Embracing the Shift to Telecommuting
Who knew we would experience such a workforce change within the span of several weeks? That many of us would be working from our homes, with our kids running in with questions in the middle of a Zoom conference call or dogs barking loudly while our fifth Amazon shipment of the day is being delivered.
Some companies have been exploring telecommuting for years – some in limited ways, others as an integral part of their workforce. The wife of Rich Thompson, our CEO, started working remotely from our home in Houston back in 1998. Her computer would audibly connect via a telephone line to a database at a physical computer in Chicago to sync information once a day. When he ran training and development nationally for a staffing firm back in the 2000’s, his entire team was spread out to all corners of the country and our management process was entirely remote. This is not a new concept. But this is definitely different.
This widescale forced telecommuting means a change in how people are working. For some organizations, it has been a dramatic shift. For years there has been data supporting remote working. People often find they are more productive at home where they can work without distractions, eliminate commutes and meld life and work together in a way that enables them to do each better. But what about when the job is forced on everyone including those who need the energy of the office, struggle with self-direction or process management?
But our experience with remote working has brought great lessons that we can apply immediately as we work to keep the spirit of team alive in an environment that is void of direct human contact:
Communicate with Value
That lack of direct contact means your communications need to be clear and effective. Each contact your employee has with other employees has become limited. That makes each connection that much more important. Don’t communicate just to check the box. Make sure it is about either connecting with the individual in a meaningful way or providing value.
Communicate in the Best Way
It sounds like such an obvious statement, but somehow, we are losing sight of communicating using the best method for the situation, not what is trendy.
- Video Calls. There is a belief by many that since we aren’t in the office, we must have an abundance of video meetings. And while it may be the closest we can get to being physically together, there is also the tendency to extend meetings unnecessarily or involve way more people than often needed. The real importance of a video call is that it allows for visual cues that may get missed in other forms of communication. Facial expressions can tell a different story than a voice call or written word. Use video calls for times when you need to deliver more sensitive information or when you need to gauge reactions. Video calls are also great for increasing engagement on an important topic as well as creating a specific feeling and dynamic that you miss otherwise. But remember, not everything needs to be done by video.
Texting. Sending a quick text to ask a question or deliver bullet-point information is a great tool. Plus, there are CRM assistance tools available that can store your text messages as that type of communication becomes a part of customer interaction. But keep in mind that there is no tone or facial expressions that leaves lots to assume in a text. If you have a long message or any information that could be misinterpreted, pick up the phone and call because emojis can only help you out so much.
Phone and Emails. Emails let you quickly communicate details and pass on communications, but don’t forget to pick up the phone when you need a little more personal connection or need to communicate in a formal way.
Shift Your Managerial Outlook on Remote Working to Enable Trust
Most remote employees tell us they love the flexibility of working from home because they can split their time between personal activities and work, performing tasks outside of a traditional workday. If your company shifts to a remote workforce, then shift your thinking as well. Don’t fall into the pitfall of using your technology to police your employees. For instance, Skype utilizes an Instant Messenger platform where teams of people can see how long it has been since an employee has been active on his computer. Don’t monitor your employees’ active status, but instead focus on the performance and productivity you are expecting. Your proof is in the deliverables, not if the individual ran to his computer to move the mouse between episodes of Tiger King. If you don’t trust your employees to do the work needed, then you have other issues you need to address.
We have long been huge supporters of the move to virtual offices and benefitting from the flexibility and increased productivity telecommuting offers. We are excited to see the innovations and new technologies that will develop from the surge in telecommuting. We are seeing a glimpse of the future and management needs to prepare for embracing the opportunities of this workforce structure.
We would love to hear from you!