For decades futurists and technological soothsayers prophesied a future where we all worked from home. The commute was to be banished into the dustbin of history by new tech innovations from communication to information. Yet, before the pandemic, working from home was the purview of a select few tapping away on their laptops in their living rooms or in trendy coffee shops.
Now everything has changed. COVID-19 has finally pushed the inevitable into our everyday lives: remote working is the new norm. Nor is this likely to change, with many employees opting to stay at home, even on a part-time basis.
As organisations and companies attempt to manage the transition into this new world of work, how can they best prepare their teams for remote working? What are the key challenges and what resources are needed?
Communication is King
Anyone who thinks that adjusting to working from home will be a seamless transition has never experienced the frustrations of digital communication. Without clear and open lines of communication, teams and companies can become fuddled, lost, and disorientated. Communication isn’t only about the exchange of raw information; it provides direction and interaction. Devoid of the face-to-face experience, companies are turning to video conferencing software for the next best thing.
There are dozens of video conferencing apps on the market, each with their own spin on the concept. Microsoft Teams has proven a popular replacement to Skype Business, while Zoom is taking the market by storm. In part, due to the range of extra tools available. Virtual backgrounds are a kind of zoom green screen, enabling users to hide their home and replace it with one of the hundreds of videos or images available. Therefore, when your team is speaking to a client, they can make a great impression.
Identify Challenges. Propose Solutions
Communication is one of the many challenges you will need to face when preparing your team for remote working. But it’s hardly the only one.
Limited access to managers or information will likely increase stress amongst workers. Where previously colleagues might have dropped by their manager’s office to ask a quick question, their manager might now feel distant and removed. It’s essential to create a culture of cooperation, as remote workers can be surprised at the difficulty of finding the answers to their questions.
Researchers have discovered that maintaining ‘mutual knowledge’ is a crucial dilemma for remote workers, as information becomes unevenly distributed. It can also lead to difficult interpersonal challenges. Without the clues of body language, a terse email or curt reply can lead to colleagues taking offence or a dim view of their co-worker’s professionalism, as they will have no awareness of their colleague’s stressful circumstances.
Collectively, these problems can lead to employees feeling socially isolated. Their comfy home becomes their prison. Work a chore. As such, employers need to focus on developing a sense of belonging, reminding their staff to connect and talk through their problems. Central databases and cloud storage systems can speed up the distribution of information, and ‘How to Guides’ or SOPs are invaluable for answering common questions.
The Role of the Manager
In the world of remote work, managers are more critical than ever. They are crucial to helping prepare teams for the transition and keeping staff motivated and engaged throughout.
A daily or biweekly check-in gives employees a chance to feedback any concerns or frustrations. Spark this conversation with a simple question: ‘How are you finding remote work?’ can begin the discussion. From there managers can devise solutions quickly and efficiently, helping their teams feel heard. Managers create the culture of their teams, and an empathetic approach will spread to other employees. Setting these one-on-one calls up in advance, as well as team calls will foster a collaborative approach and prevent the siloization of employees.
Managers should also encourage employees not to rely on email. As we’ve seen, the medium lacks nuance, and wires can quickly become crossed or tangled, leading to friction. Video conferencing provides more of the visual cues that are crucial to healthy social interaction, being ideally suited for sensitive or complex conversations. Put simply; a video-call has the personal touch.
Remote working isn’t just a challenge; it’s an opportunity. It requires more thoughtful planning and careful consideration. However, well-organised, it allows employees to embrace a new and flexible way of working without sacrificing the innovation and productivity that comes with a connected team. Get it right, and your business will thrive.