The workplace side effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been dramatic – and the temporary “new normal” we are all adjusting too likely means we’ve abandoned our offices to work remotely. Before the rise of this pandemic, an estimated 8 million Americans were working from home, according to a recent Census report. Now millions more have joined them, often from workplaces that have been exclusively office-centric.
CultureIQ has worked with a number of organizations that, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, have successfully made the transition from office-based to remote work. Here’s a list of best practices we’ve compiled from them to help both workers and their companies keep a healthy culture, no matter where their employees are.
1. Provide the right remote-work tools
At a very tactical level, organizations need to think about what tools and resources are critical for employees to do their jobs. Video conferencing software is the one that immediately jumps to mind, but what about other software or systems? Can employees remotely access secure folders and drives? Can phones be forwarded or accessed remotely? And importantly, do employees know who to contact with issues?
2. Stay connected
Many of us are feeling incredibly isolated right now, and organizations can help to bridge that gap through consciously focusing on the way we collaborate with one another. Team meetings should continue, perhaps even more frequently than before, to allow team members to not only share work challenges, but also to share remote work challenges (and hopefully solutions!) with one another. Encourage phone calls and video calls whenever possible.
3. Managers: Don’t keep your distance
Just as teams need to stay connected, so do managers, who may need to check in more frequently with their teams. Related to point #6 below, managers should be asking not just about work, but also finding out how employees are doing more generally. Are they stressed? Worried? Confused? Do they have what they need to succeed? Try to facilitate an open dialogue where employees feel safe sharing.
4. Be flexible and understanding
Many employees are now in the position of being full-time caretakers for children, pets, and relatives as they also work a full-time job. Recognize that work hours may need to be more flexible, either beginning earlier or ending later as we try to flex around new challenges in our home work environments. Whenever possible, organizations should focus on WHAT is getting done rather than WHEN it is getting done. Similarly, we need to be understanding of employees who have to step away for a few minutes to take care of family needs, when a dog barks, or when a child interrupts a phone call. It’s critical for organizations to understand that not everyone has a perfect remote-work environment.
5. Re-evaluate your usual habits
Similarly, businesses will need to be flexible around disruptions to usual processes. Consider whether some processes can be suspended, exceptions can be made, or if new ways of working are required on an interim basis. It’s important for managers to clearly communicate expectations, especially as work needs and processes change. This can be a great way to make employees feel connected: Get their ideas on how to accomplish work in this new environment.
6. Support physical AND mental health
Though many people are able to pack up their desks and work from home, we shouldn’t assume that they are doing so without worry or stress. In fact, just the opposite: the uncertainty and unending pace of change can be incredibly stressful for employees. It’s critical to remind employees what resources are available to them (e.g., telemedicine, employee assistance programs, counseling, etc.) to help alleviate some of these concerns.
7. Honest and thorough communication is critical
As we’re all more distant physically, we need our employers to keep us up to date – not just related to remote work plans, but also keeping us informed of changes to the business or strategy. Transparency is always key, but especially so right now. The communications we send – particularly those from our leaders – set the tone for our organization, so we should balance pragmatism with optimism. If we’re unsure of something (for example, how long will employees be working at home), it’s ok to admit that, but balance that with what we DO know. Updates should be frequent, but always honest.
8. Find some bright spots
And finally, even in trying and uncertain times like those we face now, it’s important to try to find bright spots for everyone to share. For example, we should continue to recognize good work, both for individuals and for teams. We might also consider how we can adapt our day-to-day routines to a remote environment; if you normally do Friday catered lunches as a team, perhaps you hold team lunches over video conference. Messaging tools can also be fun ways for teams to stay connected; just today, our colleagues at CultureIQ have been soliciting recommendations for TV shows and movies to watch as we practice our social distancing (Goodfellas, The Crown, The X Files, and Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon made the list). Small actions like these can help to bolster morale and keep everyone connected and engaged.
Jennifer Stoll is a Principal Strategist at CultureIQ and has been a remote worker for 8 years.