As an individual worker, a sudden shift to working remotely can be daunting. The change becomes more complicated when an entire organization is forced to switch to remote work. The logistics alone can be overwhelming. Making sure software is up to date, access to secure wi-fi, and providing access to information at the office are all issues to contend with. While some people may have experience with remote work, others may have no experience at all.
I have worked remotely for 17 years. When I first shifted to remote work I was part of the only all remote team in the organization. I learned a great deal about how to get things done and develop the trust and transparency needed for a productive team.
Be intentional about working virtually especially during a crisis.
It is often presumed that remote workers either become highly focused or they are more easily distracted. My experience is most people fall in between these extremes whether working in an office setting or working remotely. Productivity and distractions can change day to day. Finding yourself and your team working remotely due to an acute crisis will most likely exacerbate these tendencies. The following tips will help you adjust and function remotely regardless of where you fall on the continuum at any given time.
Structure, routines and follow through become more important.
People are creatures of habit and now most of our routines are disrupted. It is important to put into place deliberate structures, including normal office hours and availability. Expectations must be established and clear and this will help create a sense of control during an uncontrollable situation. Follow through: do what you say you will do and when you will do it. It is important to communicate. If something gets in the way, communicate about it quickly. Make sure it is clear what you are working on. Keep routine meetings that have a clear focus and purpose. Above all, have a plan for each day and prioritize what needs to get done, otherwise it is easy to be pulled in multiple directions. As a supervisor it will require more intentional communication to ensure people have the direction needed and are clear about what is expected of them, as well as when and how to access additional help when needed.
Communicate fully and frequently.
Ensuring that my boss and peers knew what I was working on and checking in with them regularly was key in developing trust and productive working relationships. Not being seen at the office may lead others to think the remote worker is not being productive. Regular brief status check ins with the boss and colleagues working on shared projects is essential.
Make use of the various communication channels that are available and decide which are best to use. Texts, Slack and instant messages are perfect for a quick,” Did you get the report draft I sent?” type inquiries. Email is good for summaries of meetings and sending draft reports. Shut down email when you need to focus and get to work on the immediate task at hand and then recheck your email when the task is completed. Use the phone and video conferences for discussions and meetings. Make sure you know who really needs to be in the conversation and who you need to loop in afterwards and do so quickly.
Listen deeply, fully and more completely than you ever have before.
Listening, when done well, is a highly efficient means to understand the complexities of a situation. When working remotely you do not have the luxury of being able to walk down the hall and ask a clarifying question so pay close attention when conversing. Pay more attention to tone, pace and words that are not said. Do not make assumptions about what is being said, rather make sure you fully comprehend what is being said. This also helps you connect with and understand the people with whom you are working.
Understand what your needs are so that you can be a good colleague
Take a cue from John Bapstie’s bands name and Stay Human. Figure out what signals you need to start and stop working. After talking with colleagues who have also worked remotely for many years, it was clear that in the beginning many of us were reluctant to “log off”. We were afraid to leave our desks to get a glass of water, go to the bathroom or to stop working at the end of the day just in case someone reached out. Take care of yourself so that you can focus, follow through and be a good teammate.
Make the most of unexpected benefits of working remotely
Working with people in different circumstances can help us see each other as a complete person. The more we understand about each other the easier it is to find ways to work well together. Working remotely often forces us to become more resourceful. You might find new ways of leveraging existing platforms and people skills to develop other peoples’ capacity. A former client, Nadine, recently hired me to work with one of her staff, Jessica. Jessica taught herself how to use Excel and Adobe to extract key information from other documents. Jessica also, inadvertently became the default office video conferencing expert. Nadine is now using part of each virtual staff meeting for Jessica to teach a colleague how to use the conferencing platform and how she made novel use of Excel and Adobe.
Finally, by and large people are social creatures. Even the most introverted of us want to feel connected to people so check in to say hello, ask how someone is coping and don’t forget to have the more light-hearted conversations too.
Deirdre M. Danahar, MSW, MPH, LCSW, PCC is a professional coach working with emerging and established leaders in business, government, higher education and not-for-profit organizations. She is the Owner/Principle of InMotion Consulting & Coaching and is the co-founder of the Millsaps College Else School of Management's Executive Education Applied Advanced Leadership Program.