• Chris LeBeau

4 points of focus for your remote workforce

Many organizations who are used to having a workforce that primarily comes into the office are facing a tough new normal of managing a remote workforce. If your organization is used to operating primarily from an office, reviewing aspects like how you structure and manage your people as well as corporate policies and procedures can prove invaluable to make sure your people feel engaged and supported during this trying time. Let’s talk about a handful of places to begin.

The remote office: for many of us, computers, tablets and smartphones serve as the primary tools for getting our work done and are of course portable. Yet it would be a mistake to assume once these are in-hand, your people are good-to-go

  • What kind of workspace do they have? Are there any ways to reduce distractions or make them more physically comfortable?

  • What is their internet connection like? Do they typically have a mouse, keyboard or additional monitor?

  • Is accessing internal documents relatively simple when remote or overly complex?

The cost vs. investment: Addressing any of these things may require small investments on your part but once you have asked your people what they have compared to what they typically rely on, it's valuable to weigh what it may be costing you if works tasks are regularly taking them 25% or 50% longer.

Deadlines and deliverables: Another item to consider is a move to making organizational, department and individual priorities clearer. As I heard one culture consultant put it, "when your people are working remotely think of them more like consultants.” When you rely on a consultant, standard operating procedure typically involves providing them a clear scope of work along with deadlines and deliverables expected. When this is paired this with regular touch bases, it ensure you are both aligned on priorities, the value it will provide and the opportunity to discuss and remove barriers. Many cultures do not clarify what is of greatest importance, this leave employees unfocused and half-addressing too many items at once.

Next is communication: There are many mediums available, which can be useful when deployed well and overwhelming when not. If people feel compelled to constantly check their email, chat tools, texts and other mediums, complex work is not getting done. Cal Newport highlights this on his deep work to shallow work comparison. Take this time to ask your people what each communication tool should and should not be used for. Which are for timely communications and where do non-urgent messages go? Your role then as a leader is to follow these rules yourself and nudge your people back to them if they veer off course. Key things to keep in mind

  • If you spot ambiguity or angst among your people due to the lack of inflection available in electronic communication, they should get on the phone or a video call to clear things up.

  • No multi-tasking while on video or phone calls. If you or your people are looking at devices or other work to be done during a meeting, you diminish its importance, which ripples across your team. This moment in time is an opportunity to reset bad behaviors.

  • Establish a regular cadence of check-ins with your team and individually through 1:1s. Remember, if the deadlines and deliverables are clear there is no need to micromanage them but you should be checking in to see how they are doing.

  • What daily or weekly messaging are you providing your people to humanize this moment? Everyone is figuring this all out one day at a time and the more you share, the more your people will be reminded they're not alone.

Finally, broader engagement issues are important:

  • Schedule time on the front end of meetings if people need to vent about present frustrations or talk about how they’re coping with cabin fever and the new normal.

  • Ask your people directly or via survey, "what do you miss about being in the office? What about being at home has been nice?" These questions can help you figure out what is missing and what might be helping be a better employee when remote.

  • Flexible schedules and breaks are key. Some of your people are working at home with a partner / spouse and potentially children. Are you providing them a level of flexibility to best manage this new normal? Schedule walks on your calendar, time to play with your kids or time for an actual lunch break. If people see you doing this they will follow suit.

  • At the office we may “chat by the water cooler” during the day or after a meeting. Create channels on a platform like Slack for casual conversation. When your people feel like they can unplug for a few minutes they will be more engaged.

So much of the early stages of this moment requires patience and willingness to roll with punches. But in the long run, remote work may provide you with an opportunity to reset or reaffirm your culture. As you build out a more robust remote work arm of your organization, the real test is making sure it mirrors and builds upon what is already going well.

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