Creating calm in chaos: getting back to business with your remote workforce

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As businesses begin designing, implementing and managing entirely new working models for their employees in order to help stem the proliferation of COVID-19, many are being tested in ways never before experienced.

While a number of businesses have models adapted to mobilised workforces, there many for whom this is all very new. Employees of all seniority level, accustomed to having co-workers by their side and catch-ups by the watercooler, are suddenly thrust into the comparative isolation of working from home.

With proximity and familiarity of working models that haven’t changed in years, comes ignorance. It’s accidental ignorance, but it’s ignorance, nonetheless.

Though daunting a prospect it may be to transform your working environment and your employees’ essential tools away from the daily contact of managers and colleagues, it’s also an opportunity.

If ever there was a time to ensure your employees were pulling behind the company vision and mission, it is now. Experts are suggesting that the world we inherit after all this will be very different. COVID-19 will change businesses, but not all that change needs to be negative.

Here are our top tips for transitioning to a remote working model and navigating your organisation through these uncertain times.

Giving communication the attention it deserves

Internal comms can be a tricky beast to manage when everyone is under one roof, when everyone is under a different roof not only is the complexity ramped up, but it becomes all the more critical to control.

Away from the routine, order and dialogue within the contemporary office, a business’ vision, mission and values can erode, successes pass without recognition, targets and deadlines can be missed with increasing frequency and important company developments go unshared. It is essential that none of this is allowed to happen.

Should a development occur within the business that would normally be shared internally, do not let the fact that your employees are sat in their kitchens and living rooms prevent you from sharing it. In fact, you should be making an extra effort to communicate such developments.

Frequent, real-time and company-wide communications will be vital in preventing silos emerging, but it’s also important not to create confusion by reaching people with information that is irrelevant to their roles. Channelling comms into select, key places must continue as appropriate.

As time goes on, remote workers will likely accumulate questions regarding all aspects of their role. It is therefore advisable that regular Q&A sessions are made available to clarify expectations around areas such as tools, messages, access, protocols, and policies.

Don’t worry about feeling like your bombarding staff with communications. Though they may be at home, they are still at work. If the feeling sets in that this is a holiday, that will soon be reflected in the quarterly numbers.

Turn the water cooler virtual [the importance of chat]

Those little chats by the water coolers and vending machines are more important than you might imagine. It is through these small and very human interactions that some of the best ideas are shared, rapports are strengthened, moods are lightened, and motivation heightened.

It’s a fine line you’ll need to tread because you absolutely don’t want your workforce spending all day in chatrooms discussing Netflix boxsets and comparing toilet roll collections. However, there does need to be space and time allotted for employees to maintain positive relationships and prevent distancing getting to the point they become strangers.

Whether it’s through a UC platform or even departmental WhatsApp groups, your employees need to retain their sanity and brief, light-hearted interactions will be key to this.

Transparency is the best policy

None of us yet know how all this is going to play out. It may be that this pandemic passes without serious disruption, the opposite could equally be true. Either way, there has never been a greater urgency for people to be kept informed with regular, honest and transparent communications.

Developments which affect the business in significant ways, positive or negative, must be shared with your workforce. There will be much reflection when this period of our history passes, and employees will think about the levels of respect they were shown by their employers. They will factor in the extent to which they felt informed with honest dialogue and those businesses deemed to have become reticent may well experience a spike in attrition rates in the aftermath.

Transparency and honesty also work best when it is a two-way thing. Create feedback mechanisms for your remote staff. Ask them to be blunt about what they feel is working and what is not as they continue to operate from home. Communicate any subsequent changes clearly and ensure they are as methodical and as seamless as possible.

Don’t turn your back on training

As your business continues to function through this period, industry developments, government advice and customer demands will evolve, most likely with an increased prevalence and unpredictability. As such, it is crucial that your workforce is kept up to date with the appropriate training.

Obviously, getting everyone together in the same room is highly inadvisable for the foreseeable. Consequently, the time to innovate is now. eLearning platforms were becoming the chief method of delivering training modules prior to the coronavirus outbreak, they will likely soon become the norm. Investing in such a platform may well require an initial outlay, but the alternative is a workforce that could become deskilled and out of touch with current procedures, regulations and practices.

If the investment in an eLearning platform is not feasible, then educators can still set up multi-tenant video calls to go through necessary teaching and learning points. Whatever the course of action you take, just make sure you’re taking one. This is not the time to be falling behind.

Final thought

Managing a company remotely is more like managing a company along conventional lines than you might imagine. It works through trust, quality communications and company-wide support with business goals.

If these were qualities your company enjoyed before the COVID-19 outbreak, there is no reason for them to degrade simply because your workforce is temporarily operating from home. Prioritise intelligent and comprehensive employee engagement throughout this time and there’s no reason for your business to suffer unduly.

You’ll be different at the end of all this, but you’ll be here.