With the unprecedented Covid-19 outbreak, more people than ever are working remotely. For businesses and management teams this means a fundamental change in how they do business, at a scale and pace that many haven’t experienced before.
Yet, what it has also shown, is just how adaptable teams and people can be. The most resilient businesses will be those who can best facilitate that change. ECI has developed a strong People function over the years to support its portfolio and give access to the right tools they need as part of their people and talent strategy. One area we are providing management teams with help on at the moment is how to deliver successful remote working for their staff. With this in mind we consider how leadership teams can best support their staff to overcome the challenges of remote working, and ensure the wellbeing and productivity of their people.
1. Provide a structure
The lack of structure of homeworking can be a real problem. It is easy for people to start working in a reactive way, as the normal management and project structures fall away. But whilst inevitably now is not the time to start large scale projects, it’s important to recognise it doesn’t mean business has to grind to a halt.
The importance is not to simply manage in the same way as you did within the office, be it across a different channel. Leadership, and how this filters through the business, will need to change. One big shift is how much more explicit you will need to be, in particular around the expectations of people when they’re working from home. One of the worries that often hits staff when they are working from home is that they fear that their bosses won’t know what they’re doing, and they worry about the impact that has on trust. Providing clarity around exactly what is expected from them will build a much stronger relationship that boosts productivity in the long term.
At ECI our commercial team is working with several of our portfolio companies on how to distil general remote-working best practice, for their business. Not every structure works for everyone, but leadership teams need to find the right do’s and don’ts for their business and make sure those are understood by their broader team.
If it feels like you’re communicating too frequently, chances are you’re actually hitting about the right mark. It can feel very strange, and somewhat artificial, to communicate this way, but it is a real driver for success. The importance of strong teamwork doesn’t disappear when people are remote working, if anything it is more important than ever. Not only for knowledge sharing, it also helps to combat the loneliness that comes with working on your own.
This is normally something we don’t have to think about in an office environment, so make sure you’re checking in and no team members fall through the net. The wellbeing and mental health of your staff is critical when people are isolated, so it’s important to realise communication isn’t just project management. Say hi and bye to people, and give yourself a daily communication schedule until it becomes natural. Five minute phone calls that feel strange at the moment will soon become the new normal, so make sure you’re leading from the top.
3. But communication has to change
Over the next few weeks, we can probably all expect difficulties in reading people when you no longer have the same body language signals. You may also find other people take your tone the wrong way, even if you feel like you’re acting exactly the same. As well as being aware of this, and adjusting accordingly, part of your role might also be to flag to people that their tone isn’t coming across the right way. Making people aware as to how they come across when they are no longer face-to-face and flagging sensitivity issues will be crucial for their self-development and to maintain your team dynamic.
Similarly it’s always important to be clear and concise when communicating, but this is the number one priority once you’re no longer in the same room as someone. After your catch ups or team meetings, challenge yourself. How well did you communicate what you were after? Ask people afterwards – was what I said clear? Teams may want to provide written guides as follow ups to conversations so everything is easy to follow. You may find that you need further organisational and communication tools to get to where you need. Across our portfolio organisational tools such as Trello, messaging services such as Microsoft Teams, and engagement platforms such as Workvivo are enabling people to keep working, whilst changing how they communicate across their business.
Working from home is much less homogeneous state of affairs than working in the office. Your staff may be worried about circumstances beyond their control, such as care for vulnerable members, looking after their children or even something as simple as poor wi-fi.
You may not be able to solve these problems, but you can target their concerns. By talking to them and asking about their worries and set up, you can let them know you’re flexible to their needs and importantly that you understand their situation.
Similarly all staff can feel chained to their desks, wanting to be available at any moment, so as to demonstrate they aren’t ‘slacking’. Let them know you know this isn’t always practical, and for their health they should take breaks. Availability and productivity are not the same thing, but having that open communication and trust will always create better long term results.
5. Support your IT team
Facilitating a remote working environment is no mean feat, and implementing and educating people about new tools remotely, can be incredibly time consuming. This is why it’s important to make sure your IT team have all the support they need.
Talk with them to understand which are the critical business processes and make sure they can focus on that. If they are unable to work on the bigger picture stuff because of small scale troubleshooting, it is your responsibility to make sure your staff give them the space they need to get on with the key business drivers.
You may also need to outsource some of this or lean more heavily on your outsourced provider. ECI portfolio company Content+Cloud has published a great blog on the five point battle plan for remote working that covers some of the key services that they can help clients with to get up and running as teams hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.