While working remotely is a growing global trend, the swiftness with which companies have had to adapt to this workstyle, during COVID-19, has caught many off-guard. Several have not had the proper lead time to consider successful communication strategies while waiting out this storm. The following are some considerations and technologies that will make this transition smoother and improve your remote workforce strategy well beyond this pandemic.
Set Predictable Expectations
It is likely that your employees already feel somewhat insecure about how COVID-19 will impact their health, family and future employment. Creating a predictable work environment will go a long way in keeping your team focused on their work and connected with one another. Here are some strategies that can help achieve this goal:
Establish Normal Work Hours
The remote workstyle is typically characterized by a flexible work schedule. However, in these uncertain times and given the vast number of employees working remotely, communicating normal work hours will help create stability and set expectations companywide.
Put Caregivers at Ease
Many working parents and caregivers are working remote while their children are home from school or daycare. This can be stressful, particularly if they are trying to maintain the workload and professionalism that is expected in an office environment. Help relieve this stress by acknowledging their hardship and communicating that hardship with others who may not have this dynamic in their home. Putting working caregivers at ease, as well as helping other employees understand the circumstances, should help mitigate potential misunderstandings and stress.
Determine Response Times
With so many employees transitioning to a remote workstyle all at once, each might have a different expectation with regard to how long it should take to respond to a call, text, email or calendar invite. Create protocols that explain companywide expectations and exceptions to the rule. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a hard and fast rule, but rather a courtesy that reduces the anxiety caused by delayed responses.
Prioritize Video and Phone Usage
It is easy to rely on email and text when working remotely, but over an extended period of time many employees will eventually feel disconnected, detached and lonely. This may be a good time to prioritize video conferencing and phone calls whenever possible. Doing so will not only increase employee morale, it will also reduce misunderstandings that can occur when facial expressions and voice inflections are missing. Employees may be slightly put out by having to get dressed for the camera, but doing so will go a long way in helping them to establish a daily routine and maintaining their emotional well-being.
Although your office environment has been disrupted by COVID-19, it doesn't mean your systems and processes need to be. Continue routine meeting, checkpoints and accountability measures; or incorporate new ones if you feel it will add structure to your organization's remote work environment and keep your team connected.
Integrate Reliable Technologies
Once you’ve established rules of engagement with your remote team, it is important to provide the technologies that support these efforts to connect and maintain a sense of alignment. Some technology options to help make this a reality include:
Universal Notification System
An employee notification system increases the odds that employees receive important companywide updates by offering real-time, two-way communication across multiple channels, including text, email, voice call, and social media. Helpful in times like these, employees located in multiple parts of the country or world can respond and share feedback. AlertMedia, TrueDialog and Regroup Mass Notification are just a few who offer such services.
Many companies already have video conferencing capabilities, like Microsoft Teams, as part of their suit of software solutions. For those on a budget or who need more time to integrate technologies, there are some free or inexpensive options readily available, such as Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting and others that will send email invitations and sync with your existing online calendar.
Not all personality types do well working from home when it comes to productivity. Constantly utilizing a project management tool and encouraging daily progress reports can help to keep employees on task who may have a difficult time being self-motivated. Microsoft Project is a popular option for mid- to large-sized organizations, while smaller companies might opt for an online solution like Basecamp, Trello, Asana or Monday.com.
These are just some of the strategies and technologies companies should consider when moving from a largely traditional office environment to a largely remote environment. Those who succeed at working remote now will not only weather this storm, but future storms as well. You may find it so successful that you continue working remotely beyond COVID-19, giving yourself the competitive advantage of less overhead and attracting candidates that seek flexibility.