Better Late Than Never: 6 Tips to Intentionally Support Remote Work
Times, they are changing—and gone are the days of traditional in-office working environments. Many organizations will never return to the days when everyone worked side-by-side all day, every day of the week. For some, this is a relief. For others, this change brings anxiety.
However you are personally experiencing this change, now is the time to recognize that remote and hybrid work situations are here to stay. When offices closed in March 2020 and everyone, who could, started working from home, chances are companies hadn’t yet thought intentionally about how to support an entirely remote team. That thought continued to be delayed throughout the year, as companies grappled with the challenges of figuring out how to retain and support customers, reforecast sales projections, re-engineer business models, and communicate often devastating cost-cutting measures to its employees.
Aside from all that, most of us expected to be working from home for no more than a month or two—so no need to adjust too much, right? Memorial Day came. Indepence Day passed. But by Labor Day, we thought for sure we’d be back in the office..and now, here we are.
2021 is in full swing, and many are still working from home offices or figuring out hybrid working arrangements. One thing is clear: Gone are the days when leadership will require an entire workforce to report to the office every weekday during the same hours.
While some companies will remain fully remote for the long term, many will settle into this hybrid arrangement. So without any further delay, as company leadership and people managers get intentional about supporting remote work so remote/hybrid teams can thrive, here are some quick tips to roll out.
1. Equalize to Engage
Whether planning projects, collaborating on tasks, or conducting other types of meetings, leaders will need to operate differently. In a hybrid work arrangement, on any given day, some employees will be present in the office while others work from home offices. While unintentional, team members who are physically onsite are likely to get more attention from leaders who are also in the office. Remember back in the day when some team members called into a meeting, it was considered an exception, and they were often treated as observers instead of active participants.
Now in a permanent hybrid or remote situation, it’s critical to conduct meetings in a way that fully engages all participants. This helps ensure that those working from home remain invested and productive without favoring on-site employees. Conducting engaged virtual meetings is a specific skill set, so don’t leave it to your managers and team leads to figure out on their own. Help them implement these quick wins:
Level the Playing Field: If there’s a meeting that involves workers both in the office and offsite, rather than have onsite employees sit in the conference room for the meeting, have all meeting attendees log into the meeting individually, from wherever they are.
Actively Increase Efficiencies: Don’t make assumptions about silence. Solicit input from participants by name. This might also make meeting leaders think twice about who needs to be involved, optimizing the number of participants for greatest efficiency.
If leaders don’t find a way to equalize the input from both on-site and remote team members, offsite workers may slowly grow distant and more removed. In this case, you’re likely to see burnout increase, and productivity and engagement decrease. But you can prevent this by putting prioritizing remote team members.
2. Implement Guidelines For and By the People
When goals are clearly communicated, workers, whether in office or not, know what is expected of them and feel empowered to perform to the best of their capabilities. No matter what expectations you set, it’s critical that team members have input. With input comes buy-in as well as engagement—both of which are key to productive employees.
However, there are likely to be limits on what your team can decide with regard to where, when, and how team members work. Perhaps headquarters already decided that employees must spend 12 hours per week onsite, and maybe you already know you want everyone in the office together one full day a week.
These structures make sense, but there’s still plenty of room for the team members’ feedback on other operational guidelines that enhance their daily experience, such as input on which day of the week will they all come into the office, other flexible in-office time, and ideas on how to work better as a team.
Rely heavily on team input to create these operational and pro-collaboration guidelines because buy-in from your team will be critical to success—so resist the urge to impose only your own ideas, and establish policies only after careful consideration and diverse input. You can try a quick survey and ask for candid feedback in your one-on-ones.
Finally, synthesize these inputs and put your new team policies into a shared document or team management tool so that everyone can see and revisit them periodically as a group. Commit to a schedule of review and revision as you and your team learn more about what works (and more importantly what doesn’t).
3. Shift Communication Expectations
According to the Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Overload”, the time employees have spent on collaboration in 2016 increased by 50% over the past two decades — and we can be sure this has only increased over the last year. Researchers found it common for workers to spend a full 80% of their workdays communicating with colleagues in the form of email (on which workers’ spend an average of six hours a day); meetings (which fill up 15 percent of a company’s time, on average); and more recently instant messaging apps (the average Slack user sends an average of 200 messages a day, though 1,000-message power users are “not the exception”).
Of course, in-person meetings and other types of synchronous communication like the above can be the most efficient solution in many situations. It’s understandable when everyone wants immediate answers to their “quick” questions. So while working remotely means you’re not going to bump into co-workers around the water cooler to answer or ask those quick questions, it certainly doesn’t mean you’re unreachable. It simply means we collectively must shift our expectations in communications timing and employee response times—and for good reason.
In a poll of 1,000 professionals who transitioned to working from home, 63% rated the flexibility of hours as the most important benefit of this new working reality. With this flexibility, part of being a successful remote employee means schedule sharing, so people always know when you’re online and reachable and when you’re not. Doing this helps shift expectations of when you can/will respond.
And if you’re doing your part, it’s time for companies to do theirs. Constant real-time communication, such as via chat or expectations of immediate responses to emails, is detrimental to productivity. It prevents the uninterrupted time that is necessary for team members to bring their full range of talents to their work, which is what makes them feel satisfied at the end of their work days. Additionally, when people are working remotely, leaders have less control over the hours their team members work. This makes synchronous communication much harder. Remote work offers inherent flexibility, but if your communication doesn’t adapt, flex-time quickly becomes ‘always on’ time and can result in burnout.
Asynchronous communication is a driving force behind successful remote teams, helping people focus on important work and collaborate more thoughtfully. An added benefit of prioritizing asynchronous communication methods is that it will encourage planning and more thoughtful work/responses. Some ways to do this:
Encourage the use of “do not disturb” mode in your team communication tools
Set clear and realistic expectations around email response times
Designate a specific channel for real emergencies or crisis that require immediate response
4. Connect for Quality
In that same poll of 1,000 professionals, two of the highest rated pain points of working remotely included losing a connection to team members and feeling isolated. So what’s clear is that when you do invoke synchronous methods like real-time meetings—whether one-on-one, with the team, or all-hands—it’s more important than ever to prioritize quality interactions over transactions.
When team members are physically together, informally interacting with colleagues before a meeting or during lunch helps make work more fun and rewarding. But now, with back-to-back video calls, agendas are often stripped to transactions—all the objectives, budgets and projects that must be addressed and nothing more.
If leaders want to foster an inclusive and friendly culture in which team members care about each other, provide opportunities for colleagues to connect on a personal level. Add a fun fact or question to the meeting agenda and set aside a few minutes at the beginning or end to have each participant answer. Designate one day a week for a department (no work allowed!) lunch over Zoom. Doing these things will create intentional conversations and connections that otherwise would not have happened—and even the most introverted of introverts will find it valuable!
Once people engage with one another and there’s some laughter, you’re bound to have more energetic and fruitful interactions rather than just transactions.
5. Monkey See, Monkey Do
Whatever your company and team rules might be, keep in mind that employees keep notice what you say and do—and they must align! If you tell your employees you’re concerned that they’re burning the candle at both ends, but then you send them emails during weekends, they’ll assume you want them to keep plugging away at all hours.
Just as telling, if you encourage team members to take vacations, but you don’t take your own, you’re asking employees to read between the lines. And without meaning to, you’ll be modeling behaviors that set everyone on the path to burnout. When you walk your talk, your team members thank you.
6. Keep Score
Want a way to tie all the above tips together? Easy…just keep score!
We know distributed workforces are here to stay in one form or another, and the key to making sure all of the above measures stick and to unlocking your team’s collaborative potential rests in keeping score! Not so much in a competitive way but in a data-informed way that infuses emotional intelligence into all that you do and empowers your team members to quickly understand how they themselves and their colleagues work remotely.
With just a short but powerful 12-minute self-assessment, individuals, people managers, and companies can gain insight into the eight characteristics that measure one’s ability to adapt to a remote work environment. After the assessment, you’ll see your own Remote Work Scorecard, and managers can see scorecards for their team members — providing insight into understanding the psychometrics around one’s behaviors, motivators, and ideal work styles. In just a click, you’ll have recommendations to help maintain productivity, tailor communication, and enable better performance while working remotely.
Managers and leaders looking for a deeper dive into team culture analytics can learn more here. With Remote Work Scorecards and cultural team analytics, leaders can create and enable company-wide and team-based strategies that support employee happiness, engagement, and productivity in this new environment.
Stay tuned for our next article where we’ll explore ways to increase productivity and optimize the collaboration tools you’re already using in Tapping into the Best-kept Future of Work Secret — EQ Everywhere.