COVID-19 accelerated a shift to remote work faster than anyone could have anticipated. Almost every company we know of, to some degree or another, has had to make adjustments to deal with this shift. Some companies have decided that they will forever allow employees to work remotely. Other companies are adopting a hybrid model where employees can choose to work from home or in the office. Or perhaps your company is specifically dictating which employees are allowed to work remotely and which ones are required to be in the office.
Whatever your situation is, you’ll need a plan to help you determine how to build a productive culture while working remotely.
Recognize the Difference Between Remote Work and Office Work
In order to build a productive culture while working remotely, it’s critical that you recognize that there is a clear difference between remote work and office work. If you think you can continue to manage your employees in the same way you have previously, think again. The shift to remote work requires new thinking, new tools, new leadership tactics, and new forms of communication.
Unfortunately, many of the companies we’ve spoken to have yet to realize that a new style of work necessitates a new set of expectations. Thinking deeply and developing a new pattern for the way you work will benefit managers and employees alike.
Here are some of the most pressing questions you’ll need to answer if you choose to continue to allow some or all of your employees to work remotely.
Train Your Managers and Leaders for Remote Work
Let’s do a quick exercise together.
Make a list of the managers or leaders in your organization who currently have direct reports working remotely.
Once you’ve done this, put a checkmark next to the names of leaders who have previously managed a remote team prior to the pandemic.
If your list is anything like ours, we’d venture a guess that there likely aren’t a lot of checkmarks next to names.
Remember, remote work is a different kind of work. It will require different kinds of tools and tactics if you want to be effective and build a productive culture. If your managers and leaders do not have experience working with remote teams, then they likely aren’t performing at the level they should be.
So, how are you going to remedy this? We suggest investing in some training.
Like anything else in life, most people typically need to be taught something before they’re good at it. For many of the leaders in your company, managing and maintaining a high level of productivity with a remote team will not come naturally. It’s important that you take action to help your people level up.
Remote management training can come in many different forms. You may start by reading up and learning more about remote management yourself. Familiarize yourself with the patterns, attributes, and tools that successful teams use to find success in remote settings. Learn from established publications like Harvard Business Review, Hubspot Academy, the Society for Human Resources Management, or even an article we published here at EddyHR.
Next, you might invest in a consulting or training program for each of your managers. Have them watch videos, conduct exercises, and complete training to improve their understanding of remote teams and how to build a productive culture while working remotely. Consider courses, training, and products from Hone, Global Integration, Remote-How, or Pluralsight. Investing in these activities will help your team level up and prepare you for a future where your companies can thrive, even in a remote setting.
Finally, revisit the things you learn every 3-6 months. If you intend to allow some or all of your employees to work from home indefinitely, then it’ll be important that this knowledge becomes a consistent, essential part of management and leadership training.
EddyHR helps teams of all sizes manage their remote workforce.
Establish Channels of Communication
So it probably didn’t take an expert to tell you that communication gets harder when employees are working from different places. To offset this difficulty, you’ve undoubtedly adopted some sort of internal communication stack that enables you to continue to talk, meet, and announce information to your employees. The question then becomes, is your communication stack right for your company? Does everyone use the same tools? Do you care if some teams are using one tool while other teams are using something else? How does this impact productivity?
Ok, that’s a lot of questions. Let’s start from the beginning.
How do you know if your communication stack is right for your company? Well, the easiest way to diagnose this is to ask a few more questions. First, are you able to communicate easily with any employee at any time? And second, have you seen an uptick in miscommunication (this could present itself in missed deadlines, unclear expectations, failed projects, etc.) since going remote?
If you are not able to communicate with any employee at any time, let’s change that. There are many great software products out there that will easily facilitate this opportunity. For example, if your workers do most of their work from a desk, Slack is a great option. The desktop app is simple to use, it’s very flexible, and it puts you within a click of any employee in your company. Slack is also great because it allows you to conduct voice or video calls in addition to sending text-based messages. Slack’s versatility makes it a great option for internal communication.
However, if you’re already using an app like Slack but continue to be plagued by miscommunications and poor collaboration, then you might want to add a project management tool to your communication stack as well. Apps like Asana or ClickUp make it easy for employees to communicate within the context of their projects or assignment. This ensures that to-do lists, deadlines, and other key tasks are always top of mind.
Of course, in the initial rush to strengthen your company’s communication when the pandemic hit, it’s possible that different departments within your organization decided to use different tools. Perhaps your engineering department is already using Slack, while the Marketing department has adopted a tool like Microsoft Teams. Maybe your Creative department is using ClickUp while your Operations team is using Asana. And while most of your company is using Zoom for meetings, maybe the Finance department decided that asynchronous video communication was better for them and they have adopted a product like Loom.
So, if you have multiple teams using different tools to communicate, what do you do? Well, start by creating at least one common denominator. There should be a way for every single person in the company to communicate with each other. Establish a primary form of contact for each communication channel (i.e. text-based, video-based, etc). Next, decide if there are opportunities to unify or consolidate teams into a single service that could potentially save the company money. For example, if you’re currently paying to use multiple project management software products, work with your teams to see if you can get everyone using the same one. Finally, if certain departments have found that specific software tools allow them to work more productively, then consider letting those departments keep those tools.
In the end, your ultimate goal is to keep your teams efficient while building a culture of productivity as you work remotely. Communication is critical to productivity, and therefore it is worth your time to evaluate the different products in the market and make the decision that’s best for your company and that’s best for your individual departments. By optimizing for productivity, you’ll find the right set of solutions.
Re-Think Performance Evaluation
One thing we’ve heard from many company executives is that they feel blind to the day-to-day operations of their employees. Now, it’s not necessarily normal for a CEO to know what each of their employees is doing on a daily basis, but while their employees were in the office, they’d at least have the option to go from desk to desk and check in on various individuals. Remote work has complicated these types of check-ins, and because of this, it’s important that you re-evaluate how your company tracks and evaluates the performance of your employees.
The first step is to review your company’s yearly goals along with the key performance indicators for each of your departments. By looking at the high-level goals, you should begin to get a sense of what the employees working towards these goals should be measured on. Again it’s important here to optimize for productivity. While working from home, employees might be able to appear very busy, but how will you know if they’re truly being productive with their time? The best way is to tie their performance to certain goals.
The second step is to ensure your managers and leaders are regularly communicating with their direct reports. It has never been more important to have managers conducting weekly or bi-weekly 1-on-1 meetings with each of their subordinates. These 1-on-1 meetings should focus on productivity and progress towards goals. Not only should an employee be able to explain what they’re working on and how they’ve been spending their time, but they should be able to describe why their work is pushing the company forward and helping the company (or the department) achieve its goals.
The third step in this process is to be very clear with employees about what is expected of them. How can an employee excel when they do not know what success looks like? How will a company expect high performance when it’s not clearly defined? If you want to build a culture of productivity while working remotely, it is vital that employees understand expectations.
Finally, as a leadership team, find a way to be able to reward, recognize, and praise your high performers. If an employee does something great, feel free to reach out to them individually and congratulate them on a job well done. If an employee stretches themselves to meet a deadline, praise them publicly on a company all-hands meeting in front of the rest of the organization. If an employee crushes their goal and brings in extra revenue for the company, reward them with a bonus that’s worthy of their achievement. It’s the company’s duty to track and evaluate the performance of their employees. When those goals or performance milestones are hit, the company should feel an equal sense of duty to reward the high achievers.
EddyHR makes it easy to track employee performance so that you know who is hitting their goals.
Put Happiness First
So what is it going to take to help make your employees happy? First, it’s critical that you treat everyone as if it’s the first and only pandemic that they’ve lived through in their lifetime (newsflash, it is). Because of this, many employees have elevated levels of stress or anxiety. Additionally, remote work seems to be burning employees out faster than expected with over two-thirds of remote workers saying they experience burnout symptoms. As these feelings and emotions continue to pile on, there are some things you should encourage employees to do in order to prioritize happiness. Here’s a list:
- Encourage employees to go outside every day
- Encourage employees to stand up and move for at least five minutes every hour
- Offer a “health day” (the opposite of a sick day where employees get a day off to take care of their mental health)
- Send a care package or a fun surprise to employees in the mail
- Grant all employees access to a mental-health or meditation app
- Share healthy recipes for delicious meals employees can make at home
- Invite employees to participate in daily or weekly challenges against their co-workers
- Pay to have your employees’ house cleaned
- Monitor workloads to ensure that no one is being overworked/overburdened
- Meet regularly (virtually) with the entire company and be transparent about what’s happening in each department and with the company as a whole
Another thing you can do to help employees feel happier at work is to ensure that they can build friendships and relationships with their co-workers. Working remotely has made co-worker relationships more difficult to maintain. We’ve seen that it’s particularly difficult to get to know new employees who complete all their onboarding from home and never even step foot in the office. How are these new employees supposed to feel welcome? How are your current employees supposed to learn to trust their new colleagues? These are difficult questions to answer, but definitely worth your time to figure out.
We recommend getting employees together (virtually or in-person while wearing masks and maintaining social distance) at least once a month. You may even create a “speed-dating” get-to-know-you setting where employees spend one or two minutes catching up with each of their colleagues. However you decide to do it, we believe that gathering together as a group can be powerful. It’s a reminder to everyone in the company that they are not alone. It’s an opportunity to make friends, have fun social interaction, and get to know new people. These gatherings can also help newcomers assimilate into the company’s culture and familiarize themselves with the company’s traditions. Employees will be happier when given the opportunity to gather.
Finally, now could be a great time to review your compensation plans and make sure that your employees are being paid fairly. COVID-19 has brought financial distress to both individuals and businesses in 2020 and many are still trying to recover. If your business has been able to weather the storm and maintain some financial strength, then consider sharing some of this success with your workforce. You may decide to give everyone a small raise as a reward for the hard work and commitment they showed to the company throughout a challenging year. Or, you may decide to gift a generous end-of-year bonus so that employees can celebrate the holidays with a lightened financial burden. Keep in mind that employee job satisfaction (and therefore employee happiness) is linked to financial compensation. When employees feel like they are paid what they’re worth, they tend to be happier and more productive. Now is a good time to review compensation plans and ensure that each of your employees is getting compensated fairly.
Building a productive culture while working remotely is one of the unique challenges of our time. It’s a new situation for many of us, and it’s something we are all trying to figure out. Our approach? Don’t overcomplicate things. Start from first principles and work your way out. Begin by recognizing that managing remote teams is different than managing in-office teams. Because of this, you should provide yourself, and your leadership team with training to help them do this effectively.
Next, understand that communication is absolutely essential to your company’s success. Make sure your organization, as well as each department, has the tools to ease and facilitate internal communication. A critical part of communication is performance evaluation. Employees need to know where they stand and what is expected of them. Companies need to create goals and metrics to align incentives and give employees clear targets to work for. Only when everyone is on the same page can you truly see great success. And finally, during this challenging year, there’s never been a better time to prioritize employee happiness. Lighten the burdens when you can. Gather together in order to maintain relationships. Compensate fairly to increase job satisfaction.
As you do these things, you’ll be able to build a productive culture even while working remotely.