The core foundations of a solid employment relationship like setting clear expectations, good communication and hiring the right people for the right job will always have their place. But there are some quirks of remote work which mean that new skills are required if managers and staff want it to be a long-term success, rather than a short-term interlude.
1. Get comfortable with technology
Being remote obviously means an increased reliance on technology for communication. For those who love wandering into their colleague’s office first thing in the morning for a chat about the day or anytime they have a question, this can be challenging to get used to. If we don’t, we can find ourselves feeling isolated and disconnected, which may only be a short step from depressed and disengaged.
Empower managers and staff to choose what types of communication they will use and how regularly they will communicate. For example, weekly meetings via video, daily huddles via audio, and daily chat through Teams chat lines. My big rule is to limit the emails. Whatever they choose, there needs to be a plan and ways to hold each other accountable.
2. Build solid relationships
When staff are physically disconnected from their team daily, the role of the manager becomes even more important as a linchpin to keep teams connected and feeling supported. Managers need to foster strong relationships with all team members.
They don't need to be best friends. That is not the way to a good working relationship. Rather, it’s fact humans are social creatures. Most of us have a need for high quality social interactions to create a sense of belonging. We need to know more than just how good a colleague’s work is and whether it is done on time.
So, teach managers to build in some chat time and some 'check-in' time amongst the work meetings. To talk about what happened on the weekend, how families are, holidays. To take time to build relationships so work is more enjoyable, and it is easier to have those difficult conversations if they are ever needed.
3. Agree working arrangements
When people work remotely there is a natural tendency for staff to feel that they have a lot more autonomy over how / when they work. The usual 8:30-5pm often goes out the window. For example, they might choose to start work as soon as they get out of bed in the morning to act whilst feeling most alert. Or perhaps they prefer to spend the afternoons with their children when they finish school and then work again after they go to bed.
There is no right or wrong arrangement. Once again - we just need to communicate and agree. You don’t want to inadvertently create agitation in the team because so-and-so is ‘never there’. Set some ground rules for the whole team - perhaps some core hours - and then have a shared calendar or something like the traffic light system in Teams to show whether people are present or not.
4. Teach WFH skills
Working remotely doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. You can’t just give them a laptop and tell them to figure it out. People need to learn how to avoid being distracted by all the at home jobs, how to remain motivated when they don’t have the energy of a team physically around present, and even how to set up their workstation.
One essential skill to teach is the making - and keeping - of boundaries, including by using transition strategies. One fantastic strategy was a worker who had an office in a separate building on his house block. He would get dressed for work, exit the house, lock the door, jump in his car and drive around the block, park back in the driveway and then enter the office. He’d reverse this at the end of the day. This allowed him to keep ‘home’ separate and have a mental transition space. Companies do themselves a disservice if they don’t teach these skills to employees.
5. Don’t forget your managers
Most already struggle with managing people, and remote work adds a further complication. So get on board with the 64% of executives who plan to invest in training leaders to manage remote teams. Having a formal training program just for them will help with teaching the skills listed above in a consistent way, and give them a source of ongoing support.
It’s not enough for them to know how to work remotely, leading remotely is a different skill all together. Put the value on it that it deserves.