A few days ago, I sat in front of my computer, coffee in hand, scanning the news before I started my (remote) workday. After reading through endless stories about COVID-19, I suddenly became obsessed with finding Lysol wipes—which these days are harder to find than a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow.
I started with online stores (no luck), then researched disinfectants that could kill the virus. I scoured the sites of manufacturers, government agencies and health organizations. I looked for ways to make my own sanitizer, then despaired I couldn’t find the ingredients for that either. I accomplished nothing, yet somehow a couple of hours had slipped by.
I had gone down the coronavirus rabbit hole—one of the many challenges that remote workers face right now. (Another: having bored kids around 24-by-7).
As someone who’s worked remotely for many years, I’m well versed in the pros and cons of working from home. Many newly minted remote workers are discovering the joys of working in sweatpants. But they’re also discovering how isolating it can be—and that’s being exacerbated by COVID-19.
Even if your organization has a remote-work strategy in place, you’re probably not prepared for your entire workforce to work from home. Many new remote workers don’t have a dedicated workspace, the appropriate technology or even adequate childcare. Plus, they’re dealing with social isolation, anxiety, fear, maybe grief. They’re worried about friends and family; they’re anxious about an uncertain future. They might be caring for someone who’s sick.
So they might realize one morning they’ve gone down the coronavirus rabbit hole and spent a few hours researching Lysol wipes.
Here are a few suggestions to keep your remote team on track—helping them stay productive, but also feel connected and part of a team. Because that might be the most important thing right now.
Leading virtual meetings
Although we’re not new to virtual meetings and video conferences, we’ve never seen the entire world go virtual en masse. And while a well-run virtual meeting can be just as productive as an in-person meeting, it does require a different set of skills.
“Remote meetings are inherently different from in-person meetings, and this means they are often poorly run,” says Howard Tiersky, co-author of Impactful Online Meetings, in a release. “That’s a serious concern even in normal times, but in times like these, it can be disastrous. It’s crucial that leaders get meetings right, right away.”
One pro tip? Don’t underestimate the socialization factor. While we hold meetings to share information, brainstorm ideas and make decisions, Tiersky says they also serve to build social bonds and help teams work better together. And this is particularly important right now because so many people are feeling isolated and disconnected.
“The more you can build a sense of community right now, the better for everyone’s emotional health and work performance,” he says. “A well-run meeting can actually be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary and depressing day.”
Tiersky also recommends stating the purpose of the meeting ahead of time—and keeping it front and centre throughout the meeting. You can acknowledge the elephant in the room (COVID-19 is a mighty big elephant), but don’t let that elephant trample your meeting agenda. You can also increase engagement through informal polls, giving everyone a task or holding breakout workshops.
Leading a remote team
“In the global transition from corporate hallways to home offices, we’ve left something behind: meaningful access to managers,” says Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach, in an article for the Harvard Business Review. Gone are “informal feedback and coaching while walking together after a meeting, and predictable process and structures for communicating about work and ensuring mutual accountability.”
Nawaz recommends bridging that distance through frequent connections: calling or messaging direct reports, sometimes just to check in to see if they need anything.
It’s important for managers to proactively reach out, she says, since some employees may be hesitant to ‘bother’ their manager during a global pandemic. It’s also important to provide “stability through consistent rituals,” which can give a sense of structure amid unpredictability, such as regular 15-minute morning check-ins.
Keep in mind that email is not enough. “Remote workers benefit from having a ‘richer’ technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face,” according to a guide on managing remote workers in the Harvard Business Review.
This can help to reduce the sense of isolation and disconnection among teams. But in some cases “quick collaboration is more important than visual detail,” so offer mobile-enabled messaging functionality for time-sensitive or informal communications.
The right tools and technology are essential for remote work, especially considering cybersecurity concerns. But so are strategies for ensuring the health and wellbeing of employees—which has perhaps never been so critical as during these unprecedented times.
To find out more about Allstream business communication solutions for effective remote working capabilities, please contact Allstream.