Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, says that there are simple ways leaders can help their employees stay productive, focused, and psychologically healthy as they work from home at this time. The right technology tools and clear and constant communication are more important than ever. She recommends that managers do an official remote-work launch, carefully plan and facilitate virtual meetings, and pay extra attention to workers’ behavior. For individual contributors, it’s critical to maintain a routine but also embrace flexibility, especially if you’re in the house with family.
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For many people, remote work is a new reality. How do corporate leaders, managers, and individual workers make this sudden shift? What can we do to maintain productivity, ease anxiety, and continue to effectively collaborate with both colleagues and external stakeholders? How quickly can we implement current best practices or develop new ones? Finally, could this big transition change the way we do business forever?
The vast majority of organizations are not well prepared to suddenly move their entire workforce into remote work, even though they’ve had portions of their organizations participate in dispersed work or even global collaboration. So no, this is an unprecedented type of scenario that we’re seeing today.
If you are a C-suite leader, CTO, manager, or head of a department the number one this you need to address is that you have to make sure that your infrastructure is set up to accommodate your workforce, meaning that you have the equipment, the technologies available, and that you’re prioritizing appropriately – who needs what very quickly and ensure that you have the capacity to deploy the equipment and also to start training people at scale.
If you’re a manager, you’re thinking along those lines as well, but you’re also asking the detailed questions to ensure that individuals have the preparation at the home front to ensure that every individual has the capacity to dial into the office if they need to do that, to get work done, to get through firewalls and things. You need to make sure that every individual has access to the devices that they need and the skills that they need to use their devices. And you need to make sure that no one feels left out. You have to make sure that everyone’s included.
Every team, every group has to have a launch. These are some of the fundamentals or success factors in teams and groups. For a scenario like working from home, it’s even more important to begin a new way of operating with these launches. My suggestion is to do it using some form of enabling media that has a visual element like video conferencing – maybe Zoom or Google Hangout, whatever you’re using in your organization. But something that can allow you to see other members of your group and you say to your team, “Hey, we have a new situation and I want us to talk about how should we communicate now that we’re on this new platform, how often should we communicate? What’s the best way for us to communicate? What are everyone’s preferences?”
Solicit the suggestions from your group and begin to reestablish a new way of engaging, a new way of communicating. Whatever you used to do, communication-wise, you want to increase those.
The other thing that you want to do is you want to establish how you’re going to remain connected formally as well as informally. One of the things that you’re going to lose when everyone is working from home, it’s going to be the water cooler conversations – the “let’s grab lunch together” or “let’s take a walk together” — that goes away. So you have to find ways to recreate this virtually.
Managers and colleagues need to ensure that everyone is adjusting to this transition well. Managers are not therapists and psychologists and they have to be very careful. But at the same time, managers have to be quite attuned to whether or not their employees are present, are connecting.
One of the biggest battles that managers are going to have as their employees or team members are now at home, is isolation. And they need to identify people that are isolating, that are withdrawing. They can identify those by seeing that people are withdrawn during regular meetings if they’re typically much more participative during group discourse. And suddenly they’re not, that’s a sign. If they’re much more verbose in their writing on email and suddenly they’re not, that’s a sign.
So once you observe that, it’s important to reach out and to check in to make sure that this is not a matter of people not knowing how to really engage and work remotely. Remote work is an actually learned skill. People don’t just do it well organically. So it’s important to help people, to coach people, to provide resources on how to do it well. So you have to figure out, is this a matter of people just don’t know how to do this and there’s a gap there that we need to fill, or is this because of isolation and dealing with world events? And if that’s the case, I would be prepared to connect people to employee resource groups to help people get through whatever struggles they may be going through that’s beyond the adjustment to working from home.
Flexibility is actually one of the greatest benefits of remote work. You can have these disciplined ways of starting your day and ending your day. Each individual can now adjust working habits to where they are most productive, as long as deadlines are met and commitments are kept. The most important thing is that managers have to trust their teams at 100%. You have to trust that people are working, that they are going to fulfill their responsibility. If you have hired and you have trained and you have competent people on your team, you give them full trust, you equip them, you support them, and your trust that they’re going to work. And you accept flexibility is part of the gift that comes with remote work, and you accept that their workday might look like an accordion and that is perfectly fine.
Ordinarily, productivity does not get affected by remote work. And in fact, the evidence we have is that productivity actually goes up with remote work. In order to stay focused, you must be disciplined, turn off all of the things that would draw us away and during a particular period, meaning cut off all access to external social media, television, etc. Do the things that you would do normally as you worked in the office, be very disciplined about those.
Keeping all these things in mind, it shouldn’t take too long for you or your team to adjust to a work-from-home set-up. You just need to keep supporting each other on a daily basis.