If you are part of a company that was forced to send home workers due to COVID-19, you might be thinking ‘what’s next?’
Many companies are rushing to get back to the workplace, but with policies that limit human contact and interaction, it really begs the question of why? Remote work may have flipped your whole world upside-down, or it may have been a minor adjustment in your mindset. But for many, it has become our way of life. More and more companies are transitioning to a fully remote workplace, so what should we know as we make this life-changing transition?
As a manager, we have a responsibility to get the most out of our employees. In the office, it was easy to drop by their desk or meet over a cup of tea to ensure their needs are met. Now, we are faced with the challenge of empowering our employees to learn, cope, and perform with limited resources and limited contact: many companies are facing, at a bare minimum, a lack of cash. There is a lack of demand in the marketplace, and a lack of supply from clients, companies, wholesalers, or whomever. And in some cases, there is also a lack of people because of health concerns in the workplace.
What’s next for our companies can be a daunting thought. Still, many experts have weighed in, and it turns out, there are some things about this experience that can help us be optimistic about the future.
The positives of what’s next
The first thing to keep in mind is that we went through this together. We have solved problems together, failed together, and grown together. Because of this shared experience, there is a mutual base for us to relate to one another. COVID-19 was, at the very least, an incredible disruption to our lives, and we are quite literally working through it. Being able to have that shared experience will help us grow from the same starting point as we transition into what’s next for our work lives.
We have all been forced to adapt to using different forms of communication. Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams have helped us to work asynchronously. You can literally work with people across the globe without spending a penny. Plus, employees can work when they want. This can be a bit controversial, as working from home doesn’t always get the best from everyone.
However, according to Kim Kaupe, CEO and Teacher at The Superfan Company, working from home allows people to be flexible in their schedules, apart from meetings. If you’re the type of person who works best late at night, then you have that option; if you do your best work at six o’clock in the morning, then that is also an option.
Finally, Aaron Dignan- founder of The Ready and expert in transformational change- says that even though we are not physically together, we are more authentic than ever before. Meeting over a video call forces us to put ourselves into the homes of our colleagues. How many times have you done a video call with your dog on your lap? Or kids playing behind you? Or the sound of yard work in the background?
Authenticity breeds culture and leadership. We can see that every person we work with is still a person outside of their job. This can help break communication barriers by making employees comfortable with one another.
What’s next for our employees?
For the most part, it is hard to say what’s next for our employees and our businesses overall. We are lucky to live in a time where technology allows our organizations to continue growing, even as our work styles change. Because of this, management has time to figure out what’s next, and all the while we are learning lessons about trust, collaboration, security, and all the other things that go along with working from home.
We’ve discussed the positives of working remotely. Still, undoubtedly there will be challenges as well, so we must provide our employees with the resources to meet and overcome those challenges.
Burnout is one challenge that might come with an overload of work without the separation of the work-life environment-. If your team is used to sitting in meetings for most of their day, then, of course, it would be a difficult transition to then be sat on a video call for seven or eight hours per day. How can we prevent this? And if burnout occurs, how can we manage it?
Work-life balance and employee wellbeing is still important, even if our work and our lives aren’t necessarily separated by an office building anymore.
Part of adapting to this change will be being able to find the right tool for the job. Maybe it isn’t necessary to hold a meeting, and it is easier to just drop a message in the inbox or write a description of your proposal that others can comment on. Meetings don’t have to be the only way to make decisions and move forward. This will reduce the time needed to make those critical decisions without spending another hour setting up and completing a meeting.
Another thing that comes along with decision making without the face-to-face input of your team is trust. If you are able to trust your team and colleagues to do their work without someone looking over their shoulder, then it is possible to delegate tasks and work more efficiently. Employees should also trust one another to make good decisions. Again, this requires management to provide the best possible resources and an environment that is open and authentic so that people are not afraid to ask questions or provide feedback.
Overall, employees should expect to learn some new skills in the transition to an online format such as self-management, self-organization, and problem-solving. They should expect their managers to be open and authentic and committed. As we will see in the next section, commitment to the organization and its employees involves supporting their learning and development. When employees see that their leaders are committed, they are also committed.
How to handle what’s next? Expert suggestions
As many have already established, it is important that in deciding what’s next for our companies, we do not try to recreate the old world in the new. There are new ways to come together and lead, and it will be essential to make sure that our team is our first priority. Here are some suggestions from experts on how to handle the major changes that come from managing remotely:
- Be authentic as a leader. You do not need to be flawless, and if you make a mistake then own it. Be authentic and open to the struggles we are facing because we are all still learning together. –Bonnie Hagemann, an expert in strategic planning and CEO of EDA, Inc.
- Find ways to create community. When everyone is working in the same room or office building, there is a sense of group energy. Now that many of us are working from home, we have lost that sense of camaraderie. Kim Kaupe, CEO of The Superfan Company, suggests that you can build community by getting everyone in the company, or everyone in the same department on the same call once per week even if it is only 15-20 minutes. Then, you can talk about your lives, what you have accomplished this week, or what your goals are for next week. Having this time together creates a sense of community and consistency.
- Use your listening skills. Instead of asking “what do you need from me?” ask “How can I help you? How can I be of service to you? What can I provide to you to help you and the team be our best selves?” Reach out to your employees and let them know that you are listening and that you want to help by sending a message or scheduling a call to talk about these things. Leading from a place of service will show your team that they can trust you, and they are not alone in this transition. -Kim Kaupe
- Initiate intentional communication. Kevin Eikenberry, the co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute, says that intentional communication involves investing the time in your employees to understand their situation. Checking in about performance is also a place of focus because, in a work world as dynamic as this, new variables will be thrown into the mix every day. One-on-one check-ins or group check-ins could work, as long as each employee’s needs are met and expectations are clear. Keep in mind that a group meeting may discourage some members from speaking up. Hence, it is essential to know each individual and their comfort zone.
- Be empathetic. Out of all things, empathy is the key to good remote leadership. This involves understanding where people are coming from. Don’t make the assumption that everyone loves to work from home. Make sure that each employee feels included and valued. Spend time making sure you understand people’s thoughts and feelings about working from home so that you can help them work through it. By creating a safe and inclusive community, the team will be more willing to speak up and ask for help if they need it. -Kevin Eikenberry
Remote management can be incredibly difficult, but it will be necessary. What’s next for our workforce may not look the same as it did five years ago or even last year. When managing a team of employees virtually, we must be willing to understand the individual, find the next best steps for them, and assist in implementing that next step. Putting people and their experiences as the first priority will be the key driver in creating the new world of work.
If remote management has been a struggle for you or your business, a business coach may be able to help in responding to what’s next. Check out our corporate coaching programmes to find the perfect program for your business.