In such uncertain times, having clear direction from leaders is paramount to keeping stress in-check. We all want direction, and we crave a return to stability and security. This is true both in our global reality, and our individual workday situations.
What if you’re leading a company that’s new to work-from-home processes? How can you ensure your team feels as stable as possible right now? We know there are many hoops you’ve been asked to jump through in a short period of time. Fortunately, a few best practices can help your organization stay on track and productive as possible. You might even learn a few things about your workforce (and your management style) to apply down the road under sunnier circumstances.
As a digital platform focused on helping people manage gut health through food-as-medicine and a dedicated care team, Vivante’s 60+ employees mostly work from home. We asked senior leaders from Vivante Health for insights about how companies can support employees switching from offices to remote work.
In this blog series, we tap into our own resources to assist others navigating the open seas (and occasional choppy waves) of remote work. Read our first post here.
In all of these tips, a common through line is an emphasis on one core competency: strong communication.
As soon as you get word your teams need to work remotely, create a set of guidelines. These will help employees know how to document their work hours, reach supervisors, and talk to teammates. Given the unusual circumstances, some organizations may not have had time to develop this prior to everyone taking their workstations home, but it can still be done now.
Each organization is unique. In general, the point is avoiding ambiguity. The last thing a management team needs to hear right now is, “I didn’t know how to get my work done.” Equip your teams with information.
Erin Commons, AVP of Care Management, recommends setting clear expectations for schedules and project deadlines. “There’s no way for a remote team to know what the priorities or expectations are unless you talk about them,” she says.
Once employees are clear on schedules and current delivery dates, take it a step beyond and communicate protocols for answering emails and Slack messages. “At first, a remote work team may think that managers expect immediate responses,” says Commons. “However, if your people get caught up responding to emails and chat messages as they roll in, they may not have the time to focus on a project that needs their full, undivided attention.”
Overcommunication is a Good Thing
It may not feel completely natural at first, but managing a remote workforce requires a leader to over-communicate in most cases. “When you’re not running into each other in the hallways or break room, there are less chances to connect on projects,” says Commons. “It’s easy to assume everyone knows who’s doing what and the background/history of all projects.” She recommends asking team members “what do you already know about…” to “level set” on project background information.
Make sure everyone on the team is connected and aware of each other’s availability. Many managers share calendars across the team. “My team can see the details of meetings on my calendar so they know when I’ve blocked time for project work and when I’m in a meeting,” says Sarah Joy Cook, SVP of Operations. “We also support blocking time for lunch, exercise, and other personal time.”
A word of advice, though: make sure overcommunication to support employees doesn’t begin to slip into monitoring, or the dreaded “M” word—micromanaging.
According to Bill Snyder, President and CCO, a rigorous interview process up-front should mean that you already trust and respect the members of your team. “The goal should be to support team members remotely and trust that they are getting their work done and getting it done well. Always search for ways to support them versus worrying about what they’re doing throughout the day.”
Check-Ins and Stand-Ups
Personalization is key to nurturing a successful remote environment. Snyder takes time to know his telecommuting colleagues as people, just the way he would get to know them working in an office.
“It is easier in an office to take cues from the physical surroundings to begin getting to know a person better. You’re used to looking at desks to see pictures of families, children’s art projects, and clues about hobbies and interests, but you don’t have that when you’re not physically in an office,” he says.
So, how can leaders “get to know” employees and develop rapport? Synder recommends a foundational call. “Have an initial call with a work-free rule. Spend time learning about your colleague as a person and answering questions they may have for you. Save work discussion for future calls.” This is an ongoing habit—he continues this in ongoing calls to make sure he’s still maintaining a personal connection.
Another great tool is a weekly one-on-one (1:1) meeting. “Include a stated objective of the calls, and some way to track the content and output of those discussions,” says Snyder. “Make them actionable and valuable for both parties. Most importantly, prioritize these meetings. If they need to be moved, reschedule them.”
Commons’ team members come to their weekly 1:1 meetings with non-time sensitive questions, and talk openly about what’s working, any concerns and share progress on goals.
The basics of the 1:1 should also be used for small team check-ins, or “stand-up” meetings. Try to schedule these on a regular basis—as often as most days of the week—to keep everyone on the same page. These can be brief meetings, and even less formal than the 1:1 format.
Helpful tip: When planning a virtual team meeting, consider making it a video call. “It’s so helpful to see facial expressions. I make a point of asking to “meet” people’s pets and family members,” says Cook.
Make Time for Downtime
Right now, we’re all a little preoccupied, to say the least. Paying attention to that crucial work/life balance is more important than ever to help employees be productive.
“Even before COVID-19, we started having weekly ‘coffee talk’ calls on Monday mornings,” says Cook. “In an office environment, casual/social conversations often happen in the break room and we wanted to have a forum for that.” She and her team carve out 30 minutes and purposely talk about “not-work”—their weekends, families, TV shows, or whatever is top of mind. “This has helped the team get to know each other, establish trust, and have fun at work.”
Don’t be afraid to ramp up the “downtime” connections in these crazy COVID-19 times. Consider adding a weekly “social hour” for your team to chat and blow off steam. Cook’s team has the option to participate (it’s not mandatory).
“For those who choose to attend, it’s a great opportunity to connect, reflect on challenges, and inspire one another through our own personal and community stories. We’re alternating the day of the week and time of day and when it’s after hours, many of us choose to have a “happy hour” beverage,” she says.
Emerge Stronger When “Normal” Returns
There’s a silver lining to this challenging time: many organizations will find new efficiencies and unexpected ways to connect to one another as we all work through this.
Leverage some of the lessons you’re undoubtedly learning right now and apply them going forward. If you found that weekly 1:1 meetings with your direct reports really enhanced your relationships, carry them over when you’re all back in the office. Make time for personal chats and opportunities to laugh.
In the end, we will all come through this period with newfound capabilities and fresh perspectives. Plug those back in along with your laptop when you finally return to the office.
Speaking of plugging in, be sure to check with us next Monday. We’ll be sharing some tech tools and tricks to boost productivity and cut out extra noise (figuratively and literally) in our next blog in our “Healthy Remote Working” series.
Be safe, be healthy.