At least one aspect of the current COVID-19 pandemic may be viewed as a silver lining: Many people who could not previously work from home now can.
For years now, remote work options have been something of a key perk for workers across industries and age groups. In fact, according to a 2019 Zapier poll, more than a quarter of employees have quit jobs for ones that allowed remote work. By all indications, once the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, many employees will want to hang onto the ability to work from home in some fashion. Now that more workers than ever have had a taste of remote work, we may have to rethink how we recruiter and manage employees going forward.
Even in a Crisis, Remote Work Has Business Benefits
As a business leader, I personally came to believe in the benefits of offering remote work options to all staff members a number of years ago.
First, team members use their time more efficiently when working from home. When employees have the flexibility to attend to both their home and work matters on their time, they’re better able to meet their work goals, and they feel a sense of accomplishment in all areas of their lives.
Second, when you give team members relative autonomy during the day, you communicate that you trust them to manage their own time. As a result, each team member feels empowered, and they take the necessary steps to stay productive and deliver results without needing constant input from their managers. This is what the entrepreneurial spirit looks like in practice, each team member treating their job as if they were running their own small business.
Another important benefit of a remote environment is that managers are able to shift their focus to big-picture priorities like refining the company’s service offerings, engaging with existing clients, exploring new business opportunities, and enhancing the overall staff experience. These are all critical factors to achieving and maintaining business success, and they can only be prioritized when senior leadership is freed of the need to micromanage.
Growing Pains: 5 Tips to Help Employees Settle In
While the benefits of remote work are clear, I also know how tricky it can be to successfully onboard new hires in a remote environment — especially when those new hires are accustomed to working in a traditional office setting. As many companies are transitioning to remote operations for the first time, they are likely struggling with similar “onboarding” issues — even among long-tenured employees who are not used to remote work.
How do you quickly and effectively get your team members acclimated to a full-time work-from-home culture? The key is making slight but important adjustments to the way you approach managing your team.
Here are some tips that work well for us at RightWorks:
1. Clearly Communicate Your Support and Trust
One important way to do this is by setting realistic deadlines and asking employees for their input on the best way to meet those deadlines. For example, if you know one of your team members is homeschooling young children during the day, be sure to set deadlines that won’t prevent them from attending to their children’s needs. If the deadline is being driven by a client need, be sure to communicate to your client in advance that you and your team may require flexibility.
2. Treat Video Conferences as You Would Any Regular Team Meeting
Even though it may be uncomfortable to no longer be able to see your team members working, it’s important to avoid the urge to schedule unnecessary video conferences just to “check in.” Your employees may take this as a sign of mistrust, and even if they don’t, you’re still interrupting their workflows, causing them to get less done.
Instead, encourage more frequent contact between internal teams through project sharing and management platforms. For example, our teams use Slack, TeamworkPM, and Zoom throughout the day to stay connected and on track.
3. Pick Up the Phone When Possible
When team members are working in separate locations, it’s important to include phone calls as well as emails in your day-to-day interactions with them. Managing multiple email threads adds a great deal of unnecessary time and stress to the day. In fact, according to a 2017 study, workers spend 2.6 hours a day reading, writing, and responding to emails.
You could give your workers a lot more time in their days by replacing even a small number of emails with quick phone calls. This helps streamline communication while adding some much-needed human connection.
4. Share Your Team’s Challenges
Make it clear to your team members that you, too, are adjusting to this new way of working and can relate to the challenges they are facing. By now, we’ve all seen posts on social media that demonstrate how even executives and political officials are dealing with unexpected meeting interruptions by kids and pets. For the most part, these incidents serve to democratize the process of navigating the new normal and should be embraced.
While being mindful to make proper use of the “mute” and “stop video” features, feel free to share your work-from-home challenges and how you’re overcoming them. For example, if you are on a call while walking your dog or feeding your baby, say so and then continue with the business at hand.
5. Don’t Be Shy About Showing Gratitude
In any time of change, but especially now, it’s important to find ways to show people you appreciate them. For example, taking a moment on a team call to acknowledge the great work of a team member who is also attending to young children or a sick partner will help everyone feel more connected and grateful that they work in a flexible, accommodating environment. At RightWorks, we also host virtual team lunches and happy hours using Zoom. The goal is to acknowledge that we are all in uncharted territory and making the best of it together.
As a resolution to this pandemic is still in the distance, now is the time to refine your work-from-home processes to quickly get your employees on board and feeling connected. By taking the right steps now, you ensure your people can focus on your organization’s primary purpose, even in times of great turmoil.
John Florez is CEO of RightWorks, Inc.