As our major cities ease restrictions and our physical workplaces begin to reopen, many businesses are considering a permanent move to fully remote or hybrid work models. The past year has proven that employees can be just as, if not more, productive working from home as they are working in the office.
According to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index some of our overseas neighbours report that up to half of businesses are continuing to allow their employees to telecommute at least part of the time and see flexible work as the future.
We are increasingly seeing examples of this here in Australia.With its ‘Team Anywhere’ policy, the global tech giant Atlassian recently announced that all employees can work from any location in a country where Atlassian has a corporate entity. The only caveats are that employees must have the legal right to work in that country and be in the same time zone with other team members.
Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s billionaire co-founder and co-chief executive, believes that this will afford them the huge advantage of being able to tap into a global talent pool. While Atlassian staff expect to be at the office roughly half the time, the company’s policy mandates that employees only need to attend their nearest office four times a year.
What are the common challenges that remote and hybrid work models present?
While it is always preferable to establish clear remote work policies and training in advance, in times of crisis or other rapidly changing circumstances, this level of preparation has not necessarily been possible. Here in Australia we are in a good position to learn from our overseas counterparts and also from the experiences we have already had of remote working over the last two years.
Managers need to understand factors that can make remote work especially demanding. Otherwise high-performing employees may experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training.
Some of the challenges inherent in remote work include:
- Lack of face-to-face supervision
- Lack of access to information
- Social isolation
- Distractions at home
- Enhanced issues with already existing silos
Managing remote/hybrid teams effectively
At LMHR we coach business leaders to maximise the potential, enhance engagement and increase the productively of their employees.
While remote work can have its challenges, there are relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the transition.
Here are LMHR’s top tips for remote working success:
- Schedule daily check-ins
This may seem like overkill, but for managers and teams getting used to remote working, this is key. Where email, phone, and texts may have once sufficed, managers successful in their remote leadership endeavours are trending toward more frequent use of video conferencing to establish and maintain the face-to-face interaction that has been lacking.
Beyond the simple daily check-ins, over-communicating is imperative when it comes to the team’s tasks, duties, responsibilities, and desired outcomes. In a normal workplace environment, lack of communication can already be a challenge. When employees are working remotely and potentially focused on new or different tasks and goals, good communication is even more important.
- Take advantage of technology
Most of us have been forced down a path of digital transformation that can take businesses months, if not years, to adopt. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams provide simple platforms for tackling regular check-ins and good communication. While we may all be suffering from a little Zoom fatigue, telecommunication platforms do provide a fantastic way to support engagement and general efficiency strategies.
- Establish rules of engagement
Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. Establish expectations on the best times of day for team members to reach their manager and for the manager to reach each of them. Encourage individuals to share information with their peer colleagues.
- Manage expectations
This is always an imperative but has become increasingly more important in the current environment. As previously mentioned, many businesses and teams have had to pivot, some significantly. Employees may now be refocused on new tasks which can impact ability and motivation and therefore performance and outcomes. Set clear expectations and request feedback to ensure alignment. Don’t simply assume the team understands where they need to focus their energy.
- Focus on outcomes, not activity
This is widely known as best practice for increasing engagement and empowering employees. Clearly defining the goals and desired results, then allowing employees to develop a plan of execution enhances creativity and ownership.
- Define the purpose of those outcomes
Defining the WHY is always critical for emotionally connecting employees to your overall mission. This is even more important in a working environment with potentially new initiatives and vast amounts of uncertainty and complexity. Ensuring that everyone knows the overall purpose and their role in achieving success is the foundation of high-performance for remote teams.
- Provide resources
Make sure your employees are kitted up. Many remote teams now need new laptops, monitors, better WIFI, and devices such as headsets and webcams. While this may require directing already strained budgets towards critical tools it is important to set your team up for success.
- Remove obstacles
Be aware of the personal obstacles that remote employees may face like physical and emotional isolation, distractions at home, competing demands and supervising home-schooling. One of the many responsibilities of good leaders and managers is to protect their team so they can remain focused on their immediate responsibilities. Try not to place undue pressure on already stretched employees. Remove as many obstacles as possible.
- Encourage remote social interactions
Remote social interactions like virtual happy hours, on-line wine tasting events, and other recognition sessions may seem a bit forced and inauthentic however research shows that these get together do promote engagement and foster a sense of togetherness. Try to avoid mandates and don’t over-do it, but rather carve out time during already scheduled meetings for non-work-related conversations and activities.
- Show flexibility
This is challenging. Every member of a team has a different home environment. Some will have spouses and children. Some won’t. Some will have private home offices while some may live in shared housing. Employees may be experiencing a variety of increased personal challenges A good manager needs to understand the unique circumstances of each employee. Adjust your expectations and accept that things may not be perfect. We are more resilient than we think. If we can endure global pandemics, social unrest, economic downturns, fires, floods, earthquakes and a mouse plague – then managing remote teams will be a (socially distanced) walk in park.
- Exhibit Empathy
Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles. Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations. Calm is contagious and so is panic.
Need a hand?
Each of the tips above fall into the category of ‘simple, but not easy’. If your business could do with some support with the logistical and/or managerial challenges of moving to a more permanent remote or hybrid work model our experienced HR professionals here at LMHR can help you with hybrid/remote working policies, return to alternative work plans, OHS considerations, risk assessments, leadership coaching, and general business health checks.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your business, we can help. HR can be painful. Our team of HR experts do the heavy lifting, so you can focus on running the show. Get help now. Contact us today!