By Nancy Vepraskas and Anne Warren
A Time of Learning
At the beginning of the Pandemic, remote work seemed to be a temporary situation – a sprint we needed to just get through. Then we realized it was going to be more like a marathon continuing for quite some time. Now, it is just life. As workers, as leaders, we need to embrace this new reality and learn how to be successful.
As a leader, it has been a time of learning – we are recognizing the need to make some adjustments to our management styles. The good news is that recent findings show that productivity is up and, according to a Microsoft study, employees worked an average of four more hours per week. It sounds good, right? Well there is also evidence of increased burnout and stress. Ultimately, you want a healthy, happy and productive team who can thrive in the long haul. So what do you do?
Below are a few recommendations to consider.
- Establish the rules of engagement with your teams – New team norms need to be established. Robert Sutton of the Wall Street Journal suggests that these new norms be crafted in conjunction with the team and agreed upon. Each employee has their own unique challenges – differences in lifestyle and personality so what might work for some might not work for others and, therefore, it is important that all have a say. For some with children, a new night shift has emerged. According to the WSJ, employees sent 52% more instant messages between 6 PM and midnight than in the past. Weekend work is up too. It may feel like everyone has to be “on” all the time and this is not sustainable. Document core agreements between the team. When are you, as the leader, available? When should one use email vs. IM or text? What is appropriate timing for a reply? When are team meetings? Will you have “do not disturb” times throughout the week when team members will have some solo time to work without the constant interruption of IMs? Be explicit, it will reduce confusion, stress and conflict. As Sutton suggests, “praise members who follow them and (gently) call out those who do not.” Also, remember it is up to you to be a role model Don’t be the one reaching out at all hours and responding to texts all the time. The rules are for you too!
Those of you who work with global remote teams have experience and knowledge to share. Shifting our thinking to “creating a remote team” as opposed to simply drifting into having one, should help in developing best practices.
- It is results that matter – learn to be flexible in “the how” – As I mentioned, we all have different needs. Promote flexibility while ensuring your employees are clear on expectations and are getting the work done. Parents may have no choice spending a few hours a day focused on school given a majority of schools are still virtual. One-on-ones are especially important as it is a time to discuss priorities but it is also a time to assess an employee’s well-being and to be empathetic. Acknowledge stress and listen to an employee’s concerns (be it work- or home-related) and empathize with their struggles. A Harvard Business Review article suggests asking directly, “How is this remote work situation working for you?’ to elicit important insights that you might not get otherwise. Additionally, effective leaders not only acknowledge the stress and anxiety employees are feeling but also provide affirmation of their confidence in individuals and the team, like, “we’ve got this!” Give your employees the confidence and support they need. It can be tricky to balance empathy for the challenges employees (and you) face with remote work distractions while driving to meet your business plans. Think ahead and communicate ahead how you expect distractions to be handled. This requires some honest and forthright conversations.
- Provide remote social interaction for the team – Loneliness is a common complaint when working from home – especially for those extraverts on the team! That lack of informal social interaction can take a toll on morale and team cohesiveness. Build in non-work related “water cooler” conversations as part of your team meetings. Maybe reserving the 10 minutes of the meeting to discuss how the weekend was, what they are doing with their “found time” now that they are not commuting or even getting your folks to share their pet’s best trick on-line. An HBR article even mentioned virtual pizza parties where pizza is delivered to all team members at the time of the videoconference! Be creative! Team meetings are also an excellent time for recognition. Studies have shown that during periods of disruption, employees’ desire for being recognized increases about 30%. Recognition not only motivates the receiver but it serves as a signal to other employees of behaviors they should emulate. Don’t forget your rules of engagement – celebrate the team’s ability to stick to and honor those commitments.
Remember, you are a leader but you are also an employee.
What are you doing for yourself to survive and even flourish in this new world of remote work? This requires some deliberate actions as well.
- Practice self-care – Simple practices like taking breaks and truly stepping away from your workspace for lunch or even a few minutes outside. Take advantage of some of the flexibility that comes with working from home. Go for a run during lunch or share lunch with your spouse or kids. Maintain regular hours as much as you can and make up for those times when you go longer than usual by wrapping up a bit earlier or sleeping in a bit longer the next day. Have an end of the day routine that signals the close of the workday. Signing off on IM or your computer, walking the dog or listening to a favorite pod cast or doing a couple of your favorite yoga poses. Do what you can to ensure work and home life don’t blur together.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – Thoughtfully! Be proactive about talking about your work and the progress you are making with your manager as well as team members. Not seeing you in the hallways, colleagues often don’t know what you are working on and how it is going. Without being together we miss out on so many cues from others. For example, if you know your office mate is having a rough day, you view a brusque email from them as just a sign of their stress. When remote, with no understanding of their situation, the response might be received negatively. Jill Duffy of PC Magazine suggests being more conscious of tone than you might be when co-located. She suggests being overly positive so the tone is not misinterpreted. Embrace the exclamation point! And when you sense an issue, pick up the phone vs. firing off email after email to quickly quell any misunderstanding. Use videoconference when you can as it is the closest thing we have to live interaction and allows you to have both audio and visual cues about a person. I know, being on camera can be inconvenient but taking off your pjs and brushing your hair will be worth that strong bond you will be able to create with the ones with whom you work!
We are, by and large, resilient people.
We are rapidly making adjustments to this pandemic-charged world. Productivity is up, most of us have figured out video conferencing, and we are often embracing the positives of remote work. We remain curious about remote work in our future. Because it is becoming our normal, we need to view this way we work from a leadership perspective.
- Determine your remote work value set.
- Clarify your remote work culture.
- Communicate the “must haves.”
- Ask about the “nice to haves.”
- Describe the way work gets done and what happens if it isn’t getting done.
- In virtual meetings, celebrate what is working and provide guidance where working virtual can be more collaborative, easier and more productive.
- And finally, embrace this opportunity. You want to be viewed as a really good leader.
Go make that success happen!