There we were, insisting we wouldn't have to change any time soon, then change found us. For the first time in U.S. history, every state is under a disaster declaration simultaneously. And it's changed the way we work. If our job roles were remote-capable, we transitioned our employees to their homes. Zero planning. No long-range goals. Nada strategic thought. Just do it.
My role at Best Companies Group has me talking with employers every day, helping them first collect, then understand and finally respond to feedback from their employees. I can't tell you how often I've led an analysis call and observed an ask from employees for the ability to work remotely. Maybe just as many times, the CEO on the receiving end of the feedback chuckled and said, "Well, that's not going to happen. That's just not how we work."
We asked forty employers what percentage of employees worked remote before the pandemic as compared to now. Not surprisingly, while three quarters (75%) reported fewer than 25% working remotely before the crisis, nine out of ten (89%) now report a significant portion working remotely.
Now, we're working with employers to collect employee feedback about the experience of being newly remote along with satisfaction and engagement data.
Increase Communication, Improve Connection
Among our Best Places to Work, nine out of ten employees feel treated like a person, not a number (92%) and feel communications are frequent (92%) and detailed (91%) enough. That can be a tall order when teams are physically separated.
Share updates from the organization at least once per week about anything to do with changes and what to expect. Whether it's benefits, communications, or successes, regular updates can be not just helpful, but a comfort when they are published reliably. Do what you can to establish a regular time that employees can count on.
We all know we're more effective when we pick up the phone instead of sending an email, and it's never been better advice. When we fire off an email, it lacks inflection and oftentimes even context. To continue to invest in relationships with peers, superiors and direct reports, pick up the phone more often. This is especially important at a time when most of your employees (managers and non-managers alike) are likely stressed. Save the video conferencing for scheduled meetings, if your teams are experiencing fatigue on that platform. If you can't call, then be sure to add context to your emails says Matt Mullenweg of WordPress, in a recent article about improving communication during remote work.
Bolster the Bonds of Your Team
Now is the time to invest in your team and build it. If they were not previously remote employees, they may be especially bewildered. Whatever can be done to continue to build bonds and positivity will help the team work together, cut each other slack, and continue to problem solve.
Establish, reinvigorate, or retool your peer recognition program to suit the new work environment. This can be as simple as asking your teams to submit kudos for other employees. Be sure to fill in the gaps, so all employees in good standing are eligible for and receiving positive feedback.
Encourage playfulness during your internal interactions. That goofing off that used to happen in the break room or during the softball game is just not happening anymore. When team meetings aren't delivering dire news, kickoff a battle of the backgrounds, like Defendify did in a recent webinar for their channel partners. Kickoff a friendly competition for the 'best remote office workspace.' Start a thread with coworkers: Working remotely w/kids @ home? Tell us something they did, but call them your 'coworkers.' This one gave us big laughs.
Your supervisors are the leaders that keep employees in the boat. Support managers as they increase communication and change the way they reach out. Offer them advice or guidelines on communication. Ask them how they're holding up. Remove their obstacles. Provide them with context - or The Why - when communicating, to recruit supervisors into the corporate initiative during this crisis and then after we're through the woods. When employees understand why leadership does what it does, there is more continuity in the organization and they are better able and more willing to row in the same direction with purpose. If you're like most organizations: you need that now, more than ever.
Encourage Whole Lives
In a physical environment designed for work, such as an office building, the place sets the tone and we're more able to put down personal issues. In a sudden, triaged home office that is possibly shared with children who can't be in school, spouses who are also sheltered in place, and/or aging parents who need care, there is a whole lot of demand and there are very few clear boundaries. Encourage balance, not a corporate compartmentalization. In January 2020, you might have been displeased to hear the voice of a 5-year old on a conference call. Demonstrate warmth and good humor now to lead your teams through this liminal period of betwixt and between.
Inspire mental health with concrete suggestions. Consider sending one each day. For example, set timers for tasks, take stretch breaks at the top of the hour, and move your desk to a window, if possible.
Promote any wellness resources and discount programs offered by your organization, one at a time, and encourage employees to take advantage. If you have a discounted rate for a meditation app or laptops, now is the time to put it out there.
Keep it in Perspective
Remember: as all things are, this is temporary. It's going to change and we'll also get better at remote work. While this moment in time is marked by hardship and the stress that comes with that, one likely impact will be a lasting change in the way we work. Those who use this time to not only respond to crisis tactically, but to also imagine the future and its possibilities, will undoubtedly have stronger teams during the pandemic and after.
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