Remember when we all left our offices in March and thought we'd be back in a week or two? Weren't those the days. Months later, companies are finding themselves caught in a sort of limbo as the world waits to see what the coming months of the pandemic will bring. Those few weeks out of the office have turned into our new normal and with countries around the world bracing for a second wave of Covid-19, many companies are making plans to continue remotely through the winter. So if we really are in this for another few months, how can companies shift from working week to week and take a longer-term approach to supporting remote teams?
A shift in mindset
Very few companies meant to be out of their office space for this long when the pandemic first started. Most introduced short-term solutions and strategies just to stay afloat. Employees changed the way they worked and communicated, adapting to a purely online environment. Managers had to re-evaluate how they were leading their teams when everything had to be done from a distance. Home offices were carved out of bedrooms, kitchens, and in some cases even closets. Slowly we adjusted to the largest remote work experiment the world has ever seen. Then summer hit and some of the biggest companies began making decisions about how they would carry-on working. Google announced its workforce would be remote until summer 2021. Facebook did the same and Amazon extended it's work from home policy until January 2021. Other companies like Twitter and Microsoft have followed suit and the trend isn't restricted just to the mega corporations. Instead it's one we're starting to see across every industry in companies of every size. People are taking stock of how things are going, predicting what's likely to happen in the next few months, and making plans to navigate that uncertainty as successfully, and safely, as they can.
Long-term Remote Work Tips
When thinking about long-term remote work and how to support teams, consider the following:
Where are you now?: The first thing you need to do when preparing for months of remote work is to figure out what's been working, or not working, so far. A good way to do this is with employee surveys that can help take the temperature of your team or bring up any challenges they may be facing. It's also a good idea to take an inventory of any team needs to make sure everyone has the equipment or technology they require to stay productive. Maybe people are struggling with maintaining a work-life balance at home or maybe someone really needs a piece of technology they left back at the office. Once you know where you barriers or gaps are, you can put processes in place to address them, rather than let them carry on through the winter.
Build an online culture: Company culture has been a big question mark these days. Some companies made a real effort to maintain a culture remotely and others have sort of "paused" their culture until normal life resumes again. If you're looking at a few more months at home, though, it's time to revive that conversation. Having an active online culture is one way to combat employee isolation and loneliness. It's also a good way to keep productivity and employee engagement high. An online culture needs to embody the values or mission of your company and provide opportunities to connect from a distance. If your employees are getting quieter or work is taking longer to complete then it's probably time for a culture refresh.
Take well-being seriously: Circling back to employee isolation, think carefully about what sort of wellness options you're providing your employees. Burnout is on the rise in remote employees, not to mention everyone is living with more stress than they were a year ago. If this is going to be our new normal for a few months, keep an eye on the health and well-being of your team. Look to see if your team needs a break and take an afternoon to do something fun together online. Talk to individual employees to make sure they're doing ok at home, especially if they live alone. Review your benefits and wellness options to see if there are any tweaks to be made for 2021. Make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your team as mentally and physically healthy as possible.
Encourage exercise: This might seem like an odd strategy at work but encouraging employees to get out and move helps with concentration, energy, and motivation. With most of us working in strange places and odd positions, our bodies are having to adapt to remote life too. You're probably walking less than you did when you had a daily commute to the office. If you were a gym goer, it might have been months since you made it to a treadmill. There's a reason many companies offered fitness benefits or gym memberships to their workers and that logic hasn't changed just because our lives are now being led indoors. Check your policies and if you offer any sort of fitness perk, see if it can be updated to apply to home gym equipment. Pedal machines for under desks, stationary (or real) bikes, weights and bands, are all things that can be easily added into an employee's home life that can improve their health.
Focus on learning and development: It's hard to keep employee engagement high remotely. If your team is losing steam, one strategy is to reinvigorate your learning and development program. With employees at home, now is a perfect opportunity for them to learn new skills or insights about themselves that can then help them interact with others in a remote context. From personal development to leadership development, they'll have time to practice their new skills through the long winter months. If you're considering trying assessments, they're a great way to tackle development from a distance as they can be completed, scored, and shared online. Diving into temperament or personality can also improve team cohesion and strengthen interpersonal communication, all of which are crucial for remote teams. So if you're employees are drifting apart, it might be time to learn something new together.
The way we work is evolving
We've all faced a tumultuous few months and are likely headed for a few more. While we might not know what this winter will bring, there are ways for companies to get ahead and ensure their teams are on as strong a footing as they can be. We've already made the leap to remote work and normalized daily video conferencing, Zoom calls, and Slack chats. We understand what being a remote workforce means. Now we need to figure out what the long-term outlook is and how to take what we've already learned and turn it into a strategy that can guide the future. It may be a while before we can be face-to-face again but remote working can be productive and engaging when done right. So ask your employees how they're doing. Take stock of everything you've been able to accomplish and make a plan for how you can best support your team as the months roll on.