Today, global companies both large or small, private or governmental, were all abruptly forced into remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a few weeks of maneuvering the new challenges and changes in policies, we are seeing that, more often than not, organizations are truly getting into the “new norm” of conducting business. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to pause for a moment to examine the impacts remote work has been having on your business and on your employees.
On its 2020 Remote Work survey, conducted by OnePoll, thousands of employees around the globe were surveyed about the impact remote work has had on their daily lives. Many of the results have been overwhelmingly positive despite the unfortunate circumstances that brought us here.
Respondents observed multiple benefits to working from home (US, UK, Germany, India, Brazil, and Australia):
Note: Survey only focused on people working from home (remote work).
The survey confirms my personal opinion that perhaps it is time for organizations to consider a permanent shift to a flexible working culture when we really defeat COVID-19. That being said, it is not as simple as turning our cell phones on. However, a flexible work culture is becoming essential to business vitality today and in the future. How to build a flexible work culture is complex and requires to cross-functional efforts from C-Suite, to HR, to individual teams, training and technology.
After organizations design the business vitality strategy, the two most critical elements to drive a successful shift to a flexible work from home environment are behavior and technology. As humans, we have the ability and the capacity to change our behaviors, both in our personal and professional lives. Today, technology is the tool that can ease the shift effectively.
To ensure a successful remote work environment, organizations must encourage and support new behaviors in their employees. GLA’s 2020 Business Plan included growth on virtual/working from home strategies. We had a robust plan at the beginning of 2020 that was calendared to be fully implement by the end of the year. COVID-19 accelerated that implementation and what we had as beta became a reality plan in a matter of days after California mandated shelter in place.
As disruptive as COVID-19 impact has been to all, GLA was fortunate to already have some systems in place that allow us to continue delivering partnering to our clients and help them daily with difficult challenges, bringing comfort, support and assurance that we were and are on this together.
Let’s go back to the OnePoll Survey results mentioned earlier. Although the survey showed positives, it also showed workers had significant concerns about working remotely:
So, what’s the good news? All these concerns are solvable problems. It’s all a matter of managers encouraging the right behaviors and leading by example.
I am a follower of Evan Carmichael, and he repeats on his message: “But where you are now doesn’t have to be where you end up if you get the right people and models to follow. I #Believe in you.” How does this simple statement apply to organizations adaptation of a more flexible working culture? Simple: leadership, leadership, leadership.
At GLA, our President Sam Hassoun not only encourages and supports right behaviors, he leads by example. He believes in the people that works with him, not for him. Creating a culture of trust, creativity, empowerment that delivers results.
A few of the challenges we all face working from home are too much going on at home, a feeling of disconnection with colleagues and a lack of motivation. Let’s address one at a time:
Problem: “There’s Too Much Going On at Home – I‘m Always Distracted!”
Solutions: Challenge employees to create distance in their homes. A dedicated, calming, distraction-free workspace can make all the difference. Although not everyone may have the luxury to have an extra room or place, there are creative ways to find a distraction-free place. For example, weather permitting, even a tent in your backyard can be a way to escape to a calm place.
Tactics like time-boxing to-do lists can help too. And distractions aren’t always bad – include mental breaks in your daily routine, a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood or stretching routine, 30 minutes to make a nice lunch may actually lead to a more productive afternoon! Make yourself get away from your computer
Problem: “I Feel Lonely, and I Don’t Feel Close to My Team.”
Solutions: Here is where managers must really invest in building a new culture. Traditional workers gathered in the break room or copy machine room together, often referred as the “water cooler” chat. Even as workers start going back to offices, the “water cooler” chat, for now, will not be the same as before. Leaders now have to be more creative on building a virtual team culture. Some examples on how to launch a team culture: schedule a virtual lunch-talks and have food deliver to the team prior to the virtual lunch. Today you can use a delivery service like Postmates or Door Dash to bring some kind of social activity to your team. Open regular meetings with a personal story, asking others to share as well. Encourage webcam, seeing each other even virtually can bring a sense of closeness and care.
At GLA we believe the mental health of our people is vital. We have built the culture of being a text away. We have done virtual lunch meetings just to catch up on how we feel, how are we doing, how are we adapting to working from home and what we miss. It allows the team to feel that they are part of GLA, even when we are working remotely. We believe that what force us to be here is now permanent to our organization, and it is very important to keep our team together believing in the One Team statement.
Problem: “I Work A Lot More at Home, so I’m Burned Out and Losing Motivation.”
Solutions: Encourage employees to think outside the traditional 9-5 system. Find a schedule that works for them. Everyone is different. If someone is more productive in the morning and loses steam in the afternoon, support a schedule that matches their natural work habits. Encourage personal time throughout the day – even build it into the team schedule.
Communication is critical with teams that historically interacted in an office, whether temporal or permanent, shifting the routines of an office to remote work environment takes a huge toll on teams. Even the best managers may lose some of their best habits in this new environment.
To help the “shift,” you can:
Establish structured daily check-ins. It is important to stay connected every day. The team should feel confident their leaders are available and their questions and concerns will be heard and addressed.
When shelter in place started, GLA leadership immediately scheduled 15 minutes with the team via GoToMeeting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:00 am. A time for our President to talk to us, give us positive messages to start and end the week, to bring the team together. We continue to meet on Mondays and Fridays following the belief of starting and ending the week on a positive note.
Provide Communication tools. Today, technology is the essential tool for any organizations’ remote communication. Remote workers will benefit from a communication toolbox that gives them a great collaborative experience and own how they want to communicate.
At GLA, we use the video conferencing platform GoToMeeting to communicate with our clients and internal business. We also use Google Hangouts for one-on-one or informal staff meetings. A chat application is ideal for situations in which employees are dealing with time-sensitive issues. There are other platforms such as Zoom that gives the team the same visual notion, we often take for granted in face-to-face conversations. These platforms increase mutual understanding and reducing feelings of isolation.
Last, don’t forget to have fun. Building a strong, positive team culture IS possible without being in the same office. It just needs a little more creativity and attention.
Create a “Fun Ideas” shared document where employees can input ideas on real-time. Memory lane, who remembers the “Suggestion Box” in the break room? Same concept. A virtual class together as a team, something to enrich personal skills like cooking, crafting or a workout (on the company dime!), send employees care packages that can be opened and enjoyed on video while you are meeting.
GLA’s leadership to keep partnering going, minimizing disruption not only internally but on our clients projects, supporting each other in the journey of changing the way we used to do business and deliver our services the NEW way or what some call the NEW Norm, providing support and tools to ease the transition has been a blessing to our team
Changing Behaviors is not easy. Remote work is a behavior change that – if supported and managed right – will be a successful transition for both the organization and the employee.