While we all get used to working from home, it can be hard to keep our own spirits up without the daily interactions with our colleagues and clients, let alone that of our teams. As a people, culture and remote working expert and founder of The Culture Builders consultancy, Jane Sparrow shares her top tips for keeping others motivated amid the current situation.
In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, organisations globally are now living the reality of what their business looks like when the majority of its workforce is remote.
For those of us who work remotely on a regular basis, we know that it’s not as easy as it may seem. The distractions are plentiful, it can be harder to feel motivated, human connection is dramatically reduced – and all of this has an impact on how effective we can be.
To that very point, a global survey last year found that many remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work (22%), loneliness (19%) and communicating (17%). Another study found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.
Similar to when it snows, the first day or two of homeworking can feel quite fun – it’s different, you don’t have to get up as early, there’s no morning commute – but then the reality sets in (around about now!) and it can become a real challenge for people. For those who are used to seeing colleagues or customers every day, feelings of isolation can creep in remarkably quickly as can a loss of focus, energy and creativity.
There are so many benefits of remote working, for both people and business spanning wellbeing, productivity and the environment – in actual fact, a possible upside of this whole situation is that it may prove the case for more flexible working within companies who have been slow to adopt it. However, all of these benefits only come into play if the very notion of remote working is carefully thought through and planned, at an individual, team and company level.
In our experience, one of the greatest challenges is that many organisations come at remote working assuming that people will just do it well or adapt easily to it, if it’s new for them. The other thing we see a lot is businesses putting in a new or enhanced virtual working tool – and considering the job to be done. However, we need to remember that we’re all human and therefore, dropping people into a completely different way of working with just a new video communication platform – it simply doesn’t work. We have to think about how we keep people feeling connected, that they’re still part of a team and that there’s still a strong support network in place.
So how can we keep ourselves and our teams positive, connected and productive? Here are ten key things to think about.
Don’t focus on tools alone
With video communication, webcasting, messaging platforms and more, we have the technology to make this work. But attitudes and behaviours are just as vital – talk about what is important to make remote working effective in your team and how you’ll behave to support that.
Create a third place
There’s the office, there’s home and then there’s the virtual third place. Agree with your team how you’ll behave there for virtual collaboration success e.g. it’s acceptable to send a quick message to say “I’ll call you back” if you’re deep in focus.
Ensure social continuity
When we work remotely, our exchanges become more formal and task focused. Pick up the phone, or send a quick message, just to see how someone else’s day is going. Virtual team check-ins at the start and end of each day replicate the usual social greetings and create connection.
Adapt working structures
What works in the office may not remotely. Instead of lengthy meetings, have short virtual huddles with a strong chair so people’s voices don’t get lost because they’re not physically visible. Apply this thinking to team resourcing, scheduling and action planning.
How are we feeling?
Keeping in tune with how teams are feeling is even more critical when they’re remote – have five minutes on the start of every virtual meeting to say hello properly and see how people are. Choose two different people to call each day for a five minute check in.
Help people to manage distraction
Distractions are the biggest reason why many people say homeworking wouldn’t work for them. Think about what your main distractions are and talk openly with colleagues about how you’re managing them – specific break times and little rewards throughout the day work well.
Say thank you more
We have a human need to feel valued and when we work remotely the opportunities for this diminish. Be intentional around saying thank you to your colleagues and your team in a virtual way – and actively share any stories of success, no matter how small.
Energising – your way
What gives us energy is different for everyone but you and your people need to work it out fast for success. A tried and tested formula is breaks + movement + fresh air (every so often). Plus avoiding the lure of the biscuit cupboard with healthy snacks instead.
Embrace a different lens
The current COVID-19 situation may mean that you’re looking through a new window into people’s homes, families and wider lives in a way that you never have before. Embrace that and use it as an opportunity to take an interest in people and connect on a more human level.
With schools and nurseries closed, the impact on how we and those around us are able to work is even greater. Be empathic with others as well as being open and honest about your own working patterns (and limitations).
We have a saying in our business that ‘words create worlds’. We also have a belief that over and above everything, what we remember, especially at times like this, is how people made us feel. This is essential to consider at a time when the colleagues around us (albeit virtually) will be facing a range of challenges, some very personal and difficult to manage.
My best advice, as we all weather these unprecedented times, is to challenge yourself at every turn to remember the human beings behind the laptops in both the words you choose and the action you take.
For more thinking and top tips on effective remote working get Jane’s latest book on the topic, subscribe to The Culture Builders podcast, or follow Jane on Linkedin.
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