recognize one another’s accomplishments and celebrate successes. However, this is one of the first things to get tossed out of the virtual window when we’re in a busy season. Likewise, in a remote environment, it becomes an afterthought.
Build some celebration time into every team meeting, and don’t forget to share success on projects that are underway. As a sponsor, your encouragement goes a long way. Even if something failed, take a minute to recognize the hard work that went into a project — emphasizing what you’ve learned — and thank the team that made the attempt.
7. Set Boundaries
When you work remotely, the technology around you can become a hindrance to productivity. The buzz of a text message, the ping of a new email, the blinking light of an instant message — they’re all great tools but are magnified when you’re sitting alone in your home office. Learn how to establish healthy boundaries and new agreements on when it’s proper to respond right away or when it makes sense to wait until you finish a task or a meeting.
This is a problem in physical offices and in-person meetings, as well. For example, we show up to meetings with our laptops and zone out of the conversation because an email catches our eyes. Establish those boundaries with your team, and make sure they address those boundaries with one another.
Remote Work Creates a Stronger Workforce
The benefits of having remote team members are great for your business. You will have happier employees (and happy employees stick around longer), take better care of your customers and improve your company’s performance. It can be a challenge, but as leaders, you set the culture in which your team operates. Establish a healthy, interactive culture from the beginning so your team wins, you win, and your company wins.