Guide to Remote Working
Whilst working from home is common practise for some, there will always be exceptional circumstances which means it becomes a necessity for nearly all. In these difficult or crisis times it’s important that staff can quickly adapt to the change to ensure full productivity whilst minimising any sense of isolation or anxiety.
Challenges and Solutions
Lack of direct contact: Managers and staff in an office environment generally benefit from immediate access to guidance and support, this ensures that barriers to productivity are easily shared and overcome. Workers within the same office feed off the energy and activities of those around them, boosting the morale of all and decreasing the effects of monotonous tasks. Visual clues also enable co-workers to spot when colleagues are stressed or suffering unmanageable workloads, allowing them to offer assistance and even help with the redistribution of tasks. All these positives are lost when remote working is a necessity. It is therefore natural that staff feel anxious about losing face-to-face interaction and managers fear a drop in productivity.
Solution: To successfully recreate a sense of community and support managers should establish a daily check in and catchup call. Remote working becomes less daunting for all when managers set a timetable for the frequency and methods through which the team will continue communicating. Importantly time should still be set aside for basic social interaction, allowing team calls to discuss non-work related topics and a general chat. At the outset a manager should also convey which means of communication are best suited for which tasks and what language or tone should be used in each. It’s important that some routes remain informal whilst remaining compliant to company policies.
Modern technology and social networking apps, alongside the traditional phone calls, all provide a mechanism to keep in touch. Each method provides their own particular benefits but ultimately one or a combination of several will provide a flexible solution for group and one-to-one interaction. Email alone will not provide the richer and more personal approach available through the likes of video conferencing. This method also re-establishes those all important visual cues which increase “mutual knowledge” and helps managers understand the challenges faced by staff at home. Informal group messaging systems also offer a feel of community expression and support which better mirrors the interaction within an office. It also provides a fast but unobtrusive route to fast communication through which staff can support each other.
Restricted access to information: Often those new to remote working will feel isolated from information that they previously took for granted. Accessing digital or physical information becomes more challenging and time consuming. Getting quick answers from co-workers or managerial advice is no longer available by looking up from their desk. The physical isolation also means that workers cannot directly see the visual clues that others are stressed or having a rough day and therefore don’t adjust their behaviour.
Solution: Managers should proactively request feedback regarding roadblocks to productivity, providing time during both communal and individual discussions to share these. Don’t feel tempted to always be the one to provides the solution, allowing other team members to propose a resolution can boost the bonding process and empowers staff to maintain a sense of control. Equally you should also set aside time when colleagues can share how they feel emotionally without the fear of being judged. Listening is the key and allowing a team to express their individual or combined feelings, simply giving someone space to talk, and listening to how they’re feeling, can be really helpful in itself. If they’re finding it difficult, let them know that you and the team are there and will always make time for them.
Social isolation and distraction: A feeling of loneliness is common with remote workers who naturally miss the informal social interaction of an office setting. Once working in isolation staff can miss the sense of a shared purpose and the feeling of belonging to a team. Extraverts may suffer more acutely in the short term but over time this sense of disconnection is likely to be experienced by all team members. The home environment also raises challenges of distractions which are not present at work. Distractions like household chores, kids, and easy access to a TV can prevent home workers from accomplishing as much as they want or need to.
Solution: Regular scheduled and impromptu conversations are the key to combatting loneliness. Encourage workers to call each other both for work matters and also when they just need to chat. If you are concerned about staff distracting each other then suggest a mechanism whereby people can see if a team member is busy. Lots of online collaborative software or social apps have the ability for users to change their public status. Through this staff can see who is open to provide help and or chat and those that need to remain focused. To help with home distractions your staff should be urged to create a clearly defined workspace and a routine. Encourage them to write a to-do list or daily calendar to help them stay focused on those key tasks. These can also act as brain dump area, so they can write out any distracting thoughts or personal to-do items, allowing them to focus on their work. Make sure that your team knows that it is fine for them to go outside. Spending a day working from a coffee shop can help them have a change of scenery and removes the distractions of kids and pets. Short breaks for a walk or lunch with a friend or colleague can also be helpful to refocus energy or share ideas face to face.
Encouragement and support: An abrupt shift to remote working can be an unsettling experience so it is important that a manager acknowledges this. Productive teams and its individual members can experience declines in performance and productivity, this is common and to be expected. There will inevitably be a period of adjustment and by addressing the challenges already covered, these can be successfully managed and disruption minimised.
Solution: Staff will need the opportunity to share their anxieties and concerns so try to facilitate this. Where necessary just ask the question outright and add it to communal discussions so that people know that it is a share experience and can offer each other coping strategies. Be sure to listen carefully to the responses and restate it back so they know that they have been heard and to confirm your own understanding. Don’t focus your support and encouragement to strictly business tasks and issues. Help staff to share successes and challenges and use all lines of communication to maintain their bonds and to continue to operate as an effective and supportive team.
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