Updated: May 22, 2020
We’ve learned to use a lot of software since we started working from home, from Zoom to shared databases and new cloud based platforms for all sorts of work processes.
And now it seems clear that working from home is going to be in place a lot longer than we may have hoped. We have to forget about it being a constraint and get used to the idea that it is the current way of working.
All the talk about socially distanced working seems to be focused on physical health and safety: marking out workspaces, not sharing printers or staplers and the provision of hand sanitiser everywhere.
But nobody seems to be talking about the behaviours that are needed to support effective remote working.
So far we’ve bumbled along with our ‘emergency measures’. Output is a bit slower, response rates are longer and we’ve put up with mistakes and misunderstandings. Clearly that’s not an acceptable model if we are going to continue remote working beyond the short term.
As a leader you’ll now need to communicate differently.
Have you set a task for someone working from home, then been disappointed that the outcome wasn’t what you expected? That could be because the way you spoke was just asking/telling. It doesn’t work the same when you’re apart. You don’t provide or pick up the same visual clues. It’s more difficult for you to go back and add further information as you might have done if you were passing by their desk in the office. Similarly, your team member doesn’t have the same opportunity to ask clarifying questions or share progress on part of the task and get feedback from you before moving on.
Sharing knowledge can be really difficult for remote workers and your team member won’t have the short cuts to the answers that they could have had in the office, especially if the person they need to speak to is outside their immediate group. As leader you’ll have to behave differently to make information sharing happen – it won’t be as spontaneous as it is in the office. You may have a database for sharing operational data but what about all the informal stuff that builds relationships with customers and employees? Is that still being shared while you’re working remotely?
Although giving precise information is necessary, the skill is not simply to over-communicate but to BUILD TRUST. You’ll have to take more time to plan your communications. Mansplaining or micro managing may get you your project outcome in the short term, but it doesn’t set your team member up to produce high quality work in the future. You’ll also have to work with the communication preferences of each worker. This means taking the time to find out who’s comfortable with being on speakerphone, who hates being on video calls, who likes to talk at 6 AM and who can’t be reached after 6 PM. It takes longer but it’ll be in line with your values and it will make effective change happen
You may have thought that the lack of chat and office gossip was making your operation more efficient. Think again.
If you need help taking the leap into long term remote working, contact firstname.lastname@example.org