In the era before lockdown, the best businesses resembled beehives – tight-knit units generating rich streams of products and services. So what happens when the bees are scattered, and the hive has lost its buzz? How do we keep everyone in the company looking at the big picture? It’s crucial to ensure employees remain productive, aligned with company goals and communicating with each other as effectively as before.
We all miss the spontaneity of ideas sparked by a chance conversation in a corridor or a lunch meeting – but feeling connected to a company and working remotely don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can make yours a hive that thrives.
Don’t let your messages fall been between the cracks. Virtual communication takes a lot more work than face to face communication. The unconscious reading of social cues is much more challenging when we’re not in the same room. Be more direct and explicit in your communication. Be transparent about expected deliverables and timeframes: but factor in wiggle room for a more flexible way of working.
We’re all used to working from home, but many of us are experiencing a ‘new kind of busy’ – juggling ever changing family commitments with our workload. Those little glimpses on Zoom into our co-workers’ home offices, kitchens and gardens remind us with a jolt how unique we all are, and how different our needs are. Understanding this is important.
Have you considered the psychological contract you have, the tacit mutual agreement between employer and employee about how we make remote working work? Managers expect initiative, transparency of output, and regular updates; in return, employees look for some flexibility, investment in their development, and regular feedback. Lacking close oversight, successful employees will need to be more self-sufficient and show more initiative when working on their own (better self-managers). In turn they will expect recognition, and greater insight into their unique needs. Expect the psychological contract to evolve further as remote working becomes the new reality.
It’s good to talk – it’s better to talk meaningfully. Have you noticed that a scheduled 15-minute chat with a remote team member can spiral into an hour-long chat about everything and everyone? It’s hardly surprising – that person is probably craving communication. They want to share their successes, hear about the latest management changes, listen to feedback or discuss their careers. How did they do in the last project? What did the client think? Ineffective communication isn’t unique to the new remote working landscape of course, but it’s even easier to feel out of the loop or in the dark now. And no office breakout area also means one less forum to ignite innovation or cross-pollinate different ways of thinking.
Communicate more, and communicate smarter. Don’t let work dominate the agenda at the cost of everything else in your communication channels. Try and revive those little touches of courtesy and candour that characterise office life with your team. Actively promote developmental feedback, not just task-based, and chat to employees about their future path within the company.
And make time for more informal relationship building. Keep lines of communication open, but avoid blocking them with too much white noise. You could consider scheduling team huddles on Friday afternoon to unwind and dissect the week, or leveraging social media to stay in touch after work hours and create more informal channels for chat and forging team spirit.
While some employees have flourished in the new work landscape, others are struggling. It’s no wonder: they have worries about families, catching Covid, being furloughed. Before Covid struck, mental health was already the number one cause of long-term sickness absence among UK workers.
One Gallup survey found that feelings of isolation peaks in the middle of the afternoon: that may be the prime time to check in on those you suspect aren’t happy. Build in time to chat into your week (as you would in the office) to bolster wellbeing and give employees a lift. Set the friendly tone by prioritising video calls over telephone. Encourage exercise breaks, mindfulness and schedule wellbeing check-ins with all your team members to run through any worries they have – especially those you don’t deal with so regularly.
It can be easy for staff to hit the snooze button on tasks or let priorities slide down the pecking order when they’re more isolated, without the friendly nudges of co-workers and managers. One tip: keep tasks in context. Context adds meaning, and people respond to meaningful tasks. In Greek myth, Sisyphus was punished by the gods by being forced to repeatedly roll a large boulder up a hill for eternity – for no reason. So take time to share why allotted goals are good for employees, and good for the company.
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