COVID-19 has redefined the workplace, forcing nearly all office workers worldwide to adapt to remote work almost overnight. David Highbloom, an entrepreneur and expert in corporate strategy, marketing, and operations, reminds us that while this global experiment in digital commuting has not been without its challenges, the tremendous majority of companies have managed to adapt to the new normal without any substantial declines in employee productivity.
While most companies possess the tools necessary to make remote work a long-term success, achieving that success will require executive teams to make conscious adjustments to both their management style and the way that their team members interact with one another. Remote work works – but if it’s done correctly.
The speed of this year’s shift to remote work is mind-boggling: according to Gallup, the proportion of American workers who had ever worked from home doubled from 31% to 62%… just in the last two weeks of March. That means that by April, nearly a third of American workers found themselves working remotely for the first time – full time. Unsurprisingly, this shift has not been completely seamless. Some workers and managers complain of a loss of cultural connection to their teammates, an increased sense of monotony at work, and higher levels of stress associated with always being accessible to one’s colleagues. Managing these and other issues will require a conscious effort on the part of managers and executives.
First and foremost, corporate leaders must ensure that their company’s culture remains healthy in a remote environment. Some companies report than disconnection driven by remote work has resulted in delayed projects, missed deadlines, and a general sense of apathy. Re-establishing a positive, productive company culture in a remote environment requires more purposeful, proactive engagement on the part of management teams than would be required in an in-person environment. David Highbloom notes that “employees must feel that their supervisor cares about their wellbeing, and that kind of human connection requires more intentional outreach in a remote environment than it would in person.”
Managers must avoid getting too absorbed by day-to-day work, and must make the effort to take a step back and connect on an individual level with their team members. Make sure that employees know that their voice is being heard and that their team cares about their wellbeing. In his own experience managing remote teams, David Highbloom has found that targeted engagement surveys can be powerful tools to identify teams and individuals who feel a growing sense of disconnect – data that is a powerful first step toward combatting those feelings of isolation. Finally, remind your team what they’re working for: not specific projects or deliverables, but the higher-level purpose that underpins everything your company does. Leaders must remind employees of the organization’s mission and keep them pointed toward it.
Secondly, go all-in on your remote tools. The feature suites available on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and other collaboration platforms are constantly evolving, so appoint someone on your team to keep up to date with feature enhancements as they are released. Don’t assume that every member of your team is familiar with all of the features available to them; even frequent users of these platforms are often surprised to learn of features buried in a menu somewhere that address painful friction points – features like on-screen annotation, group polling, using the keyboard spacebar to unmute yourself, and more. Consider appointing a small team of technically savvy members of your team to spend a few days going through every feature available on the tools your team uses to stay connected; you may be surprised by the value of what they discover. Then create training mechanisms whereby every member of your team can learn about these features, so that everyone is empowered to succeed remotely.
Third, help your team avoid video call fatigue. With every meeting occurring over video chat software, many workers whose jobs center largely on communication find themselves drowning in the monotony of weeks spent in endless, back-to-back video calls. Introduce some variety into the structure and format of meetings, making them feel less monotonous. On this front, David Highbloom recommends setting up some low-key meetings that are more light-hearted and focus more on keeping team members positively engaged than on achieving any specific work objective. Team members’ interactions in an office aren’t all about work and productivity… so why should digital interactions be any different?
David Highbloom emphasizes that while remote work requires both team leaders and team members to operate differently than they would in an in-person office, these differences are not insurmountable. With the right approach, managers will find that their teams can not only muddle through, but actually thrive in a remote work environment.