Companies everywhere are, in a moment of necessity, converting what had been a traditional workplace into one where the team works remotely.

The impetus for most is the current COVID-19 virus and the restrictions placed upon people gathering in anything other than a small group at most. While some companies may have taken a more considered paced approach to the concept, the challenges for all remain very similar.

As mandates for how we will conduct ourselves socially, both at work and home are driven by the health necessities of the current crisis, there are realities with which we must deal, there are challenges inherent in any unprecedented situation, and there are opportunities presented that we, as leaders, may have not considered.

Assess the Toolbox

Assessing the current capacity of the team members to conduct their work remotely is, of course, the necessary first step.

While what follows is not an exhaustive list, these are some initial questions that you might ask to ensure your team members can work effectively from a new remote location:

  • Provide contact information (team members and vendors) for technical expertise and support?
  • Check-in with your people. What is the state of their technology now that you are asking them to work from different locations?
  • Do your team members have internet access from their home location?
  • Can they access the critical software that is critical to them completing their work?
  • Are calendars and works schedules shared digitally? Do we have protocols in place to help with the scheduling and coordination of time?
  • With people working remotely does it change how we expect our people to collaborate differently using Slack, Email or other real-time collaboration?
  • Does your company have the capacity to conduct virtual meetings?

Taking some time to come to a clear understanding of the previous questions will provide your business with a starting place from which to have the equally important questions of how we will function in this new paradigm?

Show Belief & Confidence

At the beginning of such a shift in our work paradigm, it is very important to set a tone of belief, confidence, and understanding.  Expressing belief in the team and their abilities to rise to the challenge is a cornerstone of the virtual world.

The message that “we care about you, we trust you, and we need you to be at your best” will be far more resonant to the team than an initial list that heavy on proscriptive behaviors and expected production.  A conversation about “assuming positive intent” and “granting one another grace” as new skills are learned, people struggle to log onto a virtual meeting for the first time, or collective work is inadvertently modified while sharing a document inexpertly through Google Apps. During this initial phase kindness, patience, encouragement and repeated messages of reinforcement and belief, will be the most effective strategy. 

Over Communicate

Communicating regularly in the remote world is not as familiar to many of us as walking down the hallway and sharing small bits of information door to door.

Making communication regular and predictable wherever possible, for example, every other day at 8:00 AM, regarding items of common understanding and shared concern, will help to establish supportive routines.  The team will know where to look for information and they will quickly become comfortable with the format.

In a remote world, making sure that everyone is included in the communication, and that they have opened and read it is really not that much different than in the traditional office. The main difference again is the inability to manage by walking around.

Check-In Regularly, Just do it Virtually

Virtual check-ins with the team are first a great way to practice the skill of attending and partaking in virtual meetings. These can be intentionally quick two or three item mini-meetings where the team shares and understandings of expectations are confirmed. These are also a great place to bolster the virtual environment through collegial interaction.

Work for Clarity & Understanding

As a leader, it is important in the remote world to ensure that all who have responsibility for a given task or section of the work are operating with the same understandings. Distance and isolation eliminate the opportunities present to pick up information through co-workers informally.  Establishing protocols around the use of virtual shared calendars and shared documents will help the work go smoothly from the beginning.

Share Best Practices

In a move to a remote workplace, the leader will find that there are team members who are exceptionally talented in this space. Setting up times to listen to their suggestions one on one is a good use of the leader’s time. Structuring some of the virtual meetings with time for sharing about best practices and innovations, with regard to the remote working environment, will help create shared ownership in the overall success of the new paradigm.

As the Dust Settles, Evaluate the Future

With regard to opportunities, inside this drastic shift is a wealth of potential cost-saving measures that you the leader, may wish to leverage in the future.  If the remote construct shows itself to be conducive to the work your business performs it can be an attractive enhancement to employment with your organization in the future. Eliminating just one commute per week can make 45-50 days per year much more enjoyable for your team members. The ability to work on a different schedule one day per week may align with times in the day when some employees are most productive. Some businesses have actually combined the concepts of a four-day workweek and a partially remote working environment and seen productivity actually soar. While necessity may be the mother of invention, a crisis will force us even further into places where our zones of familiarity and comfort are stressed. As leaders, how we perceive that challenge and make the new reality work to our advantage, is where success in the remote workplace will be found. Making a new reality “our idea”, a place of shared commitment, accountability, and productivity, is the goal.

The message that “we will succeed” in spite of the imposition and discomfort the current health crisis has caused, will be a welcome message of hope and positive direction to our team members.

For more information on how to to create this message of hope remotely, contact us here.