I am going to avoid using the “C” words in this blog. Please pardon the pun, but everyone is sick of hearing about this worldwide pandemic. At iuvo Technologies we have spent the last several weeks bolstering our customer's abilities to work remotely, upgrading firewalls, deploying VPN clients and trying to get office bandwidth increases. Now that we and our customers are finding new patterns of working 100% online and using new technologies to cope with being physically separated it's very clear to me that things will never be the same.
Given the visibility I have into corporate culture across my customers, it's fascinating to watch the pace at which they can adapt to become a remote workforce. Some of my customers didn't allow remote working before now, others encouraged it and some never really put much thought into it in terms of policy. It's easy to predict which category of customers has been the most successful with this transition but we've also found surprises along the way from customers who have all the tools they need but aren't necessarily collaborating effectively.
Now that we've removed the technical barriers of remote working, we're being asked by corporate leaders for help shaping a new culture of online working. Many of our customers needed new tools to be able to work effectively from home and many of these leaders realize that when the pandemic subsides, the trend of a significant remote workforce (or rather the desire by many of their employees to be remote for a significant amount of time) will persist. To that end, I'd like to share some techniques we've been using at iuvo Technologies and that I see at my customers who are working effectively.
Email is not enough, so much to the point that it's impossible to use it alone to stay connected with a remote workforce. Those that have been least impacted by the shift to 100% remote work have long since moved on from email to communicate with peers. It is imperative that your employees have a single place to go to collaborate virtually. Many of our customers use Microsoft Teams, some use a combination of tools like Slack and Zoom (and make sure they are integrated well). The platform is mostly irrelevant, but you as a leader must choose a single place for meetings, 1:1 calls, chat messages, document collaborate etc. We can promise you that the minute someone has confusion over the best way to reach others, they will give up. Get everyone on a single platform, make sure they understand how to use it and set the expectation that they need to be available in those platforms while they are working.
Humans are social creatures. Generally speaking, we need the face-to-face connections we have every day with family, friends and coworkers to feel "normal." It's important as leaders to set the example of calling employees with your video turned on. The people you talk to will see that when you call them you may not be clean shaven, have on a sweatshirt, have a messy room in the background or kids running by occasionally. Leading with this example will help others feel comfortable with sharing their own video and potential casual appearance.
Open Lines of Communication
Be available and proactively connect with your team often. We take advantage of the "water cooler" type conversations we have in the kitchen or the quick chats as we pass by our peer's desks. At minimum, send a chat to your teams in the morning, even if it's just to say “good morning”. We've also seen good results having a 15-minute standup with our teams at the beginning or end of every day, if only for people to vent or share a piece of good news from the day. After getting into a cadence, these types of informal meetings will feel natural.
Now that your business has the tools to be connected from anywhere it's important to set ground rules on when it's OK to message people. Direct messages and team-wide alerts must be used with care to avoid alert fatigue and constant interruption. Employees should be instructed on how to tweak these settings in your company's collaboration application to something that suits their specific style. For example, during business hours I have all Slack alerts except for direct messages disabled on my mobile phone. On my laptop I have these alerts turned on. After hours all alerts are disabled except for a channel reserved for emergencies. Some employees may prefer to be alerted for every single message. Also, some chat channels will be more important than others to different people. It will take some time for everyone to dial in the settings that work best for them so it's important that everyone understands how to make these changes. Try to picture in-person interactions for your virtual alerts. Alerting the whole team in a channel is like jumping out of your office chair and yelling across the floor, pulling everyone's focus away, so use it wisely!
It might surprise you to learn that studies have shown remote workers are markedly more productive than their in-office counterparts. Working from home removes distractions and generally keeps employees focused longer. The flip side of this is it's not easy for employees not used to working from home to separate work from home life. They may feel obligated to stay connected longer or not realize they need to get away from their desk for 15 minutes here and there. Going back to my previous point, it's important to communicate early and often. Check in with your employees regularly to see how they are doing, not just in terms of productivity but overall satisfaction.
The silver lining in these challenging times is that the world will be ever more capable of being productive regardless of where people and companies are located. Usage of tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom has tripled in the last few weeks alone, adding 10s of millions of new active users. I expect the need and desire for physical workspace to be permanently lessened once we are recovered from the pandemic. People will travel less for work, reducing greenhouse emissions, reducing traffic and adding more time to everyone's day.
For more information on how iuvo Technologies can help you with your remote work strategy, please contact us!