Adapting to remote work
Remote work isn’t going away soon so here’s four things to consider as you adapt
In the early months of this year many companies faced the prospect of going ‘remote first’ overnight. It wasn’t a choice — many were thrust into this world with no guardrails and no precedent to guide them. The optimists thought it might last a few weeks and sent staff home with a note of “we’re shutting the office for a little while”. Others were a bit more cautious and were issuing guidance to their staff that they were “following the science and would return when it was safe to do so”.
As a consequence of the pandemic some people, myself included, haven’t been in an office since late February. If you’re a senior leader or a manager in an organisation this might represent a fundamental change in how you’ve done business to date. In an office environment where you have proximity with your people you get all of the benefits that come with that. Huddling around a whiteboard, walking up to a coworkers desk to chat with them about something, seeing one another day-in, day-out. Of course, it’s not all rosy…too many meetings that drag on for too long, people not respecting the “headphones means do not disturb rule”, long commutes, etc. Being in office is neither inherently good nor bad, but if you’re used to it and you’re not longer in the office it’s different. And, that can be a challenge.
If you’re used to seeing your people tapping away on their keyboards, cranking out ‘x’ number of widgets per hour, working on whiteboards with one another, clocking in and clocking out, you’ve had all of that familiarity ripped away from you. Change can be hard enough even if you’ve had a long time to adapt, never-mind when it’s thrust upon you from forces completely outside of your control. It can be tempting to try and recreate your office conditions in a virtual environment, but instead of doing that why not take the opportunity to refocus and think about the best way of working in the new normal? Here are some things to consider:
Input vs. output
You might not be able to see the input as much as before but one thing you can see is the output. Are your people and teams achieving what you need them to? If so, then help them to optimise and continue to be effective. If not, then you know something needs to change. Stay focussed on the outputs that your people are delivering and resist the urge to get too dialled in on monitoring the input. A good test of this is to check in on how you feel when a member of your team is showing as “away” when you expected them to be at their computer. If you’re feeling frustrated but can’t articulate that frustration in terms of how it’s impacted the outputs that they’re delivering it’s likely that you’re focussing on the wrong thing.
Resist the temptation to monitor too much
One of the things you might be tempted to do is increase how you monitor your people. You can no longer stand up and take a scan of the office. You can’t see who’s on the phone fielding calls and who’s taking another trip to the kitchenette for another cup of tea. There are a myriad of software options that monitor active screen time, track what apps are being used, and at their most intrusive even take a photo through your built-in camera ever 60 seconds to make sure you’re at your computer. This is intrusive, untrusting and is not staying focussed on outcomes. This sort of environment is unlikely to help you retain talent and doesn’t exactly promote a very mutual relationship between the organisation and the people.
Find new value in your role
For many managers and leaders they are feeling a pinch around the value they deliver in their role. If you were a problem solving manager who relished the person approaching your desk with a complex challenge that you could jump into you might not be in that environment anymore. It’s time to think about how your role delivers value to your team and the organisation in this new working world. These 6 top tips for being a great people manager are a good place to start.
Think about the future
It’s clear that COVID-19 isn’t going away as quickly as it burst onto the scene. You might be working in this way for quite some time and it’s time to think about that and plan for it. What will it mean if your people need to balance being at-home teachers alongside fielding customer service enquiries? What will it mean if your Finance team aren’t able to get in touch with debtors because their company has instituted new working hours? There are a whole host of challenges that we still don’t know about, we’ll be dealing with the fall out of this pandemic for a while and it’s time to start planning for it. Think about how you’ll balance:
- people who need to double hat between being stay-at-home teachers and business professionals
- building community, workplace culture and engagement in a remote first environment
- collaborating remotely with colleagues who are more used to grabbing a whiteboard marking and hunkering down for hours at a time
- onboarding and training new staff that you might not be able to meet for months on end
- finding new clients that you can’t take for dinner to engage with
- managing performance objectively when you don’t see your team every day
This new world might take some significant change and there’s not necessarily an off-the-shelf solution or a “COVID-19 workplace for dummies” guide that you can call upon. Hopefully, this article has provoked some helpful thoughts on things you can be doing now to proactively manage the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on a changing workplace.