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How to Make Remote Working Work

The switch happened very fast. Until a few weeks ago, many companies were still contemplating whether they wanted to encourage employees to work remotely, mostly from home; now, however, the same companies have had to think about accelerating their remote working strategy.

So what can they do to make remote working work better? 

The leading companies have been working on this for quite some time. Over the last decade, we have worked with some of these companies setting up their digital workplace; remote working, collaboration and the employee experience have been key focus areas. Based on our own experience, we have advice for executives and managers who want to get this done the right way.  

Remember: It’s not a project. The mass push for working remotely caught many companies off guard; few were prepared. Employees were not ready, teams were not ready, and most company cultures just were not ready. To be an effective leader, empathize with your employees about the situation they and their colleagues are now working in. It’s not going to be easy and nearly no one – including you – will get everything right the first few weeks. So set your and others’ expectations accordingly.  

Set ground rules. Taking turns for certain tasks, overlapping time zones to make the most of the times of day or evening, necessary response times and employees’ availability are some of the things that, if not factored into the planning, leads to confusion and friction that can derail effective adoption of remote work styles and collaboration.  

Prioritize communication and etiquette. Communicate, communicate, communicate! This is key to both external and internal communications equally. In terms of the changes being made to processes, guidelines, security, and other changing situations, these are the macro communications that need to be taken care. Keeping the team functional, with employees completing its “must do’s,” is necessary, but maintaining employees’ morale and spirit requires equal attention. Without clear guidelines on what to do and what to expect, employee morale – and, thus, effective teamwork – will suffer. Clear guidelines on communicating information and updates is critical for the smooth running of projects. Ensure all team members send regular updates and make this a habit. Keep all communication channels open and make sure a lot of information is visibly shared. 

Focus on process and transparency. A sudden shift to remote working may create lot of confusion. Existing processes will go through a stress test, so establishing new processes to work around the roadblocks will help everyone move forward. Without this focus, some employees will have to create their own ad hoc solutions while others will try to adhere rigidly to working in all the same ways as before. Establish well-defined processes and make them transparent to avoid silos of effectiveness and limit friction. Create workflows based on the business process, and then select the right tool for accomplishing the workflow, rather than choosing the tools first before the process needs are clear. This will seem difficult to put in place, but once you are done, remote working in your organization can scale much faster. 

Work out loud. Making employee contributions and teamwork visible is one of the most important activities in creating a successful team working remotely. For example, the first task is to conduct periodic virtual meetings during which everyone in a team provides updates to everyone else (not just up the chain) on what they’re working on.

Creating a “work out loud” culture includes:

  • Visibility: Let others know who you are and what your team does. Each of your team members can do this, taking turns. Amplify your work as much as possible in a healthy way so that it’s contagious.
  • Connections: You and every member on the team should reach out to the other team members, discuss and share information related to work, the company and even your interests. Employees are people, not processes.
  • Learning: Create courses and “learning journeys” for individual online training so that everyone can stay oriented toward a set of relevant long-term goals. Social learning is the best and fastest way to learn smarter. Team members can socialize their progress – “Elise just completed the Blockchain for Healthcare Privacy learning journey” – incentivizing others to explore the topic and share their own skills development progress.
  • Generosity: The basis of collaboration is reciprocity, but your role as team leader requires you to start the sharing. Encourage your team to contribute in terms of praising someone else, recognising and acknowledging others’ work. Because humans are wired for reciprocal altruism, generosity is a good way to start building healthier relationships with your own team and other teams.

Keep It Real

Working effectively during a pandemic crisis can be a challenge. Working remotely during such a crisis only amplifies the difficulty, especially if that’s out of the norm for you and your teams. Yet, by pulling together to support one another’s efforts, address each other’s concerns, and remind ourselves that we work with and through actual people – and not just email addresses, process checkpoints or group chat transcripts – leaders can keep their projects and their organizations afloat in rough waters and position them for even smoother sailing once the exigent threats have passed.

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