During times of uncertainty, human beings seek community and safety, and many find it in the workplace. Work typically provides a much-needed sense of stability and control over at least one aspect of our lives when everything else has gone topsy-turvy. Yet, millions of people have lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently, due to the pandemic. Millions more are working at home, a new and unsettling situation for a lot of them.
You’ve likely seen or read numerous blogs, articles, and posts on working remotely and leading in uncertain times. I am offering up a few more tips for you as remote work is here to stay in some form or fashion.
When managing a remote workforce, leaders face two critical tasks –working out the operational details and keeping employees feeling connected to each other and the organization. The operational side involves figuring out what employees need to do their jobs from home and making sure they get it. When it comes to helping them feel connected and engaged, it all revolves around the “big C” – communication.
Email Isn’t Enough
When employees work from home for an extended period, it doesn’t take long before most of them begin to miss the social aspects of work. The team meetings. The chit-chat during lunch. Keeping up with each other’s personal lives. Participating in company events. The absence of this personal connection can leave remote employees feeling alone and isolated, which can cause performance and morale to suffer. To minimize these ‘normal’ human feelings:
- Keep everyone focused on winning. The work location may have changed, but the company’s destination hasn’t – unless the pandemic has changed your market so significantly that new goals are needed. And if they are, make sure you set some even for short timeframes. Keep the definition of winning in front of people in as many ways as possible. Be sure to communicate where the organization is headed and key strategies to get there coupled with team responsibilities and individuals’ goals. Answer the question, “Here is why we will still win.” Especially if your sector has undergone significant hardship.
- Communicate in many different ways. Email is the quickest and easiest way to communicate, but it’s also the least personal. It needs to be augmented with instant messaging, video conferencing, screen sharing, virtual experiences, and other tools that can create a sense of sitting across the table from each other as much as possible.
- Dial your communications up several notches. Communication needs to be more frequent than ever. If you typically hold an all-staff meeting once a month, increase it to twice a month, or even once a week. Use video technology so people can see each other and keep the meetings short and to the point. In a void of information, humans MSU (make stuff up). What we make up is almost always much more negative than the truth. Make sure you are filling in the blanks with what you want and need employees focused on and thinking about.
- Make it easy to work at home. This starts with providing the tools and technologies people need to work remotely. If you have a company Intranet, create a portal dedicated to issues related to working remotely. This can include a variety of helpful information, including:
- Company updates people need to know about
- Frequently asked questions
- Sharing tips about working at home
- Contact info for HR or someone who can chat with employees on a one-to-one basis
Working at home can be difficult for parents of young children. Many companies are hiring “concierges” to run errands and handle other chores to make life easier. You may want to provide access to a counselor who can work with employees suffering from stress or anxiety. Be aware of the signs when an employee may be struggling so you can provide the necessary support.
Let Employees Know You Care
Providing opportunities to engage socially is one of the most powerful ways to keep remote workers feeling connected. This includes letting employees know you care about them. A family-owned financial services company where almost everyone is working from home shared some ideas with me that are working well.
First, they set up every employee with Microsoft Teams, a collaboration platform that enables video calls with team members. They used the platform to create team channels devoted to social topics, such as ideas for keeping the kids entertained, home cooking recipes, and more.
Soon after that, management began sending “care packages” to employees. The first contained a fruit basket with nuts, crackers, and other munchies. The second consisted of a package of gourmet hamburger patties. People loved it, and pictures of employees grilling the burgers at home began popping up on team channels.
The most recent care package held a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle – a montage of pictures of everyone in the company. It included a note saying, “Thank you for being such an important piece of our puzzle. We thought we’d give you something to do while you’re at home.”
Reinforce Your Core Values
What impressed me the most is the way this firm supports connection by reinforcing the company’s values. At each weekly all-staff meeting, one person (a front-line employee, not senior management) gives a prepared three to five-minute presentation on one of the company’s core values. The presentation focuses on why the value is important, what it means to them, and how they try to emulate it in their work.
The employees have embraced these presentations with a great deal of enthusiasm and creativity. Some have created PowerPoint presentations. Others have made videos. Some have shared funny and touching stories. Regardless of the presentation style, the sessions remind everyone of the standard they want to hold themselves to, even while working at home.
COVID-19 may well change the way many companies work long after it is gone. So put on your thinking caps and start looking for ways to show your staff that you care. It will help them get through these difficult times. It will help you keep employees focused, connected, and committing to helping the organization win.