Many organizations have found themselves in the remote workspace a little sooner than anticipated as they comply with the government's recommendation (or in some places, requirement) that non-essential workers be sent home. And, as they've made the transition, many organizations have found themselves more unprepared than they anticipated. Their technology is leaving much to be desired, their top employees are feeling like lost sheep, and their leaders are quickly realizing they need to learn new tricks to be successful in a remote environment.
The truth is, even the most effective leaders face a learning curve when it comes to engaging remote employees. On the other side of that coin, even the most engaged employees need a plan and solid leadership to master working from home. Here's everything you need to know in a ten-minute read so you can establish an effective, actionable to-do list to get agile and catch up.
First, Have the Right Tech
Providing your employees with the tools they need to communicate never been more important than it is now.
- A messaging app like Slack or Skype can reduce the burden of emails and give remote employees quick access to coworkers and leaders.
- Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, WebEx, and Adobe Connect (if you haven't tried Adobe Connect, now's the time) can make meetings organized, visual, and engaging.
- Consider a project management software for better collaboration between team members; software like Asana and Zoho give you the opportunity to use the Kan Ban system, assigning subtasks to task owners and publishing progress and timelines visually to coordinate the whole team.
- Finally, while it may not gain security clearance in all industries, Google Docs and Google sheets can be especially helpful when entire teams need to access and work in the same documents from remote locations.
Most important, ensure that employees have access to (and reimbursement for) reliable, high-speed internet and phone services. Nothing can derail remote work like an unpredictable internet connection.
Don't Forget to Connect
Water cooler talk is an integral part of the workday; perhaps more so than most employees and leaders recognize. Consider this example:
Allison spent over an hour drafting an email to her supervisor. In the email, she outlines the value she's added to the company since she began working there and requests consideration for an upcoming promotion. By the end of the day, she hasn't heard back from her supervisor, but she has bumped into him at the water cooler once and he was friendly, so she simply assumes he hasn't read the email yet.
Situations like this are often much different for the remote employee. When the air is tense after a difficult conversation, disagreement, or assertive email, there is little opportunity to connect in meaningful ways and provide reassurance that all is well. If Allison was a remote employee and hadn't heard from her superior - or bumped into him in the hallway - she may begin to think that he doesn't share the same perspective of her value and potential in the organization.
Connecting with remote employees can be as simple as "water cooler" talk at the beginning or end of a meeting; that is, asking how their day has been, discussing a common interest, or checking in on their family or pets. If opportunities don't present themselves, leaders should schedule a daily touch-base if only to say hello.
Establish Clear Expectations
Establishing "rules of engagement" can provide remote employees with the playbook they need to be successful. Those rules include:
- how best to reach somebody for an urgent issue (can they call the receptionist to track them down?)
- how often to check in
- how to submit deliverables and communicate updates to project timelines and progress
- when they should be available (and how)
- preferred methods of communication
Having a policy in place for teleworkers is also helpful in outlining expectations for their home office setup, clearly defining which expenses are reimbursable, and more. Many organizations partner with a professional employer organization (PEO) for policy development.