Last year, around this time, we were contemplating how to shift our office to remote work. It’s going to be a year soon and it’s unbelievable how comfortable we are now with this new setup. I remember some of my colleagues worrying about the new rules of remote working. They had never worked from home before, even for a day. They believed that with family around, home is a place of distractions. Most of them worried about how they would participate in distraction-free meetings, concentrate on their work, and be productive.
A few days back, I asked how are you dealing with the ‘new normal’. And I was surprised to hear that they have started liking this new way. They even expressed a little hesitation in coming back to the workplace.
I totally get it. As Robin Sharma says-
“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and so gorgeous at the end.”
Last year, the work-from-home culture was barbaric for everyone. And now that all of us have adjusted to the humdrum of the WFH routine, going to the office seems like a hard task.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming days, office spaces become obsolete. Buffer and AngelList even released a State of Remote Work report where they shared insights on how the workplace of the future would look like.
Now that we know what the future of work looks like, shouldn’t we prepare ourselves for this new change? Absolutely. So in this blog, I’ll share what individuals and leaders can do to make WFH more effective and productive-
What can individuals do?
In the remote setup, one of the most important things is setting up a work desk for yourself. You don’t need an elaborate arrangement to make way for that. Just a table and a comfortable chair in a corner where you can work without any disturbance.
This and a robust internet connection. Now that remote work is going to stay, investing in this setup should be your first priority.
Next on your priority list should be– create a routine.
Why, you ask? Because the only thing we miss about the office is a routine. A routine of commuting to work, reaching our desk, participating in team rituals, working on individual tasks, taking breaks when we need them, and then wrapping up the day to come back home to family.
In the remote world, building a routine will help you wade through endless distractions (from home or mindless internet browsing) and the guilt of under-achieving your planned tasks. So create a To-Do list and plan your day in advance. Dress up as you would do for work and have a start and end time, just as before.
The next thing that you can do is make meetings interesting. Now that you can’t see your team in person, switch on video calls to maintain that human connection. In my team, we have this unsaid convention to be on video everytime we call each other. And we always start our team meetings with casual chit chat, asking questions about how everyone is doing. Even if we have nothing new to share, we just keep it casual for a few minutes before jumping on the agenda of the meeting.
Ask yourself– what did you do in the office that made it easy for you to go there everyday? When you have your answers, recreate the same atmosphere for yourself at home.
What can leaders do?
Get things in order: The remote work culture puts additional responsibility on the leaders. Now, you have to figure out the what, how and where of everything– what will be the new way of doing things? How will the communication happen? Where will the team collaborate? How to arrange for access to client networks on personal laptops? What would happen if someone’s laptop breaks down? How would your IT-support team interact with those facing software issues?
It would have been much better if we all had got the time to prepare for these infrastructure changes. But, as they say, problems don’t matter, solutions do. So, as a leader, your first responsibility is to get things in place for the remote setup.
Check on the mental health of your team members: The next thing that leaders have to make sure is that people are focused, committed, and happy in their work. Remote work can be harsh for people who live alone or who only have workplace colleagues as friends to keep them company. Help them wade through this time by guiding them on how they can take care of themselves. All they need is a caring and empathetic leader who understands their point of view.
Don’t let productivity take a dip: The biggest advantage of remote work is the time you cut down on commuting. With more time on hand, there is no reason for productivity to take a dip unless there are some serious issues. Of course, there will be some changes in the work-schedule. Afterall, your home is a makeshift workplace. But that shouldn’t affect productivity for the long-term.
So, constantly keep a check on the quality of deliverables and raise flags whenever anomalies appear. When you see someone doing extraordinary work, or someone slacking off, share your feedback immediately.
In case you have to do some intense conversations– be it work-related or behavioral– come prepared with incidents to back up your observations. Ask them what they need from you in order to succeed. There is a chance that your team members wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking up on video call. In that case, give them the freedom to share their feelings through email or voice call.
Communicate transparently: Share everything with the team even before they begin to realize something is amiss. It’s natural for your team members to feel intrigued about what’s going on in the organization– when would the office open up? How long will they be working remotely? When the office opens up would they all be required to join or can they continue to work remotely if they wish? How is the sales and hiring pipeline shaping up? Has pandemic affected revenue streams? If yes, how bad is it?
All of these questions and many more are bound to crop up in their mind. As their leader, you need to answer to everything so that they feel connected to the organization.
At times, all of this can be a little overwhelming for the leaders, especially the new ones. In that case, just hold on to your values and lend an empathetic ear to your team members. Give them the benefit of doubt. It’s a challenging time for everyone. The best you can do right now is trust them (not blindly) and ask them to trust you.
There is a lot that we can do as individuals, leaders and organizations to better deal with this pandemic. But if you want to continue with remote work even after the pandemic is over (is it ever going to be over, I wonder?), this is not the time to do everything in one go. It’s the time to take things slow, experiment and see how we can expand our capabilities.
Opening gates to remote work gives opportunities to organizations to tap into the global talent pool. And if that’s what organizations are looking for, this is the right time to invest in creating practices and guidelines for the team members and set them up for success.