You were probably heading that way anyway, but the current crisis has turned the gradual move to having your staff working remotely into an instant one.
It is a move both you and your staff were not ready for, but as it seems that things will never be quite the way they were before, as a business owner or manager, it is something you need to get on top of.
The double transition of firstly moving from being office-based to working at home temporarily, and secondly working from home long term, has created a unique challenge nobody involved will have been completely trained for.
As there are no hard and fast rules on how to make this work for all businesses in all situations, here are some guidelines for the things you have to do, which you can use as a framework for ensuring your business creates its own place in the ‘new normal’.
1. Create a new virtual structure for working remotely
Just because you are no longer all sat in the same office, it doesn’t mean the business provides anything different for your customers. So, the same structure that existed before now has to be recreated virtually.
Ensure you let every team member know about how you will all work together remotely, and how the previous reporting structure has been migrated to an online platform.
2. Use project management and task management software
This online platform should ideally be project management software, preferably one which has been designed for managing teams across different offices. This will migrate easily to a remote working team.
This will show your team the overall task and the progress toward the common goal. It also has the advantage of being able to allocate tasks to different members so you will have oversight of what is going on.
There are several different brands of this software available, each with its strengths and weaknesses, so experimenting with either trial or free versions of different software may be the best way to find one that is the best fit for your team working remotely.
3. Trust your team
Many business owners and managers worry that when their team is working from home, they are not working at all. If this is the case there is a tendency to micromanage staff, which ultimately demotivates them and turns that worry into a reality.
Working from home is as big a shock for them and their families as it is for you and your business. They may not all have a quiet space from which they can work that is not a thoroughfare to the kitchen or living areas.
They have to adjust to the new set up as much as you do, so if productivity is down at the start, it might not be because they are sat watching the daytime soaps.
4. Support your team working remotely
As an extension to the previous point, your team will have been affected (directly or otherwise) by the events that have to lead to everyone working remotely. Team members that have thrived on being in a dynamic environment and feeding off instant input from others are now isolated in an entirely different environment.
This can have an impact on all aspects of their wellbeing, especially if they also relied on the kind of structure a working day provides. Removing this can affect sleep patterns and eating habits.
For these team members working remotely, regular contact of ‘check-ins’ might be a solution, as well as ensuring they know that you are contactable outside of working hours and that your door is always open, just now it is virtually.
5. Keep your meeting structure
Even though remote working has proved that many meetings are pointless and could have been replaced by an email – if meetings were part of your previous setup, they need to be part of your new one.
The key meeting for most businesses is the morning meeting, also known in some areas as the ‘huddle’.
This serves the purpose of laying out the daily ‘to-do’ list, touching base with your staff and if you are one of those managers who are concerned that your staff is shirking, you can see that they are at least up and ready for work.
6. Individual feedback and communication
On top of any normal team meetings you might have, it is also important to keep up the previous levels of one-to-one communication you had when you were all under one roof. If a team member came into your office or sat near your desk to brainstorm, duplicate this virtually when working remotely.
If your team was one that thrived on creativity, the need for sounding boards and feedback will be key to maintaining success when working remotely. This is also true for those workplace conversations that turn out to be 20 percent about work and 80 percent about the match last night.
7. Create a virtual water cooler
This social aspect is the focus of the next point. Your office was a community and that also needs to continue for the sake of creativity (if not productivity) and morale.
While you can’t re-create office banter, in-jokes, and gossip the same as in person, even with constant video contact (note: video constant video contact is a very bad idea) you can create things like an office WhatsApp group where non-work-related communication can be shared.
Pictures of each other’s pets, funny memes, or just social stuff that used to be part of office life, can all be shared on the surrogate ‘water cooler’
8. Tailor your feedback to the ‘new normal’ of working remotely
In an office environment, more formal communications have a defined context. If one of your team has a bad day at the office, and you have to pull them up on something or reprimand them, they get to leave it behind when they go home.
Receiving a critical email while at home can have a much more negative effect on the recipient than it would at the office, especially if they feel isolated.
Therefore, a different tone or some sort of preamble giving context to any sort of reprimand could be employed, as well as ensuring even the most minor of victories are celebrated.
9. Read between the lines (or better still, ask)
Now that you are not all under the same roof, you won’t be able to see via body language that somebody is not happy. Nor will you be able to detect good or bad atmospheres in the office that might give away impending conflict or dissatisfaction within your team.
This is one that won’t be solved with even a one-to-one conversation initially, as you won’t get as full a response as you would when a member of your team has had time to sit and think about their answer. For this reason, use employee survey software like that offered by inpulse.com to get some real feedback on how your workforce feels.
You should design the surveys yourself so that you get detailed answers to the questions you really want to be asked as opposed to a generic employee wellbeing survey.
10. Make sure everyone knows when to walk away
The trouble with your team working remotely from home is that they can’t down tools and go home at the end of the day. Of course, there were times when you worked late at the office, but it wasn’t every day.
So, as well as the morning meeting some offices have a ‘wind-down’ meeting 15 minutes before the closing of business to review the day, but also to let everyone know that the working day has ended.
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