As the potential scope of the COVID-19 outbreak has become more clear in the United States and Canada, public and private organizations from all industries, sectors and geographies are encouraging their teams to work remotely to reduce the spread of the virus.
Universities are implementing online learning for the near term, research institutions are asking administrative staff to work from home, and countless companies are encouraging virtual collaboration and meetings in lieu of face-to-face meetings and air travel.
This remarkably unified response to the spread of COVID-19 means organizations are learning a great deal about their IT infrastructure, culture, work protocols and more seemingly overnight. It is an undeniably challenging moment for many.
Given our workplace strategy team’s experience helping organizations with some of these challenges, we wanted to share three key aspects that can influence successful transition to a remote (or partially remote) workforce. We share these simply hoping they’ll help in some way, shape or form over the coming days and weeks.
PRODUCTIVITY & BUSINESS CONTINUITY
At the foundation of any successful remote work strategy transition plan is clear communication. It is key to outline who is eligible for the plan, how long it will be in effect, key opportunities, risks or challenges, and FAQs outlining available resources, both technical and digital, along with a full list of contact names and phone numbers.
In communicating the plan, leaders should also establish clear expectations for how, how often, and under which circumstances, employees should connect with their managers. It’s especially critical for remote workers to have clearly articulated goals, timelines and measurable outcomes. It’s also effective for both employers and employees to be completely honest about the challenges remote work creates. If these challenges are voiced, they can be addressed.
Measuring Productivity & Business Continuity
There are also steps organizations can take to best measure how well they are maintaining productivity and business continuity. Here are some of the most common:
- Managers and teams should connect daily to share progress and set peer-acknowledged goals. Whenever possible, leverage video conferencing to help people see each other and establish shared agency
- Observe an individual’s or team’s work for any changes in work quality to monitor the influence of their working environments. Have open, honest conversations if changes are observed
- At this moment, avoid studying changes in stock prices or sales as a measure of business continuity. COVID-19 is creating market fluctuations on its own in a way that will bias these measures considerably
How Can Individuals Effectively Prepare for Extended Remote Work?
Just as universities and PK-12 schools are sending students home with digital lesson plans and materials, employees need to head home with everything they need for remote work. Here is a quick checklist employers should provide them:
- Save any files you’ll need in a digital location that is accessible remotely
- Test your connection to the company’s virtual network, and be sure all required multi-factor authentication apps are installed properly
- Scan any physical documents that you may need and save them somewhere secure in case others end up needing access
- Ensure you’re ready for conference calls by having a headset or headphones and setting up call forwarding on your desk phone. It also helps to have a plan and location in place at home to ensure quiet surroundings during phone calls
- Make sure to take any physical materials/supplies home that you may need, after clearing it with your manager. HR or legal will need to be consulted if there are privacy and confidentiality requirements surrounding documents that you will need access to
These are key steps organizations and employers can take to help ensure staff is prepared to work from home and productivity and business continuity remain as strong as possible during this virus outbreak and any future remote situations.
Collaboration is critical in today’s economy and clear strategies to maintain it are essential. For a remote workforce, it’s important for them to embrace chat features and virtual meetings to fuel collaboration.
Additionally, managers should push for dynamic tools within these technologies. Virtual calls do not just need to be audio, they can include video – so people can see one another – polling tools, in-time brainstorm sessions, and more. These can help boost team morale and overall collaboration.
For remote workforces to be effective, it’s important for managers to understand if their teams are collaborating at the same scale as in the office.
In these scenarios, companies frequently use tools like Microsoft Outlook’s MyAnalytics feature. With this tool, teams can measure the frequency and duration of interactions with colleagues between and within their group or department, which provides insights around employee social isolation and cross-functional collaboration, which is key to innovation.
How to Prepare Remote Teams for Collaboration
When almost all previous work has been conducted face-to-face, it can be challenging to think about how you maintain similar collaboration in remote settings. Here are a few key steps every team should take to strengthen this transition:
- Agree on the purpose of various collaboration tools. Should most interactions happen through email? Is chat reserved for urgent items or casual talking? Does your team culture prefer texting or calling?
Answering these questions up front and establishing a baseline for team communication can promote the most effective and useful collaboration for teams.
- Actively schedule time to casually interact with colleagues. For example, setting a virtual brainstorming session as a group can help replace those “water cooler’ or “breakfast club” moments that happen each day in the office
- Explore the use of the various tools to find one promotes virtual participation and suits your needs best. Many companies are now familiar with programs like Slack, Teams and Zoom to name a few. In addition, interactive sessions can be promoted through visual collaboration platforms like Mural, Kahoot and Miro
Collaboration is possible anywhere and for every team, even when working remotely. Thinking through and acting on these steps should help teams fuel collaboration even when physically apart.
The isolation of remote work can challenge personal health and wellness. There’s no denying it’s good to interact with colleagues each day and have routines in our lives. That said, employees and managers can each take steps to still foster both routine and wellness.
On the individual scale, employees should try and keep to a personal routine that works for them. Shower and get dressed as if you’re heading to work, hydrate and exercise, try working in different rooms or environments of your home, and schedule virtual breaks or chats with colleagues.
Employers and managers can help by setting regular communication cadence, asking employees to share how they’re each making ‘work from home’ work for them, and being understanding around schedule changes due to schools closing and childcare needs.
Measuring Employee Wellness
Employee wellness is multi-faceted and it’s important to measure it from multiple angles to establish clear pictures. There are data measures that help in these instances, including:
- Net Promoter Score is a tool offered by numerous analytics companies that can provide insight on employee satisfaction. This is a scoring system that grades organizations on a scale of -100 to 100 depending on their willingness to recommend working at the company to a friend or colleague
- Monitor ongoing work-life balance and engagement through regular pulse surveys. Watch out for large fluctuations (positive or negative) in the aggregate amount of time teams are working
- Managers can also try polling employees on the number of hours of sleep per night and perceived work-related stress if they feel it is appropriate. This data can provide insight on changes in employee health and ability to successfully perform job responsibilities
It’s also important to understand the COVID-19 outbreak is a stressful and uncertain time. We are all going to know people impacted. Encourage staff to talk about this and understand if they have imminent challenges they need to deal with related to the outbreak.
How to Prepare for Employee Wellness
The best way to prepare for your employees to be well while working remotely is proactive conversation and action. Talk to them about establishing routines, encourage exercise and more. Don’t even be afraid to schedule virtual coffee breaks, team walks or just call people to ask how they are doing. Maintaining wellness can be a challenge for any remote workforce, and during the COVID-19 outbreak those challenges are inherently escalated.
The response to the COVID-19 outbreak has truly been unprecedented in its scope. With more employees and organizations pivoting to remote work, we simply offer these tips in hope they help. Even with so many of us working remotely in the coming days and weeks, we are all in this together.