Back in March of 2020, when lockdowns began to be put in place and more than 40 percent of us began commuting from our beds to kitchen tables or makeshift home office spaces, no one could’ve expected that many still do that same commute a year later. Yet here we are.
The big question facing many employees’ and employers’ minds is what does this entail for the future of work. Contradictory arguments abound: that the work-from-home experiment will lead to less offices versus it proved the need for offices for collaboration, creativity, and an excuse to leave the house.
Whatever side you may be on or how you think remote working will affect the future, one thing can be certain: the reality of remote working is here to stay more or less. How well you’re able to run a company, manage employees, and accomplish your own work goals depends heavily on your particular circumstances. And while perhaps you can’t change your circumstances, you can set yourself up for success, whether for the remaining months of uncertainty or a future in which flexible working arrangements are the norm. Here are some lessons learned over the course of the pandemic on how to make remote working from home a little better.
1. Get more intentional about the things you do.
Commutes, coffee breaks in the office kitchen, grabbing a sandwich at a nearby deli-no one ever fully realized how these normal routines structured our workdays before COVID. Without these natural pauses that offered physical and mental break, many felt like they were working 24/7 and not accomplishing anything. What’s missing is intentionality.
A few obvious things can be done like making a dedicated and comfortable workspace, be thoughtful about when and how your create space between you and your work. If before, commuting was your way to gather your thoughts at the beginning and end of every day, recreate the ritual by doing something calming like a walk at that same time. This separation is key to help switch contexts during the day, which for remote working is challenging because sometimes the biggest change is moving from bedroom to living room.
2. Hone your relationship building skills.
By now, anyone could be forgiven for having a love-hate relationship with Zoom and other online tools. They certainly serve their purpose but cannot make us feel connected on their own. Being able to mute or turn off a camera has brought difficulties in truly connecting with people.
This can be fixed simply by evaluating how you make small talk with your colleagues and/or employees. Do you remember their kids’ names? What about that new hobby they started during their off-hours? Instead of leading questions, get specific and really learn how each other is living. This is emotional intelligence at its best: instead of going through the motions and ticking boxes, you build a relationship that is empathy-centered, something crucial no matter what the work arrangement.
3. Show your team you trust them.
Working together effectively works only when you actually have faith that your teams can get their jobs done, wherever they are. This may require a shift in leadership style if you previously put a lot of stock in seeing your people do their jobs in the office. For instance, try focusing on outcomes instead of time logged.
If you’re already thinking you’re going to need to address or establish a remote work policy in the future, here’s a suggestion: keep it simple. Don’t obsess with the particulars of how and when and what to do with unusual situation. A two-sentence policy might be all you need! Don’t measure success by how many hours your employees work. Instead, focus on what they are accomplishing.
4. Make writing skills your new superpower.
This tip comes from Chris Herd, founder and CEO of Firstbase, which is a platform that helps companies supply and manage the physical equipment their teams need to work remotely. He says while email, Slack, and other real-time communication apps can be useful tools, they’re only as effective as the messages they contain. “Documentation is the unspoken superpower of remote teams,” he says. One of the easiest ways to up your collaboration game is to focus on how you use the written word: if you’re explaining how something is done, are the steps clear and easy to follow? When giving feedback, how will your tone be perceived? If you’re establishing a new relationship, are you conveying trust and confidence? These questions all become more important when you’re not right in front of someone.
5. Find out what individual employees need.
This advice goes both for right now and in the future, regardless of where your employees will get their work done. Maybe it’s time to revise your perks and benefits and adjust them to the new normal, such as adding stipends for virtual fitness and wellness classes and meditation and sleep apps. If people are struggling with feeling like they always need to be “on,” consider no-meeting days and create clear guidelines around availability company-wide. The goal here is to head off burnout before it becomes a problem. And don’t just think of the employees who are juggling little kids and work, as difficult as that may be. Words of acknowledgement for the people who might be picking up the slack can go a long way. So, too, can emphasizing the benefit of taking time off to get a change in perspective.
Adapted from Inc. article on Feb. 26, 2021.