Like any change, remote work has been a challenge for many to integrate. This change to working remotely that many experienced this year as a result of Covid-19 has been even more difficult because the shift in workday dynamics was both dramatic and full of turmoil related to employees’ health and well-being. At this point in 2020, we are all coming to terms with working from home and the possibility interacting with colleagues this way extending indefinitely. In fact, working remotely is becoming the new normal, and it’s changing the how we do business in ways never before ever seen in society. Even before the Industrial Revolution, people went to work in offices and congregated in physical workplaces to exchanges services and ideas. For the first time in history, we have the option to stay connected with technology when forced into a more isolated lifestyle. We are also all, hopefully, learning that remote work does not have to feel so remote. It does shift the dynamics of engagement and culture; however, and can result in feelings of disconnection or disorganization, but some intentional discussions can help your team or organization convert more effectively into this new way of working. If you are looking to make remote work a long-term change, here are seven questions to consider. These will help as you look toward the future and think about how to keep your employees engaged and maintain strong ties.
1. How many people need to attend a virtual meeting?
If you are looking to do a presentation or want to share information, then a large Zoom event is appropriate, but smaller gatherings help to build a network for innovation and/or teamwork. It is easy to lose control of larger groups of people in virtual conferences where folks are more likely to talk over each other. Smaller groups settings where everyone has a segment of time to talk help keep everyone feeling connected and a part of the team. It is helpful to have planned questions or prompts that everyone can respond to within your meetings. That way, you allow everyone to connect with the group as a whole. Each session of any size benefits from having a designated team member taking notes and sending a summary of the meeting highlights to all attendees. This extra communication gives everyone a secondary point of contact to help you stay on track and move forward.
2. How often do you need a virtual meeting?
Some groups may need more meetings to stay connected, and, as a leader, you have to have more discussions with team members who rely on this type of interaction. Others may be self-starters. Try different levels of contact to see what works the best for your employees. When you do meet, make sure to start out on a positive note whether it’s mentioning something happening within the business or specific to the group of employees meeting. This information redirects colleagues to the whole picture and allows everyone to feel a little more connected to the organization.
3. What do you want the background to say about you or your company?
As remote work plays a continued role in business, there may be increased interest in having memorable backdrops for employees who work from home. A standard set may help everyone feel more interconnected in meetings. If you chose to implement this strategy, everyone can have the same feel to their environment. For groups where employees are more autonomous, personal backgrounds may be preferable. There is also the option of a hybrid where, if in meetings with an outside client, a business background is consistently utilized. Many virtual rooms have available backdrops. Physical backdrops are also available if looking to put your particular brand into the virtual exchange atmosphere.
4. Would employees benefit from a fun event?
Remote work does not mean that you cannot still have events with each other. The key is to find interesting activities that will hold the attention of those with whom you work and participate. It could be a virtual wine tasting or a workshop on learning a new skill. There is the option of sending everyone essential items for the event ahead of time, too. Employees may look forward to receiving a package in the mail. The key is to allow time for everyone within the meeting to talk, so that people do not talk over each other. If you have a wine event, for instance, let each person take a turn to tell the group about their favorite. If you have a large team, you may want to break down some events into smaller meeting times so that everyone takes has a turn to talk.
5. Do you have defined goals for each team member?
Keeping team members focused and on track is even more critical when they are working remotely. Ensure that each employee has a specific set of work goals that they are responsible for completing. Combining particular objectives with a cohesive time frame allows you to build structure into the work. If two or more people are working on a project and do not have clearly defined roles, you could run into confusion and disorganization. Alternatively, structure amid the constraints of a remote workplace strengthens accountability for completing tasks and keeps projects on track.
6. Do you have a consistent and robust chain of command?
If an employee must answer for their work to two separate points of contact, then the decision-making process becomes messy and ill-defined. Remote work, especially, requires clean lines of communication to keep individuals on point. For instance, if a product manager must answer to multiple C-Suite executives, he or she is likely to receive conflicting task requests. This could slow down work as the manager attempts to satisfy both executives, and this mixed message gives the appearance of disorganization on the part of the product manager. The reality is that without communication and concurrency of goals on the executives’ part, the manager is spinning his or her wheels. Transparent chains of command are especially crucial with remote work because the different levels of the process become more easily scattered. In a physical office, you can talk to another team member to sort things out, but in a remote scenario, the employee is left in isolation to deal with disparate communications frustrations.
7. Would a mentor help your team?
A mentor or consultant may bring a fresh perspective to team dynamics, how people work together, and how individual team members’ behaviors can be strengthened. As people work remotely, mentors become part of the fabric of a business or organization. They are valuable advocates whose role is to help invidual talk through challenges and the complexities of working in greater physical isolation.
There is still quite a bit unknown about what work might look like after we are through the Covid-19 pandemic. For many companies, remote work will continue to be a new way of doing business. You and your employees can stay connected and effective in the remote workplace as we create new norms that shape our post-Covid workplace. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.