Rebuilding our remote work strategy: It’s more than the tools

A few short months ago, we had the luxury of strategically determining if our organizational strategy would be to acquire and maintain a brick-and-mortar office or to engage employees via a virtual office with a remote work strategy. With the skyrocketing cost of real estate, geographically dispersed employees, and the introduction of secure technology for remote access, we have seen innovative and entrepreneurial companies embrace the virtual office. But it has been a slow engagement among the larger, more traditional organizations. Large or small, a great majority of us have now been forced to embrace a remote work strategy. The challenge lies in that organizationally, remote work strategies are being rolled out it a way not unlike a software update. The general approach is that, given the tools, employees will be productive. But what we also need to be thinking about is how to build remote teams that remain productive and engaged. While this is no easy task, there are some things we can integrate into our remote work strategy that will help to ensure a successful rollout and keep production at the maximum level.

Two years ago, I wrote an article here at TechGenix called, Enterprise considerations when planning a remote work strategy. Even though the basic elements that comprise a remote work strategy have not changed, we find ourselves now reeling from the negative effects of having been thrown into reactive mode. Two years now seems like an eternity, so let’s look at how we can update the strategy for a far different world.

Remote work strategy for a COVID-19 world

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1. Develop and share a long-term remote work strategy

While it may seem like the ship has sailed, it is never too late to pull back and roll out your remote work strategy as an official and planned organizational change. If we continue to work in reactive mode, the risk is very high of employees disengaging and productivity being further reduced. Now that we have all had some time to work with the forced move to remote work, this is the perfect time to be collecting a list from stakeholders of what is working well, pain points, wish lists, and must-haves. Reach out to employees who are known to be actively engaged and find out what’s working and what’s not. Since by now it will also be clear which employees are not productive, it is important to also reach out to them to determine what is it that is causing their lack of productivity.

Issue a notice to employees that while it is clear that the organization has reacted well, there is now an official plan to move to a longer-term remote work strategy and this is in the process of being developed.

Develop a project plan that shows start and end dates for milestones such as:

  • Sign-off of deliverables based on lessons learned from the forced move to remote work.
  • Review of security issues related to home-based offices.
  • Review and agreement with IT regarding acceptable technology.
  • Quality assurance and testing of technology and communication channels.

These are just a few suggestions, but if you are familiar with work breakdown structures, you can start to see how many tasks are actually related to a proactive remote work strategy.

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2. Daily stand-ups: Take a lesson from Agile

When transitioning to a remote work strategy, there is a period of adjustment during which productivity will be lower. There are so many reasons for this that one could write a book. But many of the reasons can be boiled down to self-discipline. When we are at home, we want to do home things and sometimes those home things can consume the majority of our day.

There is a wonderful concept introduced to us through the practice of Agile project management. It’s called the daily stand-up. It’s a brief meeting that originally was intended to be held standing up so that it was quick, and we could all get on with the tasks at hand. Daily stand-ups are not unique to projects and can be very effective with operational teams. They are a powerful transition tool for organizations and teams new to remote work. They should be held for only about 20 minutes first thing in the morning with audio and video on, and attendance should be required. Two important things happen with this strategy:

  • Remote workers will continue to embrace a schedule. Getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and getting prepared for the day. Maintaining a schedule is extremely important for productive teams.
  • We continue to communicate with our teams. It will set the stage for the operational tasks that need to be completed that day. In addition, if we witness members of the team who are unproductive, we can deal with the impact early and reassign deliverables on one hand, while working to ensure we address any issues that team members might be experiencing.

3. Delegate

You may be Superman, but even Superman cannot be everywhere at once. One long forgotten way to delegate is to implement a buddy system. Early in the days of mergers and acquisitions, this was an oft-employed way to engage employees and it can be updated to work in today’s situation. Have your team pair up. The idea is that when one team member completes a task, they hand it off to their partner for feedback, or QA. This enforces communication and is also a second touch-point to ensure that remote workers are engaged and productive.

To begin with, a daily touch base with one’s partner should be required. This may sound extreme, but remember that what we are doing is re-wiring everyone’s brains to work differently. Again, not an easy task and this is when leadership needs to be extremely disciplined. The buddy system is a means to enforce a certain behavior while at the same time starting to delegate some of that responsibility to your team.

4. Encourage socialization

Remote socialization is new to me, but I have to admit that I love it! This can be reserved for Friday afternoons or perhaps after a major milestone has been achieved such as the corporate quarter-end. Engage everyone in a social wrap-up utilizing whichever video-conferencing tool that is your corporate standard. My colleagues and I like to have a glass of wine and discuss the social aspect of this new normal. It gives us a chance to connect on a social level and to put work aside for a moment. There are many of us who comprise a large portion of our social life with our work colleagues. There is no reason to put that aside as it can be quite easily integrated into our remote work strategy.

5. Set expectations and provide feedback

Most of us pretty much woke up one day and were told to stay home. There was no preparation and very little follow-up. Without question, many were caught off guard and had to quickly attempt to adapt to the new normal. That said, we cannot forget the importance of following up with employees to set the corporate expectations and to ensure that we all continue to be measured against the expectations that have been set. Want to review the status of a task or deliverable with a remote employee? Why not pick up the phone? We were starting to re-engage voice communication prior to the recent pandemic. Let’s continue down that path.

How about the introduction of an employee newsletter? Announce the deliverables that named employees are working on and ask for employees to submit their tasks and projects.

Employees also have the right to disconnect. While a remote work strategy can open up flexibility around the specific hours that are worked, we need to stress the importance of putting work away and maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

Remote work strategies need to stress productivity

We have all had some time to settle into remote work and we can most likely list our likes and dislikes, our nice-to-have and need-to-have lists of tools, communication, and authority. The reaction to the coronavirus pandemic was fast, but in some cases not so effective. It’s time to pick up the pieces and adjust our corporate remote work strategies in order to gain productivity and ensure the longevity of the organizations that we are tasked with supporting.

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