Remote working requires changes in cooperation and leadership

Due to digitalization, globalization, the need for more personalization, traffic jams and the urge to stop climate change we were already shifting to more hybrid workplaces. A hybrid workplace is a combination of working in the office and working remotely. 

With a hybrid workplace you can choose how much you work in the office (or another meeting location) versus remote. This typically depends on the type and objective of your work, the location and time zone of your colleagues/clients you work with and their personal preferences. 

COVID-19 forced us to speed up this process and pushed us towards the remote working end. This suddenly required a change in work facilities, cooperation and leadership.

The past months we have learned to cope with the required transition regarding work facilities. Most of us have created a proper place to work at home. What majority of us have not adapted yet is the way we cooperate and lead!

In times of crisis clarity and guidance is required. This is what leadership should bring. But demand and control is not working while your team is working remotely and has to take on more responsibility than ever. So what to do?

1. Start to evaluate!

Based on research remote working staff needs more:

  • Connection with colleagues, boss, and their organization
  • Emotional Support
  • Practical and Technical Support (right tools)

But, the best way to really identify your staffs’ needs is to have a conversation with them. 

Since we already have several months experience with working remotely it is a perfect time to evaluate. What works well, what doesn’t? Determine best practices together.

Also use this conversation to discuss the preferences and needs of every individual team member. Do they prefer to have meetings that take maximum 30 minutes or to plan all meetings in the morning only? Do they prefer to discuss weekly what expectations are? Try to also understand why they have a certain preference.

The same applies to needs. What do they struggle with? And who or what do they need? Do they need the manager to assure them regularly that they meet expectations because they are not sure if they are on the right track? Do they need noise-cancelling headphones because it is not quiet enough? 

All answers are possible and ok. Please note: as a manager you do not need to solve everything immediately, but make sure you at least have the conversation that all feel being listened to and you have a good idea of your staff needs.

Keep on evaluating at least every quarter!

2. Ensure good work facilities

Nothing more demotivating than having improper work facilities. Think about a bad internet connection, systems not being accessible and a non adjustable office chair.

Having right equipment and a good place to work benefits productivity, stress levels and work injury performance of remote working staff.

Ensure your staff has a proper place to work. Do they have an ergonomic chair? Do they need laptop stands? In case they do not have a dedicated office, do they need a green screen to shield their living area? Are all systems accessible? What regarding work facilities holds them back to do their work efficiently and properly?

3. Agree upon a clear Purpose and Values

If your team works remote, the shared goal and how every individual can contribute needs to be crisp and clear. This starts with alignment about your Purpose, Long term goal and short term objectives. These common goals needs to be translated to individual goals; how is every single member going to contribute to achieving the teams goals?

Next to that also the way you want to cooperate should be clear; what are your shared values? Only when that is made explicit you can have conversations about behavior easily.

As a (informal) leader it is your task to ensure this clarity about Purpose, Goals and Values and the optimal allocation and spirit within the team.

Good to know: in these digital times, it is better to communicate important stuff like purpose and values not in writing with bullet points. Create a story around it. That’s what will stick.

4. Bring people together

Have regular team or departmental meetings to jointly discuss actual work. 

What deliverables are at risk and what requires focus? What are potential challenges or issues? And who can help to overcome hurdles?

Having team meetings instead of 1 to 1’s increases the chance to see opportunities, learn from each other and the feeling of having a shared responsibility.

Next to discussing operational topics, also ensure a deeper connection; create nice memories together. Organize big (virtual) events that staff doesn’t want to miss out on since these events will be talked about for a long time.

Having great internet connection, the best equipment, the most conversations with important leaders/stakeholders, but also these big (virtual) events or home delivered lunch boxes will replace ‘office status symbols’ like the biggest (corner) office. So, organize great events and provide them with home delivered goodies regularly to make your staff proud of being part of this organization!

5. Discuss Expectations and Performance regularly

Research indicated that 20% of employees is less sure about expectations. Is their performance on the right track?

To avoid this insecurity make sure you discuss expectations regularly. If you feel certain employees do not meet expectations avoid providing negative feedback virtually since this can come across harsher than face to face. Try first to have more regular meetings to discuss expectations and hurdles to obtain desired results. Another solution might be to link this person to someone else who performs well and can help to develop in a specific area. 

6. Connect, connect and connect

According to research remote working staff has an increased feeling of being disconnected, isolated, excluded and anxious. On top of that over 40% indicated that they work more hours. In general staff needs emotional support and guidance on how to balance work with their private life and manage stress levels. 

Unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution to provide required support. As a manager you need to have ongoing conversations with every single team member about their needs and preferences. 

With regards to staff feeling disconnected, ensure that is the case with your staff as well. If so, ask them for ideas on how to overcome this. Organize a brainstorm session and just start trying things. If a part of the team is not in favor of certain ideas, ask them if they are ok to pilot them for a certain period of time and to evaluate it at the end. In other words: try, evaluate, learn and adjust! As a team you can only mature in your remote cooperation if you experiment and learn together! Just do it!