The past couple of months caught everyone by surprise; businesses and employees alike. While most large businesses had their ‘business contingency plans’ in place: no one would have ever imagined that the shift to remote work from home will be so sudden and swift.
Our firm, Equinox Consultants, an Indian human resource consulting and training service provider with more than 25 years of experience in agile ways of working like everyone else, had to transform our business into a remote-only operation, virtually overnight.
The transition to a work-from-home context was a breeze, as we have been operating that way for over a decade. The only challenge we had to and continue to work on is to transition all our contact training modules to a remote delivery model. When I say all, I intended to say that most of our services were already prepped for remote delivery.
In over two decades what we’ve noticed is that there are cultural traits to our self-managing organization that lends itself particularly well to remote working. It boils down to what I see as the essential building block of all teamworking and collaboration – ‘Trust’. The need for trust-building is even more amplified when you have co-workers working remotely.
I would like to share our own experience of successful remote working which will help your teams and business organization build and maintain trust.
What’s worked for us:
Communication – Speed, Clarity and Frequency
The biggest pain area for people who work remotely is when they do not get quick, clear and continual communication from the stakeholders with whom they work closely. The fact that digital communication makes one feel that ‘Once I have sent a message, it is assumed that the receiver has read and understood it’. The onus then quickly shifts to the receiver to respond quickly to the messages he/she receives. Any delay can lead to ‘negative’ and ‘suspicious’ thoughts in the minds of the sender who may be prone to ‘imagine’ and attribute agendas.
So the ‘speed of response’ is of paramount importance to build and and sustain trust. The other important factor is to provide clarity – not just once but on a continual basis. Therefore my take is communicate, communicate, communicate. Share important information (even if it’s incomplete) right away once you have it. This will especially hold true in matters of financial, strategic decisions, of policy, priorities, accountability and daily goals.
If you keep people in the dark during uncertain times it leads to needless anxiety and worry. People work better when they are less stressed. Sharing clear and timely information across functions, and giving everyone an effective overview, means people can take action to steer the business in the right direction.
Frequency of your communication matters too. The lag should be minimal. Your quarterly should turn to monthly; monthly to weekly and weekly to daily. That’s the paradigm you need to shift towards. The longer the gap the higher the chances of disruption and break in trust levels.
Decision making will move towards becoming an ‘in-the-moment’ process where you just cannot afford to call for virtual or physical meetings all the time to discuss and take important decisions. When everyone understands what’s going on they will be able to make smarter decisions. Do whatever it takes to get the message out there. Encourage people to speak up and openly share problems and challenges and provide continual updates on workloads.
Leadership will be put to test in remote working setups. There will be an increasing load on the leaders to communicate fast, frequently and with clarity. The importance of communication ability of your leaders couldn’t have been more than in remote working situations.
Openness and transparency
There is chance that Managers feel an increasing need to micromanage. They may fear that employees working from home might be less productive and doing personal stuff than real work. This will be accentuated by a lot of social media posts which showcase non-work skills of employees. Such anxiety can lead to excessive control measures which might lead to a lot of stress and feeling of dissatisfaction.
The way to deal with such anxiety starts with building openness and transparency in your transactions.
You must keep all your employees informed all the time and shouldn’t keep them in the dark. With team members working from home it’s easy to forget to relay important information regarding specific roles, expectations and task deadlines. Providing enough context and ensuring your team have access to all necessary information is a must. Communicating rules of engagement, setting boundaries, the rationale behind decisions, seeking and giving continual feedback can go a long way in building openness and transparency. When your employees see visible actions of your trust in them they will reciprocate the same in your leadership. The direct benefit of trust based on the foundation of openness and transparency is ‘speed’ of work.
An ability to decentralize the decision making process, letting go of hierarchies and giving your employees freedom to make decisions about their work is the key when you have your workforce operating from home.
When working from home, everyone’s managing themselves to an even greater degree as it is; it’s important to give everyone the full autonomy to do that in order for them to do it well. This is where situational awareness comes in: sharing objectives and goals is crucial. It makes it easy for people to manage themselves better in deciding what to focus on now and what to leave for later.
Set up communities of practice
An increased level of self-regulation would mean that your employees become more interested in learning how to do their work effectively. That would mean reduced need for a centralized training function to train the entire workforce or help everyone develop new methods for remote working. Instead, setting up of online communities of practice can help colleagues freely share tips and tools in a peer-to-peer network structure. Everyone is learning alongside one another
If someone is struggling with a particular task, it’s likely that someone else somewhere in the organization has already had that same problem and would have even solved it. The solutions to problems can then be shared freely across the organization which would mean that there is no time wasted in reinventing the wheel and all employees feel supported as they perform their roles. While most large corporations do have the knowledge management practices in place, our experience shows very limited use of such networks. The work-from-home scenario today helps to harness the power of communities even more and go on to increase collaboration leading to trust.
Those moments at the coffee machine shouldn’t disappear just because everyone’s working remotely from home. Organizations must understand the importance of casual conversation and social connections. Use online meeting rooms for not just work but after hour hangouts as well. It’s a great idea to encourage people to come up with creative ways to build social bonds. It’s a great opportunity to involve families in the social events by organizing collective fun events and tasks.
It’s all a good time and keeps the socializing going. It’s important to check up on people too. During the pandemic, people will feel more anxious than usual, and there’s no way for your human resources team to take care of everyone. When people know everyone’s got each other’s backs, there’s less of a sense of isolation and more of a sense of trust: The feeling that, together, everyone will be able to continue doing a great job and achieve higher levels of performance even if it’s from the comfort of their homes.