Even before the coronavirus swept through the world and devastated the economy and the traditional workplace, there is no question that many businesses had been trending toward a remote work strategy for the past few strategic planning cycles. The coronavirus pandemic has now forced many to instantly engage those strategies, and many of us were not prepared. While we know from experience that proactive planning always returns a much more cost-effective result, we now find ourselves in a situation in which we must be reactive to the change. Fear not, as sometimes being forced to quickly make a huge business process change is a way to avoid many of the administration and governance issues that we have unknowingly imposed upon ourselves. As we quickly try to adjust to the new normal, here are five tips that will help to alleviate the stress of managing your remote work teams.
Managing your remote work teams
1. Don’t overuse technology
There are so many wonderful tools that are effective when engaging remote teams. When we are forced to transition quickly, we tend to wash our hands of the decision-making process with the argument that there is no time to follow the usual selection and implementation process. But this is exactly the sort of situation for which we have developed those very processes. If you require software to conduct remote meetings, the reality is that pretty much any of the available software will do the job. The important thing is to select one corporate standard and to quickly communicate that to your remote teams along with instructions regarding access and training information.
Be creative in your training approach. No access to the team who would normally develop and deliver online learning? No sweat! How about a link to a YouTube video? It’s only the best crowd-sourcing tool in existence.
The important point to remember is that if you allow each department or individual to select the tool that will be used for a meeting, you will create a level of software exhaustion. One symptom of software exhaustion is when the first 15 minutes of the meeting is spent getting everyone up and running and ensuring the software is working. Another symptom is when employees stop joining the meeting because their level of frustration is so high. Do not ignore the signs!
2. Ensure that your remote work teams understand time zones
With some luck, daylight savings time will become a thing of the past and we will have one less annoyance to deal with. However, most businesses deal with greater than one time zone and for global organizations, multiple time zones come into play. Time zones can be frustrating and complex and that is why we need to ensure that our teams are educated regarding the different time zones that they will be required to deal with.
Most tools, Outlook being one of them, can intelligently adjust meeting invites to the time zone of the receiver. Ensure that your team understands which tools will automatically to this, and which will not.
3. Educate your remote work teams about working from home
If you have team members who have never worked from a home office in the past, provide them with some helpful hints to keep them productive and feeling positive. Here are a few rules that I like to follow:
- Adhere to a schedule. As human beings, we need a schedule and not imposing that discipline upon ourselves can result in a lack of productivity. Since that is the only thing we can be measured on as remote workers, we need to ensure that our productivity always meets or exceeds expectations. If you normally start your day at the old school brick-and-mortar office at 7:30 a.m., ensure that you are ready to go in your home office at 7:30 a.m. For many, quitting time gets later and later in the day. Learn to log out at a regular time and engage in activities that ensure a good work-life balance.
- Practice personal hygiene! This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people drop the ball when it comes to looking and feeling their best when they assume that no one will see them. The rule I impose upon myself is to always ensure that if I get called to attend a last-minute meeting on site, I am ready. Many of us currently find ourselves in a situation in which we know we will not be called for any in-person meetings. The reality is that it just feels good to look and feel our best and it is also quite good for our mental health.
- Don’t send messages at weird hours. No one is too concerned if they see messages sent at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., but messages with a timestamp of 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. can be construed as a cry for help. If you have weird sleeping habits, feel free to type up all of tomorrow’s emails. But leave them as drafts and send them during office hours. Trust me on this one. It will paint a much better picture.
4. Respect everyone’s time
We may have to rely on voice communication for an unpredictable period. The good news is that there has been a recent trend toward voice communication. However, long gone are the days of picking up the phone at random times to engage someone in voice communication. Today, we need to ensure that we respect everyone’s time. Even in the case of a phone call, set up a time and book a meeting. Ensure that the recipient of the invite is aware of the purpose of the call so that they have time to prepare. And most importantly, if you indicate that the phone call will end at a specific time, do not go over your allotted time. We are all very busy and not respecting someone’s time is a surefire way to quickly lose respect.
Treat voice communication and virtual meetings like you would any in-person meeting. That means someone should take meeting notes and provide them back to participants as soon as possible after the meeting.
Don’t assume that because your team is working remotely from home that they are available 24/7. Remember that we all have the right to disconnect.
5. Location, location, location
Before the worldwide call to practice social distancing, mature business organizations would often do a site visit to the homes of those requesting to work remotely. The purpose was to ensure that they had access to appropriate space and infrastructure to continue to be a productive member of the team. We do not currently have the luxury of conducting site visits, but that does not alleviate the challenges we face such as inappropriate space, lack of personal discipline, and family members and pets who refuse to cooperate.
I have uncooperative pets. Shockingly enough, while I was producing the TechGenix Xtreme Podcast, they did learn to be quiet while I was recording. I would like to take the credit and say I am a fabulous dog trainer, but I am not. However, I did learn that they relax when I close the blinds. So, I try to remember to close the blinds before I have a voice call or a remote meeting. When I forget, I have no one to blame but myself.
In speaking with a colleague with a very young baby, he told me that he plans his calls after feeding time because their infant always falls asleep after eating. All family members have different behaviors, but we can learn the less challenging times to communicate and leverage that knowledge.
Today, team members need to step up and be responsible for their remote workspace. Some will rise to the occasion and some will be less equipped to cope. The latter are the team members that we need to reach out to so that we can ensure they do not withdraw and can continue to be active contributors to the success of our projects and organizations.
Making remote work teams part of your corporate strategy
We know that we are not all good at everything and the same holds true regarding those who are productive when working from home, and those who are not. The thing is, at present, we are not able to separate remote workers into categories. We have been forced to confine people to their homes along with children, family members, and pets who may not respect that there are certain obligations during working hours. Sometimes we are forced to make hard transitions, and this might indeed be one of those times. As we work together to maneuver through, and adjust to, the current situation, we need to ensure that we do not forget about our corporate strategy and that even though we need to make decisions much more quickly than we would like, we can still work to ensure that the decisions that are made today will have a positive and long-lasting impact to the business.
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