The outbreak and rapid spread of the coronavirus has created havoc not only to our health systems but to the way we work. Many businesses have been forced into requiring their employees to work for home if possible.
Working from home is not a new phenomenon. For the past four years, I have been working a few days each week at home. I’ve found that it gives me the ability to be creative and productive in ways I hadn’t anticipated — not to mention more satisfied with my lifestyle.
The problem for companies now is that they had to implement the rollout of remote work hastily, without any training, preparation or policies. Suddenly, people have found themselves working at home with little guidelines on how to move forward. For many managers and employees alike, this is a completely new experience.
Here are some key strategies to help you and your employees implement “smartworking” in a way that enables you to keep leading effectively. The good news? It does not take much.
1. Set up Your Workspace
It’s important to find or create a regular workspace where you can have relative privacy and where your computer and camera can capture your face clearly, with enough light. Make sure to look at the background — you don’t want any distracting art or objects. Also, if you are sharing space with anyone, find a place where people will not need to pass behind you (I’ve had a few amusing glimpses of spouses or kids who were not in their most presentable state!).
Do you have enough space to set out your documents, or can you move furniture around? Is the Wi-Fi decent in that part of the room? Do you need to buy an ethernet cable? Will your audio quality be good (you’re not too close to a road/other noises)?
As you think through these questions, you will be able, with little or no expense, to create a space that feels more like work and will project a consistent and authoritative image.
2. Put Your Head in Work Mode
Most of us find it challenging to suddenly apply ourselves to work in a space tied to family, home and relaxation. All we need to do is make a mental switch when it comes to work time. The best way to do so is to follow your usual morning routine and dress for work. Especially if you spend a lot of time on video calls, looking and feeling professional can make a big difference.
Keeping a schedule also helps. You’ll be saving commuting time, so use that extra time to read, listen to music, chat with your spouse or roommate or do a quick morning workout. Plan your week ahead of time, and schedule your lunches with your spouse or roommate — or virtually, with friends or clients around the world. Schedule regular breaks to sit out on your porch, work out or read.
When you no longer can stand up and walk over to a colleague’s desk for a chat, you have to program the getting up, going out to the window, making a call — or whatever gives you a good break — on your own. At home, you have to intentionally build these breaks into your schedule and teach your colleagues, family and friends to do the same.
3. Communicate Like a Leader
In times of crisis, when people have been sent home to work, many feel disjointed, isolated and unsure of what to do. We all feel the uncertainty and fear for what the future will bring and look to leaders to calm and reassure them.
Many managers have been coordinating well — prioritizing work, providing information, giving company updates and problem-solving in general. However, the piece that is usually missing is the human touch: the listening and the reassuring.
Employees need clear “marching orders,” but they need to feel a sense of belonging and a sense that they are still part of a team. Ironically, technology can give employees that feeling. Take a weekly “coffee break” with your team to chat and share ideas, where the focus is listening, sharing and connecting.
Some teams have learned more about each other through these encounters than through all the time they’ve worked together. For many, this coffee break becomes a highlight of their week. Some are doing it every other day. One organization is hosting a Friday evening “aperitivo” (or “aperichat”), chatting together for the last half hour before the weekend with a bottle of prosecco in hand.
4. Become a Master of Remote Meetings
Too many meetings are a drag that go on much longer than necessary. When everyone is physically apart and distraction is easier, being able to hold everyone’s attention becomes even more critical. Last week, a Harvard Business Review article talked about creating voluntary engagement through structured opportunities for attendees to engage fully. The huge variety of video platforms available today enable teams to make their meetings highly interactive.
Gone are (or should be) the days of long PowerPoint presentations or speaker-dominating meetings. Consider how you can include breakout groups, poll questions and chat opportunities throughout your meetings. Employees who are used to working at home are familiar with many of these functionalities. Now, however, we all need to speed up the learning curve, because it is harder to capture and engage people remotely without using these tools.
In times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, leaders make a huge difference. By staying calm, modeling good work practices, and communicating vision and reassurance, you can become a lighthouse in the middle of a storm.