Author: Andrew Buckels, 3C Consultants
In the short time since people around the country have moved to remote work, the fight against COVID-19 has intensified. Many across the world are simply staying home, discovering what it’s really like to be self-isolated and home at all times, while also trying to stay productive and connected to our work colleagues. There is so much to consider. We are fortunate at 3C and have always had a business model designed to allow us to work remotely, but our current situation has compelled us to review everything from how we communicate, scheduling meetings and manage projects and staff. I have heard from many customers that they are doing the same.
I wanted to share with you some of the lessons we have discovered so far, which I hope you’ll find helpful as you navigate your own challenges and experiences.
Providing guidance on how to work from home
Most organisations have company handbooks and training manuals that instruct employees how they should use the tools available in their office environment. However, when moving to remote work, this guidance needs to be reviewed. Many may be experiencing remote work for the first time, and with very little time to prepare for the change. Frequent questions asked include: How do you set up a space at home where you can focus on work? How do you stay connected when you can’t meet face-to-face? Why does it feel like it’s never the right moment to take a break? Add to these the challenge of children or other dependent family members at home — a reality for many of us — and it’s inevitable that some employees will struggle.
To address this need, create and distribute a comprehensive work-from-home guide to employees. Think about tips based on your own positive experiences on everything from setting up your physical and virtual workspaces to best practices for communicating with colleagues.
Managing back-to-back meetings
In the office, even back-to-back meetings tend to have natural breaks between them. There’s the walk from one meeting room to another; those moments when you are waiting for everyone to arrive; and the casual conversations that happen as colleagues greet one another and quickly catch up. Often, we barely notice these little breathers as we move through our working week. When we switch to remote work, we soon realise how much we needed this time to help tackle the unrelenting pace a working day often presents.
So, when working remotely, how do you ensure colleagues don’t miss out on this? Simple enough, encourage employees to schedule five minutes of downtime after a meeting. This goes a long way towards improving their working environment and avoiding potential burnout from uninterrupted back-to-back meetings.
Make time to disconnect
When we’re working in the ‘normal’ world, we find daily ways to disconnect, often without having to try. Making dinner for your family; meeting friends at an after-work exercise class; or a daily zone-out on the commute home all help us separate from the events of the day so we can get ready for the next one. However, these routines have been disrupted and disconnecting when you work remotely can be a challenge.
It is common for colleagues to feel that others will feel they are taking advantage of nobody watching them and therefore counter this by working even harder and longer. Encourage colleagues to take a proper lunch breaks while working at home, something few of us do when we are in the office. Employees will already be saving time by not commuting, and many will likely start work earlier, so they need to take time out in the day for a break. Go for a walk and get some fresh air, ensuring government advice is followed; listen to a podcast; maybe prep dinner for the evening; anything to just give you an hour to disconnect from your work.
For managers, a great tool could be Delve, this can give insight into your team giving you the ability to make sure no one is overdoing it, along with the MyAnalytics and Wellbeing reporting in Office 365.
Continue developing team culture
We can all agree that times ahead will be challenging. We need to find new ways to keep improve team spirit and enhance team culture. This traditionally has often depended on frequent get-togethers. With so many of us moving suddenly to remote work, it’s tempting to switch into “ghost” mode, until we can get back to normal, but lone working doesn’t have to be lonely.
Keep in touch with colleagues virtually and have those catch ups via video calls. Encourage others to go and get a drink in preparation for this, just as they might in the office. Ask how they are finding these new challenges in the hope you can suggest solutions. It is worth the extra effort to keep everyone connected, motivated and moving forward.
Managing your team
Employees rely on their managers to check on them, guide them through changes, and show interest in helping them problem-solve and innovate. As your team navigates a whole new way of working, while also navigating a global health crisis, they need your support more than ever. But how can you manage successfully when you’re working apart?
Reinforcing inclusion, check in often, and help your team to find their own best practices for remote work. Each of us faces similar challenges but often we approach them differently. As managers, it’s so important to try to understand and react to an individual’s needs as much as possible.
As shocking as COVID-19 outbreak is, I am certain that these lessons will have a positive and lasting change, encouraging organisations everywhere to leverage the benefits of remote working. It could lead to a ‘greener’ world, with less time lost to travel and a better work: life balance. Time will tell.
Stay safe, take care and help each other out.