On January 17, 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked Los Angeles and the surrounding area. The “Northridge quake” killed more than 60, injured over 9,000, and caused widespread damage including crumbling complete sections of many of the region’s freeways. In the weeks and months ahead, more than 100,000 workers throughout the region began working remotely either from home or telecommuting centers that popped up across the Southland since their company offices were no longer accessible. Twenty-six years later, I once again find myself considering and sharing best practices for remote work.
These are unprecedented times in our world – and clearly on a much grander, global scale than a local earthquake. While most organizations have instituted voluntary remote work scenarios to prioritize health over performance the last several days, our government agencies here in the US and many countries abroad are now mandating increased levels of isolation and even greater reduction of elective activity. That means that nearly all organizations will have to adopt a similar mindset and approach with remote work to deal with the recent Coronavirus outbreak.
So how do you manage employee performance when your employees are all working from home, instead of in the office with you? What can/should you expect from them during this very stressful and trying time? The following are some best practices you might consider to maintain higher levels of performance while your team members are working remotely.
- Focus on results, not punching a clock: Especially now, it is not only likely but also predictable that people will be more than distracted at work. Social media, constant news updates, and making sure our families are safe will impact our focus. Don’t worry too much if someone needs a few minutes during “regular working hours” to handle these distractions or even go for a short walk. Focus on your teams’ abilities to achieve specific, high-priority results. It’s not like people don’t leave their desks to grab lunch or even a cup of coffee in the office, so don’t expect them to be available to you 24×7 and always answer your call/txt/email the minute you contact them now that they are home.
- Establish & monitor standard work hours for everyone: With that said, it’s important to clearly define what your expectations are regarding work. Can people work in shorter spurts with periodic breaks throughout the day, or do you need them at their desks from 9am-5pm, for example? On one hand, you might wonder if some people are ever working. On the other, you might worry that work is becoming all-consuming for some team members when you receive emails at all hours of the day since there generally is less of a division between work and home life for home-based workers. Everybody doesn’t have to work the exact same hours, but you probably do want to influence some level of overlap between yourself and your direct reports if not for all team members together. More than that, everybody needs to log off at some point. Work can be a great distraction from everything else that’s happening around us, so help your team proactively set some boundaries.
- Establish specific communication protocols: Email is great for some things like sharing detailed information and reports with many people. If something urgent comes up though, I don’t want to find out about it sifting through my many emails at the end of the day. I want my team to txt me right way or pick up the phone and call me to discuss the emergency. Depending on your company’s use of technology, you might also consider an Instant Message system or platform like Slack to communicate urgent information when people are no longer just down the hallway. If you do use tools like Slack, you might even want to create specific “Slack channels” to capture and achieve your team’s work. If you don’t, even a shared drive or document file folder might suffice.
- Schedule regular, if not frequent, check-ins: When working remotely, it’s much more difficult to just “drop in” on someone to chat. With people often working varied hours, it’s even more difficult to catch them virtually for these ad hoc meetings. That is why it’s so important to be intentional by scheduling regular check-ins. That way, you’re sure to speak with that person or group of people on a regular basis. These check-ins include both 1:1 individual meetings as well as team huddles with entire departments or work groups. These meetings don’t need to be long – sometimes 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each workday really will suffice – but they need to be scheduled so that people know to be available and ready when you do want to speak. Talk to your team about what you need to cover daily, weekly or perhaps semi-weekly and then create those meeting structures to maintain your virtual connections with everyone. Also, talk to your team about how best to maintain that “watercooler connection” during these meetings. Maybe you take the first 5 minutes of any conversation to simply ask how people are doing and the last 5 minutes to ask for any creative ideas to make things better…
- Leverage videoconference technology to create more personal face-to-face connections: It might be fun for the first few days to roll out of bed and work in your sweats, but that feeling of satisfaction and “personal victory” won’t last as a different feeling of isolation inevitably sets in. Videoconference technology like Zoom and Microsoft’s Teams allow us to connect face-to-face even when we can’t connect in person. It also allows us to share files and talk through updates and information via screen-sharing in real-time just like having a flip chart or SMART TV in our regular conference rooms. Use these tools as much as possible to stay connected and keep your people engaged. If a picture tells 1,000 words, just think about what you’re missing by only relying on teleconference technology!
None of us want to cope with Coronavirus. None of us want to be forced to work remotely. The reality though is that life must go on, and we must find ways to adapt in this ever-changing environment. We must minimize our social interactions to stop the spread of the virus. And even when the pandemic clears, we will likely have reason to continue some of our virtual work. These best practices will help your remote workers to be successful and enable you to be a better virtual leader. Are you concerned with how to keep your team focused and engaged during these unprecedented times? Want to keep out of sight from becoming out of mind? Give us a call at 310.589.4610 or email us today to discuss what strategies might be most effective for you and your team. You can also visit the Executive Coaching page of our website for more information on how we support leaders like you, especially in times of crisis. I promise we will get through this together!