COVID-19: Find yourself working remotely? Learn the ropes.
By Karina Margit Erdelyi
MARCH 12, 2020 — We are all living under the growing threat of COVID-19 hitting the United States full force — and one of the ways it will impact us is how we work. Does your team have to make the jump to fully remote work? Here’s how to keep things on track and running as smoothly as possible.
Many companies have already instituted work from home policies, among them Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon. As things progress, we are looking at the possible mass disruption of normal work patterns, communication, and team collaboration. But as anxiety and uncertainty mount around how the novel coronavirus will impact the economy, some strategies can be put in place to help ensure that teams can still collaborate successfully and keep business as-usual-as-possible.
Here are some strategies you can use to help ensure that teams can continue to collaborate effectively and keep projects on track.
Culture is set from the top down.
Leaders, it’s time to lead. The CEO needs to be present online, using the same tools and channels that the rest of the organization is using. Communicating proactively and engaging in conversation is vital. Be available. Be approachable. Be human. Don’t just show your professional side; this is a time for vulnerability and strength to walk hand in hand. Be a cheerleader. Give praise. Encourage. Digitally high-five people across your organization. When the leader has fully donned their remote-work-digital-hat — everyone else will be more ready to follow.
Set goals and review roles.
Going from a co-located work environment to one in which a whole company is working remotely is a sudden change that calls for clarity around goals and roles. Look at this as an opportunity to revisit project or team objectives, individual roles, and how each person contributes to the company. Explain in simple language the mission of the company and what you are collectively trying to accomplish. Be crystal clear about roles to help your team understand whom to turn to if they have a question. From there — make detailed goals and objectives. Why? Employees are more aligned when they can get behind a clear, delineated vision.
Welcome to the new normal.
A new age brings with it new challenges. Having an entire company work from home may create new distractions and increase the potential for miscommunication and misunderstandings. Here is where some old-fashioned advice intersects with the digital age: get to know each other.
Barking dogs, crying babies, noisy trucks. Time for the nickel tour.
Have team members give short virtual tours of their home workspaces and share what possible distractions might exist. Think barking dogs, crying babies, loud traffic. Doing this will help colleagues develop personal context for each team member’s environment, and help foster understanding of each other’s circumstances. Here’s why this matters: it’s easy to misinterpret behavior when there’s no context for it. For example, someone on your team may be speaking up less than usual during online meetings. Is it disengagement? Or is the team member mindfully using mute more frequently than others to muffle the constant stream of traffic outside? Ask, don’t assume.
Hello, home office / living room / kitchen table.
It’s key to acknowledge the wide variety of home circumstances. Many folks on your team may be working from non-traditional workspaces, particularly in urban areas, where younger workers may live with multiple roommates. If all the roommates find themselves working remotely as a result of COVID-19, there may be various people walking, talking, typing in the background. If this proves to be too disruptive during online calls, consider making flex work arrangements so video calls occur during quieter times.
Be the architect of digital trust.
Leaders need to be open and authentic. Culture flows from the top — and successful collaboration is grounded in trust. Remote work removes the physical connectedness that often helps anchor trust; cultivating it now is more important than ever. Issues will arise. Deal with them. Now is not the time to hide from problems. Handling things as proactively as possible is key. You are the architect in charge of building digital trust — be caring, compassionate, and diplomatic, and you will succeed.
Gauge capacity and capabilities.
New tasks will arise during this crisis, and members of your team may be pulled in different directions. Let them know that they can count on you to help them navigate new claims on their time. Think about where there might be skill redundancies and how to tap into outside resources if necessary (Creative Circle is a great resource!). You may need to move people from one project to another — understanding the layered experience of individuals will help make that process simpler and more streamlined. If you do have to re-prioritize goals, make sure the changing objectives are communicated to your team — and be mindful of who gets the new assignments.
Curate a digital company culture.
The land of spontaneous connection in a physical space may be on sabbatical for some time. People accustomed to being together in a physical space may feel lonely — which can give rise to a dip in productivity and engagement. So how to cultivate company culture in these remote work times? Create channels (hello Slack, Google Hangouts, Trello, and more) for online expressions of your company’s unique culture. Work anniversaries. Jokes. Celebrations. Personal interests. Pet photos. Think about it like a digital water cooler, where team members can “run” into each other and connect on a more human level.
Use the right digital tools for the job. And stick to them.
Decide what tools best serve the needs of your organization — and then stick to them. Text. WhatsApp. Slack. Trello. Hangouts. Zoom. Skype. And so many more. Create a system so that you can have copious, clear communication. Use chats to sidebar with other team members during online meetings. Figure out what works for your organization and embrace with zeal.
Cultivate remote compassion.
Hosting a birthday celebration or buying delicious cookies to celebrate a job well done will need to be translated for remote work times. Pass along kind messages digitally. Consider sending a card, gift basket, or flowers to someone that deserves (or needs) it. And if it fits with your corporate culture, consider sharing images of the gifts via one of your “water cooler” channels (see #8) for other team members to see.
Keep it regular.
Create set times for your team to meet virtually. Keeping regularly scheduled meetings means team members can plan around it, mitigating possible distractions if they are able. It’s easier to cancel a meeting that is not needed than it is to call for off-the-cuff meetings that may exclude folks who may need to make special arrangements to meet.
New resources in these new times.
Seismic priority shifts may require you to onboard new team members. Yes — it’s not ideal to do so while everyone is working remotely. Here’s what can help: genuinely take the time to introduce new team members formally; by doing so, you will help build trust. Make sure to focus on both the personal and professional — now is the time to really humanize your team as more normative modes of connection (read: happy hour) may not be available.
COVID-19 will cause disruption — it already has. But in challenge lies opportunity. Remote work is not a problem to surmount, but rather a potential business advantage. We are now a digital world — how lucky we are that work for so many of us can actually continue because of it. Use this time to uncover new ways to work as a team and take a close look at old beliefs that will almost certainly benefit you in the days and years to come.
About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.