Shifting to the ‘home office’ has become the new normal for many of us for a while, given the coronavirus has officially reached ‘pandemic’ status.
Companies around the globe have rolled out mandatory remote work. Google, Microsoft, Twitter. Hitachi, Apple, Amazon. Chevron, Salesforce, Spotify. From the UK to the US, Japan to South Korea, these are all global companies that have, in the last few days, rolled out mandatory work-from-home policies amid the spread of COVID-19.
The watershed has begun. Business operations today are all about continuity during a crisis or potential crisis. But are most organizations ready? Are corporate clients fully prepared to leverage flexible work as a strategic approach to mitigating risk?
While organizations have already established remote work protocols and contingency plans, they need a virtual workplace strategy to maintain their agility and productivity index high. Here are some key considerations to get moving:
Ramp up your communication plan:
Most people spend their days in close proximity to their managers, meaning communication is easy and effortless. But that’s all out the window with remote work, and communication breakdown is even more likely if your workplace isn’t used to remote working.
Make sure, your communication is not just driven by managers but all team members should be made responsible for ensuring open and consistent communication across all team members. Also, do make sure you have a strategy to resolve conflict and potential misunderstandings in an effective and timely manner.
Given the pandemic situation we are in, over-communicate since distributed working initially requires a degree of over-communication to make sure everyone is engaged.
Create successful virtual meetings
While online meetings may be a normal part of a team’s everyday workflow, these meetings are still not completely efficient and a bit of a head-scratcher.
- Consider whom you invite to meetings, whether they are required to attend, what their time zone is, and who is working outside normal working hours.
- Establish ground rules that encourage interaction and engagement, including inviting questions, incorporating polls, stopping to check-in for any questions or technology issues (i.e. bad connection).
- Try and make these meetings more than regular check-in by making it more interactive. Minimize the meeting duration and maximize the value of interacting on the call. In a virtual environment, differences in opinions or approaches can be amplified. Make a concerted effort to invite, listen, and respond to different perspectives.
- Encourage everyone to be present. Video is the next best way to engage teams and stay connected—no matter how far apart you sit. When using video, attendees are more likely to turn off distractions, focus on the discussion, and be more engaged. Address typical concerns with video meetings, including the need to be “camera-ready” or hide the environment.
Focus on collaboration to avoid self-isolation
The coronavirus is pushing everyone into this kind of extreme working from home,” says Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University in California who’s given TED Talks about remote work. He says there are two types of working from home: short-term or occasional work from home, and permanent or full-time work from home. “It is kind of like comparing light exercise to marathon training,” he says.
Recognize the impact of isolation and loneliness. Working remotely can cause people to feel isolated, making it more important to routinely check in with your team, not only about their work product but also to see how they are doing. Loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Be aware of significant changes you may see in your team member's personality or work product, because it may be a sign that a person is struggling.
Check in with your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to confirm their availability and to coordinate support for employees. Remind the staff that the EAP is there if they need support and can connect employees with behavioral health support if needed. Also, connect with the organization's health plan(s) to learn what they are offering to support plan members and pass that information onto employees. Be sure to include all relevant website links and phone numbers for both the EAP and health plans in communicating with employees.
Here are some of the best practices adopted by the leading organizations to create better employee experiences for their virtual workforce:
- HP: For employees who are parents, school closures and reduced after-school activities mean their children will be spending more time at home and having to leverage technology to ensure their education is not disrupted. The company is encouraging them to take this opportunity to play a more active role in steering their children’s learning, including by creating online resources such as Print & Play that has fun learning activities for children.
The company has also rolled out an employees’ guide outlining best practices for working from home. This includes guidelines around setting up an optimal work from home experience, using collaborative platforms, and a quick-and-easy guide to maintaining the safety and cleanliness of electronic devices for maintaining a healthy work environment.
- AXA: AXA offices around the region are using various methods to engage their teams, such as video conferencing, virtual town hall meetings hosted by senior management and regular updates through internal channels. These measures help in ensuring staff continues to feel connected to the business and each other.
- Lenovo: Lenovo is offering refresher courses to employees to ensure that they leverage the supporting tools and applications efficiently. At Lenovo, employees also have easy access to quality devices and equipment fitted with collaboration software platforms, which enables them to be easily connected in remote arrangements. As employees continue to work from home, it is important to foster engagement to maintain business operations and foster a positive employee experience.
- Honeywell Aerospace: The company has implemented work from home practices in support of employees whose children are affected by school closures, where required, or in specific locations to minimize workplace exposure. Its manufacturing facilities remain open with limited access to ensure its customers’ needs are being met.