In the early days of our confinement, I shared some ideas with managers I've worked with over the years on how to make sure their employees stay engaged and productive during the transition from office (or butts in seats) to working from home. At the time I naively assumed we wouldn't be here for long. Boy was I wrong.
The Gallup organization reports that up to 62% of the workforce has worked from home during the COVID-19 crisis and the Global Workplace Analytics organization is forecasting that by the end of 2021, 25% to 30% of the workforce will continue to work from home multiple days per week.
Earlier this week, Zillow approved a remote work policy until at least the end of 2020, and Amazon extended their work from home guidance to Bellevue and Seattle employees until October.
Working from home is likely here to stay. If you're like many other managers you took a crash course in leading and managing remotely. Continuing to do so effectively includes the same building blocks you started with: consistent and clear communication; continue to connect; and trust they will do what is expected of them.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Information is what your employees want. They want to understand the company policies and what is expected of them. Their questions may relate to how the company will address WFH issues, whether or not, and how their compensation may change, and how much tolerance the company will give to them knowing they also have to care for children who are out of school or daycare for an indefinite period of time. The messages need to clear, concise, and consistent. If your messages are constantly changing it will cause confusion and unease increasing your employees' stress and lowering their performance.
You also need to expressly state what you expect of each employee. What specifically do they need to get done and in what time frame? You may be thinking, but they already know. Yes, they know the work they need to do, but what is your expectation as far as when this work gets completed? You may have some employees who work better early in the morning -- if they start their day at 6am, do you expect them to be online until 5pm or later? And what about the late starters? It is okay that they don't begin their day until 10am or later? Clearly outline your expectations of when they should be available to you and the rest of the team.
One more note here, you'll have many employees who will ask you all these questions. I want you to look for the ones who aren't asking. These employees need more communication or they'll make assumptions on what they think they know. Assumptions always lead to trouble, and can be easily addressed with clear, concise, and consistent communication.
Gather Them Virtually
I am a huge extrovert and I realize not everyone else is, but we all need to connect with others. To that end, change your conference calls to be video calls, schedule more frequent check-ins with your employees, and create time in your calendar when you are available. They need to see you and their peers.
These gatherings don't need to be formal or long. Here are a few suggestions for you:
Invite your team to an hour of online virtual working. People will likely check-in at the beginning, but then the rest of the time is spent working on their own tasks.
Encourage employees to schedule quick video chats instead of sending emails when they are working on a project together. These can be as short as 15 minutes but replace those hallway conversations we are all so used to holding.
Want to relieve some stress or be silly? Host a virtual dance party. Attendance isn't mandatory and you may be the only one there, but you will feel good when you are done.
Virtual happy hours, scavenger hunts and breakrooms are also ways to make sure you keep your employees connected.
You will have employees who say they don't need this. And they might not at first, but they will. Pay attention to those who aren't regularly responding to these types of requests and schedule some time to check-in with them individually. You'll be glad you did.
Now a word of caution. I've read several articles in recent weeks about "zoom fatigue." That idea that if we are on video calls all day we get exhausted. True. But we'd also get exhausted being on conference calls all day without a break. So make sure there are breaks. Make sure your employees know they can take breaks and let them know which "connection meetings" are mandatory and which are not.
Trust Them and Have Patience
If you are used to having everyone in the office every day, and seeing them work and accomplish tasks this virtual-working thing may be hard for you because you can't see them. Your high-performing team hasn't suddenly stopped working. They are only working differently.
You've clearly communicated what is expected of them, and now you need to trust that they are doing what they need to do when they need to do it. Don't start micromanaging them now. Remind your team you trust them, that you know they can persevere through these times, and that you are there for them.
I think it also helps for you to admit that these are uncertain times for you too, that everyone is going to have a bad day. You need to remind yourself and your team that they need to be patient with one another, assume good intent on the part of their co-workers and afford everyone and themselves some grace.
Right now may be one of your toughest times as a manager. Your team will need you more than ever and you will be called upon to step up and in. You can do this. You assembled a great group of people. Communicate, connect, and trust - them and yourself.