For many the switch to online working has been a challenge, but as an organisation it can be increasingly difficult to maintain normal business functions when your workforce is dispersed. With the ONS suggesting that 49.2% of the workforce is, or has been working remotely due to social distancing, what can you do to give your remote workforce the best chance at success?
1. Prioritise, own and deliver:
While online meetings over Microsoft Teams and Zoom are a great way to stay connected and discuss your business operations, connection quality, people talking over each other and superimposing yourself over a Minecraft background can act as real distractions. To mitigate this, ensure that you have a prioritised agenda for each meeting, each task needs an owner or an accountable individual ensuring its success and a clear understanding on delivery of that task. When allocating tasks remember Hofstadter’s law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law”, this is even more applicable when your workers are suffering from WFH fatigue, if tasks are too big, break them up into smaller chunks.
2. Beware death by a thousand emails and remove distractions:
Face to face communication is great for team cohesion, with no substitute for the ‘water cooler chat’ it can be tempting to think that a quick email is an inexpensive way to ask a question or spread information to your employees. The cost of sending an email increases once you press send, that question gets added to your employees to do list, or if it is a blanket or forwarded email it adds to the clutter in that individuals inbox; it might take 5 minutes for your employee to read that email, but if you have fifty employees then that blanket email has cost you over four hours of valuable work, perhaps a direct instant message to a few people may be more efficient. The same goes for meetings, if you insist on as many people as possible dialling into that Teams meeting, consider what they could be achieving in that time.
3. Your workers are your most valuable resource:
Understand that right now your employees are full-time workers, full-time parents and full-time teachers. At the same time their home has become their office and there is no escape from work, they already had 24/7 email but now they cook dinner for their family meters from their desk. Some will cope with this better than others, remember that everyone is an individual and all of your employees have value. If your sales manager can’t make that Zoom meeting, they may be on Microsoft Teams helping their eight-year-old with their English assignment. To this end, check in on your employees and understand their commitments, if there is a blocker you can remove for them (like moving your meeting by half an hour) they will be able to contribute at a much higher standard.
4. Value your customer:
You customers are likely facing the same issues you are, however, while you are content that business is continuing, your customer doesn’t have the visibility that you do. Try as much as possible to keep customers in the loop, make your customers a part of your feedback process where possible and ask them what you can do to improve your workflow during this period of remote working.
5. Review of your workflow and experiment:
Taking the daily running of your business online is an emerging process for a lot of people. The path to an efficient online team is bound to be filled with small failures so learn to identify what isn’t working and adjust. Ask your employees what you need to start, stop and continue and create an environment where suggestions are accepted rather than ignored. Encourage your workers to share knowledge of what is working for them in the hopes that it will help others in the team and support the suggested changes that will make it easier for them to accomplish the business’s goals.
Finally, take the lessons you learn from this period of online work and take the beneficial processes forward. There has been a lot of talk of a ‘new normal’, there is no reason to go back to old processes that may have been stifling your employee’s creativity or work life balance. Enhance your business with this experience and augment your business with a more modern, hybrid approach in the future, your business and your employees will be all the better for it.
Gordon Aiken, Lecturer in Computing at Canterbury Christ Church University.
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