For the first time remote worker – here’s to your new normal

We have been talking about the remote worker for many years and suddenly, within a few days since COVID-19 was declared as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, companies globally need to adopt this approach and fast.

This arrangement is new to many managers and colleagues and it is a very real reality that they have never worked remotely (mostly, from home) before. And that can bring their own set of challenges.

In these unprecedented times, we need to remember that “speeds trumps perfection”. This will be a “try-test-adjust-repeat” scenario.

Here are a few pointers for you to consider:

1. Stick to your routine

You may be tempted to adjust your daily routine. You may even consider sleeping-in as you don’t have to face the morning traffic to work or do the normal school run due to the schools being closed. It is critical to keep your routine as if you were commuting to the office. Your brain is used to this rhythm and the signals that it sends to your body that it’s time to work. This will ensure you maintain productivity during your time at home.

2. To dress or not to dress

When I started my own business a few years ago I have made a habit to still dress neatly yet comfortably when I was not client-facing for the day. This will subconsciously tell your brain it is “work-mode” and not “lounge mode”.

3. It takes discipline! And limit the distractions

There can be many distractions at home: TV, the kids on holiday, the luxury of being on social media without anyone noticing, that personal to-do-list that has been on the fridge for ages…

Remote work is autonomous work. Let’s embrace that and have the discipline to focus on the outcome required. All remote workers need to self-manage and no-one will be looking over your shoulder when you’re working from home.

Communicate with your team members what your schedule will look like and make use of team WhatsApp groups, Skype and or Microsoft Teams to inform the team if you have a sudden change in routine.

4. Have a dedicated space to work

We need to be clear when we’re working and when we’re not. These lines can easily be blurred especially with the kids at home, too. It should be clear for you and your family when you’re working. It might be something as simple as putting on the headphones to block out distractions which are difficult to ignore.

It is also crucial to have a dedicated space where you can work. It might be that you and your spouse/partner will be working from home and you need to have a dedicated space where you can work and have virtual meetings.

5. How do you measure output?

Micromanagement is completely impractical in a remote work environment. Managing a remote company is much like managing any company. It comes down to trust, communication, and the company-wide support of shared goals.

I have heard some managers ask how they will measure work in the following few months. I suggest you consider using Objectives and Key Results (OKR) to measure the colleague’s working remotely.

OKR is used in an agile environment and is a bi-directional transparent goal-setting tool. Colleagues set and measure their OKR’s. The objectives should be short, inspirational and ambitious. The key results are 3 – 5 metrics (not tasks) to measure the outcome. As this is an ambitious goal it is focused on growth and development.

6. Be sensible and apply logic

Another reality in South Africa is the likelihood of load shedding which may impact your productivity. Ensure you communicate with your manager so that you can collectively decide on the best approach and schedule going forward.

Be mindful if you need to work from a coffee shop and if you are “allowed” to connect to their public WI-FI. Be clear on company policies, and always remember you may be dealing with proprietary information that shouldn’t land in any hackers’ hands.

7. Agree on the basics

Teams need to agree on the technology and tools to use and decide on rules for virtual meetings, where to save work done or to contact one another. It is critical to agree on business hours and to agree on response times to queries – internally and externally.

It is also important to agree that as you will be working from home, there will be times when people will hear kids in the background, or even dogs barking, whilst doing a virtual call. This is also an opportunity for people to be vulnerable and to accept that we are all professionals yet humans too, and it is OK!

The big question for leaders: Is there a “best way” to manage remote teams?

The following tips will help leaders to build solid and engaged teams in the following few weeks:

  1. Collaborate: Establish a rhythm for collaborating with team members. This all about how you work with the team member, finding the balance between too much and just enough collaboration.
  2. Be visible: Drive visibility for remote employees. Arrange your own ‘cupcake day’ to celebrate birthdays of team members.
  3. Share in the fun: Include a fun element and share pictures of home offices. One can create a contest with categories such as “best view from your desk” or “biggest need for improvement”.
  4. Intentional connection: We need to be intentional about connecting as many communications will happen through emails or chats. People can get lonely and feel isolated. Simulate a virtual “water cooler experience.A shared coffee station is also a good example. Use social media and video conferencing to informally meet and engage with team members regularly.

And remember, even though you may miss out on the daily chatter, you can always just pick up the phone and brainstorm the idea/situation/challenge.

We’re in this together. Be kind!

People experience stress, differently. It is helpful to remind yourself of this. And be mindful of the tone of your messages when you say to the very anxious single mom: “Just relax, it isn’t that serious”.

I have seen many companies share tips and support in the last week. One of the best was a crowdsourced link shared by the Hi5 team; check out this link about work from home.

Jon Foster-Pedley, the Dean of Henley Business School shared this on LinkedIn and I couldn’t agree more with the spirit of kindness in challenging times.

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