12 years ago, I instituted a one-day work from home policy with two of my employees. It didn’t go well.
One of them disappeared for the day, the other thought it meant he could do personal chores for hours on end, even sleep. He never made it to a scheduled 2 p.m. Skype meeting. I learned a lot of lessons from my early experiments with remote work, one being the importance of having a written policy in place that is communicated clearly and understood and generally accepted by all.
The other thing I observed during my early attempts at having a remote team was that employees responded differently to the idea. For the two employees I just mentioned, working from home was a real “Woo Hoo” moment. They acted as if they were children getting a stay-at-home day. No traffic! Sleep in! Home-cooked lunch!
For others, the idea was a drag. No water cooler moments! No big computer on the desk! No fast Wifi! Worst of all, no colleagues!
Two different perspectives had to be managed, tested and retested to determine what worked well and would eventually be rolled out in my PR company. I have to admit though I did my experiment selfishly. I knew I worked better when I had a workday or two to myself when I didn’t have to spend time deciding what to wear or sit for three hours in traffic; I also enjoyed having fewer people issues to manage.
When news the Coronavirus broke I tipped my hat to selfishness because I never gave up on that work from home model. Today my team comprises of a 90% remote crew, my employees are scattered throughout Trinidad, (yes they are full time and not freelancers), we get together two-three days a week.
I also have a virtual web team scattered all over the world including New Dehli, USA, and Africa. Oh, and I have never met them but over the past two years, we have built an incredible reservoir of trust. Yes, all this means I keep some really odd hours but it also means I have more time for work, workouts and for myself.
What Coronavirus Means for Remote Work
There is nothing at all to like about the Coronavirus but if there is any faded silver fleck to be found in a tattered lining it is that the Virus is making most companies think about putting their remote work policy to the test i.e. if they have one.
The fact that China, Italy, Japan, and South Korea placed their workers on lockdown, and that Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google told their employees to remain home, has the ability to teach us how and if companies can function when employees are not all working in the same building. It’s a lot harder than most think just because people react to the idea of working from home in dissimilar ways.
Polices have to be clear. A great deal of trust has to be planted between employer and employee and the technology must be in place, not every employee has a fast or working WiFi for instance. Please never assume that. Then there’s the fact that people, for the most part like being around people and you have to create moments for that to occur, even remotely.
Here’s what I have learned about remote work and what needs to happen for it to work in a small business environment, especially in a time of Cov-19.
1. Write and Share Your Guidelines & Expectations
Large firms may or may not have heavy-duty remote work policy documents in place but for small business owners simple, clearly understood and actively used guidelines are more relevant. My own “policy” comprises of 20 statements and includes, remote work check in-times, guidelines of undertaking chores at home while doing office work, the dress code for remote client meetings (no PJs for video conferences). As an employer you have to be cognizant that not everyone’s home is set up for focused work, so detailed discussions with your team members will have to be a starting point of whatever guidelines you’ll eventually put in place.
2. Understand Limitations & Build Capacity with Software
I never heard of the term social distancing before Coronavirus. Did you? But if health systems and governments are urging people to spend more recreational time at home then it means business owners must grapple with work distancing and that begins with doing basic inventory. Understanding who on your team has WiFi and computers at home and who doesn’t is the first step. Once that exercise is completed and the right initiatives are taken to ensure everyone is equipped to work remotely consideration has to be given to software, apps, storage. That means making sure the phone and computer equipment are set up to work for video, that productivity apps are installed and that everyone knows how to work in a Cloud environment.
3. State Expected Outcomes About the Workload
When it comes to working from home it is super important to clarify expected outcomes i.e. the work and project goals, and how you, as the employer, define when work is done. I think the toughest part is reorienting an employee’s thinking toward project and goals and not hours of works. In the beginning, this was difficult for me too, I cannot lie. It is important as you lead to always remember that you too are in a learning phase. A ton of 1-1 conversations helped me to be more open and I was able to provide support, reassurance, and ask employees to define what a successful day looked like to them and see if it was in tune with how I saw it. This is all a process and you’ll find that weekly/daily virtual meetings and status check-ins for shared accountability always give everyone a sense of connection, certainty, and clarity. Expect to provide guidance until it all becomes a routine.
4. Communicate with Your Clients About Changes
As important as it is to talk to employees about working from home, it is equally important to talk to clients about what any new policy will mean for them. Set your customers’ minds at ease, alert them to the new business normal. This is no time for a bury your head in the sand approach, I always say this when I’m wearing my crisis communications hat and serving others. If your business is going to be impacted, step up and say so and do it with language that inspires confidence with your customers.
If you’ve been doing a good job of relating and building trust with your key people then changing the way your employees work won’t matter as long as they are safe and your clients’ work gets done. I also think new models of working inspire others to look at their own spaces and see how and where they can fill the gaps. Now is time to be proactive with your communications
5. Make Sure Your Employees Have Their People Moments
Knowing that your team still feels part of a bigger vision is important, it prevents feelings of isolation and ensures team members are being productive and feel generally happy. You can schedule online hangouts and virtual water-cooler moments and meet outdoors if you can, once people are physically well and social distancing becomes a memory. Do what you can to continue the team bond in a virtual ecosystem. Sometimes, I just enjoy picking up the phone and shooting the breeze with a team member on something that has nothing to do with work. It brings relief and I feel connected
People remember kindness and care, all of it matters in these times. Continue sharing updates with your employees about staying healthy to minimize the spread of the virus. Caring matters now more than ever. In a world where toilet-paper runs are a thing (who knew!!!) and entire countries are on lockdown, it is important for your team to know what while they may work virtually, they are never alone.
Finally, it’s perfectly normal to worry about your profit margins even as you manage your people remotely. I had a cancelation for my Airbnb with guests who were arriving from France to stay at my NYC apartment for three months. We also do a digital lead generation and email marketing campaigns for a US-based financial firm and that work has been temporarily halted as confidence in that economy plummeted.
As small business leaders, we know achingly well the equation of no profit = no people = no business and vice versa. With people working from home it presents us with time to think about new revenue streams. One entrepreneur told me she is focusing on serving the local market more, another is exploring paid-for webinars as opposed to workshop meetings. Many have said they are searching the internet for opportunities and trying to get gigs on Upwork or Fiverr by turning their existing services into digital or remote offerings.
I am praying that we don’t spiral too far and that if we do, our economic snapback is swift. I hope this virus forces us to have new conversations about the way we work and see how ridiculous it is to be attached to grand buildings with perfect atriums and demand that employees come through them every day. The time to think about having a remote work set-up was yesterday. The Coronavirus has at least taught us that.
Oh, in case you are interested in how I find inspiration during these rough times, check out this post.
April Social Media Planner Printable Download | Monthly Daily Planner Kit, Productivity Planner, Content Planner 2020
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