What you can do today to make life easier!
I’ve seen a lot of articles, blog posts, videos etc sharing tools that help remote work. These have all been great and very useful but there is something missing. The underlying, softer – if you will – things. While the right infrastructure is key, have you thought about: how you maintain a company culture when your workforce isn’t in the same physical space? How do pick up when someone “just isn’t themselves” and needs a quick chat over coffee? If a team is not in the same room will they fully understand what is required? Or do communications break down?
A lot of the research I did around this suggested that remote working be tested over a period of time. People work from home a couple of days a week, give feedback in terms of their productivity. The framework gets tweaked and tried again next week to see if things are better. Then maybe, just maybe, in about 6 months the company would have a viable working framework that can be implemented. But only with specific people and eased in over the next 3 – 6 months. Then suddenly we had a week to make things work! We got locked down. Maybe your company was one of those that glided into this and hasn’t noticed any difference. Or, and my guess is this would be most likely, you’re banging your head against the wall and the moment you can have everyone in the same room you will! This has probably affected everyone’s productivity. At a time when you can least afford it.
How can you fix this? What can be done now?
There are three C’s you need to focus on; culture, communications and commitment. This is what you can do right now, today, to help improve your remote working situation. Firstly, think about your language. How does the word “remote” make you feel? By its very definition it’s distant, it’s unconnected, it’s lonely, it’s far away. You team is distributed across a city, country or even the world. Far away but still connected. Let’s start talking about distributed work or teams rather than remote. Doesn’t is just sound warmer? Feel better?
In short, a company culture can be defined by “how we do things around here”. Perhaps this was something that you created intentionally or perhaps it was something the evolved over time. It kinda happened without anyone really noticing. Either way this is a great time to revisit your culture, get rid of the bad stuff and keep the good. It’s time for reinvention, but that’s going to take a bit of time. And we need solutions today. Think about this:
- When last did you have a team chat or huddle? Not a meeting. Not a discussion about a project. Just a chat. A chat to check in and see how everyone’s doing. A quick 15-minute morning online coffee.
- When last did you have an individual conversation with one of your team? Just a check in to see how they are doing. This could be done via a WhatsApp message or quick phone call.
- Have you thought about offering external psychological support (if you’re able to)?
- Are you sending out daily motivational messages? This may sound a bit cheesy but never underestimate the power of an inspiring quote.
- Are you and your team still having Friday afternoon drinks? Just because they might need to happen online doesn’t mean they can’t happen.
- Encourage water cooler/in the kitchen-type conversations between team members. They might not happen at the actual water cooler or in the actual kitchen. They might not be spontaneous like they used to be, but they can still happen. People can still have tea or lunch breaks together.
Your team have also found themselves in very difficult situations. Let them know that you care. Keep connected to them. Keep them connected to each other. Culture no longer happens by accident. It happens on purpose.
Body language is said to comprise about 60% of how we communicate. This will vary from one individual to the next, but let’s take this as being as average. If we’re not able to see each other, we can probably safely assume, that we’re losing about 40% of our understanding. If we’re talking to each other we still have the benefit of tone. Let’s assume that makes up 20% of communication. In written communication we’re losing the full 60% – no body language, no tone.
But… In distributed working written communication is key. It’s how you make sure every team member understands what is required. You must be intentional about your communications. They can no longer just happen, as they did when I could pop into your office for a quick chat.
As far as possible try and have video conferences. That’s right camera on. You’re going to have to shower and get out of your pyjamas! Being able to see people creates a stronger connection and, because of this, a stronger understanding.
Assign someone to take notes. Rotate this responsibility between team members. So people can see how different individuals understand things. Notes should be taken in a way that is visible to the whole team in real time (Google Docs or Evernote etc). If everyone can see the notes being taken, it will make sure everyone has the same understanding. If they don’t it can be addressed immediately. The notes (or minutes) are the backbone of a meeting or interaction. It’s not only the proof, it’s what we take away. It’s our shared understanding. Never underestimate the value and role notes play in determining an outcome. Encourage written communication after each interaction. This may sound pedantic and bureaucratic. But the focus is on creating shared understanding. It’s necessary!
Create a Slack channel or WhatsApp group so team members can communicate easily on an ad hoc basis. I can see your eyes rolling at the thought of yet another WhatsApp group. But this one isn’t going to be set up and allowed to manage itself. It’s going to be managed.
- Agree, as a team, what the rules of engagement are around this group.
- What can and cannot be shared.
- If a team is working on multiple projects, how each project message will be linked in group conversations? Perhaps create a list of hashtags for each project and/or each conversation topic. This makes messages easier to find later and helps manage the flow of communications. Agree on these hashtags upfront to avoid confusion and people creating their own hashtags that no one else understands.
- If messages are directed to a specific individual use a hashtag or @<name>. So, everyone knows what is directed at them and it’s easy to find. Once again, agree on and define these up front.
- If you’re over the age of 35 you might think emojis are very Millennial or Gen Z, but they can be a very effective communication tool. Decide what emoji’s can be used and what they mean. A picture speaks a thousand words and all that. Leverage this to improve communications.
Commitment happens on two levels. Your commitment to your team, as the leader, and their commitment to you and the company. Many leaders are stuck in what I call the visual work mindset; if I can’t see you working, you’re not working. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. One of the biggest benefits of distributed working is autonomy. Autonomy has been identified as one of the biggest drivers of job satisfaction and decreased employee turnover. But, it’s one of the most difficult things to get right.
Lockdown has put people in a position where they might have to work flexibly. They must have a certain amount of autonomy over how they manage their days. Parents are looking after, and educating, children. Without the normal external help. People might be sharing a workspace (like the dining room table). While showing empathy to these situations will go a long way, there are some practicalities you can manage as well.
Work needs to be outcomes based, not time based. Every team member needs to be very clear on their expected outcome. (This gets back to good quality communication.) Projects, and their implementation, need to be thought through and communicated. Perhaps this level of clarity hasn’t been necessary before, it is now. If people are clear on their outcomes it allows them the flexibility to work when it suits them best. Can you answer these questions?
- Who is responsible for what?
- What exactly is expected?
- By when?
- From whom?
- What are the milestones in this project?
- What is the final result we are aiming to achieve?
- We all need empathy and compromise. Understand that people are all working and living under very different, and difficult, conditions. While it might be impossible to accommodate everyone, at least try. Make an effort. Think about when it might be easiest time to schedule a meeting with a single mother.
Think! That’s the key to surviving Covid-19.