Remote Work: Will the Coronavirus Lead to an Adoption of New Ways of Working?

Remote Work: Will the Coronavirus Lead to the Widespread
Adoption of New Ways of Working?

We believe organizations have the opportunity to face adversity as an opportunity in disguise. This is not a time to be shuttering our organization’s operations. While the coronavirus does pose very serious individual and public health risks, the real burden to our communities is the economic fallout (see an amazing essay on those risks here). Contagion of fear is real, and the coronavirus is not the first event that has let fear spread to the point that it holds back our organizations from reaching their fullest potential.

How can leaders create opportunity from this situation? The answer is adapt and lean into remote working.

Every industry is asking itself the question: Is remote working viable for our business? There is evidence out there to both validate and challenge the idea that flexible working conditions truly result in higher productivity. Adaptable workforces make lemonade out of lemons and forthcoming uncertainty from the coronavirus is no exception. It’s time to take this opportunity to analyze and invest in what works for you and your organization’s culture.

Here is a guide that leaders, teams, and individuals can use to bring the future of work and remote work to life, especially in the context of these uncertain times.

Remote work for the team or organizational leader

You model the behavior and set the norms. The more team members see new mindsets and behaviors from you about getting the work done in different ways, the more likely they are to adapt to the new ways of working. The more you turn on your video, post on social platforms, and use emojis, the more those you supervise will follow suit.

Empower teams to experiment and build skills: Beyond establishing a work-from-home policy that empowers teams to work remotely, you need to set the tone to “try things now.” Even if associates are still coming into the office, encourage them now to start experiencing video-based meetings from their desks. Some team members may feel less confident about their ability to use certain technologies. Leave slack in meeting time to figure that out and help everyone get to the same level.

Build inclusion: It used to be that the group in the room had all the power. If the person working remotely struggled, tough. In a not-so-unlikely scenario where everyone is working from home, the adaptable team must consider more inclusive practices to ensure every participant shares quality equipment, behavior norms, and routines; this must happen to make remote work successful.

Get team members the equipment they need: Access to laptops, headsets that cancel out background noise, VPN access points, etc., is critical. Like bread in grocery stores, these supplies can start to go fast.

Promote communication in public channels: Creating public channels in chats on Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack, or Yammer allows team members to see what’s going on and for asynchronous work to continue. Teaching individuals to @mention relevant people keeps inboxes clear for focused work. Set a norm on your team for when private chats or texts are most appropriate. Direct conversations to public channels whenever you can; working remotely is challenging enough without secret groups. In addition, transparency creates greater trust and efficiency.

Work alone, together: Not all work happens in meetings. Working remotely also reduces the chances that you’ll “bump into” teammates in the office. Remote collaboration can be as simple as folks doing individual work in one another’s company. At TiER1, one team sets up weekly three-hour video meetings to work on their offerings together. While they check-in on little things throughout the session, the work is largely independent. Yet, it protects the time, creates social accountability, and builds a sense of community for work that otherwise can feel solo. You can find additional best practices for effective virtual meetings here.

Check in and validate emotions: It can serve your team well to create a central space where everyone can name how they feel, without needing to unpack it over and over again. When meeting remotely, check-ins become important human barometers for when tension is building or diffusing within your team.

Remote work for the individual team member

Individual associates have been craving flexible work norms since the 1990s. This is your chance to show leaders that this is a viable path forward for the future—take advantage of that! Here are some virtual working norms that can help you be a better virtual office citizen.

Choose your communication strategies wisely.

  • Be concise: No one is interested in reading an email that looks like a novel. The principle of “go slow to go fast” applies here. Think about what message you want your audience to receive and convey it in as few characters as possible.
  • Acknowledge you’ve read a message: When someone asks you to do a task or provides a status update, throw in a reply, emoji, or “thumbs up” to indicate you’ve seen it and let them know their request isn’t floating in virtual limbo.
  • Set the tone: Memes, emojis and GIFs aren’t just for teens. Emotional context is so much easier to get when we communicate in-person. Emojis, GIFs, and memes help people understand each other and create stronger personal connections. Research also shows that people react the exact same way to emojis as they would react to a human face. You are responsible for your virtual tone, and these tools provide fun ways to make sure you’re getting it right.

Set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.

  • Leverage your calendar: In your calendar, mark the time when you’re not available for meetings. This means you should block off times when you’re in other meetings as well as times when you need to be “in the zone” to get work done. It’s totally fine to spend several hours on undisturbed focus time, but you need to make it clear to others.
  • Set work hours: If you have a global team, make it clear which hours are available for scheduling meetings.
  • Monitor meeting invites and RSVP: It’s on you to let people know if you’re going to show up or not – no one else. If you need more context for a meeting, ask. On the flip side, if you’re the organizer, think about making the invite end 5-10 minutes early so participants have a chance to take a bio-break between calls.

Make your meetings count.

  • Find an appropriate environment: Cafes, cars, or the middle of the street are not ideal places to hold your virtual meetings. Find a quiet place with good Wi-Fi to take your calls. There are few things more frustrating than spending half a call with someone on a spotty connection and a lot of background noise.
  • Test all tech: This includes camera/video, Wi-Fi, and screen sharing before the meeting starts. No one wants to sit in virtual meeting purgatory while you figure out why your camera won’t turn on.
  • Be present: Non-verbal facial cues are essential to building a relational connection during a virtual meeting. Don’t stare at your phone or read emails on your screen while other people are presenting or talking (and don’t think that because your camera isn’t on that people don’t know you’re doing it). Being present is about respect for your colleagues and the work at hand. Turning video on can help you stay personally accountable to “tune-in” to what’s being discussed.
  • Converse, one conversation at a time (typing included): In the same way that it’s rude to talk over or interrupt someone when you’re with them in person, it’s rude to do the same with a typed chat. Wait to type.

Use the extra time to invest in yourself.

  • If you find yourself with no commute, take this chance to take care of yourself. Now is the time to invest in getting more sleep, nutritious eating, good hygiene, exercise, fresh air, connecting with people—basics for dealing with stress and uncertainty. Now is your chance to find room for some of these things you might have been craving in your daily routine.

Remote work for the long-term

Once the fears associated with the pandemic are behind us, and you’ve found your team loves working virtually, what do you do? Consider these long-term benefits when making the case to continue working remotely (we know you probably have even more reasons in mind!).

  • Virtual work is more cost and time effective than meeting physically (especially when meeting spaces are in short supply)
  • Connections across time zones become much more intentional
  • Virtual meetings allow for broad sharing of dynamic, interactive, in-the-moment information with every participant at the same time (anyone can “take the stage” in a virtual meeting)
  • It reduces teams’ carbon footprint on a number of fronts
  • It allows for teams to get comfortable working on the cloud, especially on shared documents or presentations
  • It’s a chance to address digital literacy and skill gaps for members of your team without judgment

While this is not the first time businesses have experienced situations where associates were required to work from remote locations, the coronavirus is an opportunity to accelerate long-term strategies for digital transformation. Your IT infrastructure (and your people) will come under strain. Your virtual helpdesk may see a sudden surge in support requests. However, you can lean into the discomfort, identify the gap, and use it as an opportunity to lead the adoption of new ways of working.

Is your team going through a transition? If you’d like to connect with Nick or our team to learn more about leading your people through change adoption, give us a call at 859-415-1000 or reach out through the form below.

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