As Covid-19 transforms home working into a necessity for many organisations, author Chris Dyer reflects on his own organisation’s virtual working experience before the crisis.
Long before Covid-19, at my fully remote workplace, we wrote the rules as employment requirements. Must have a dedicated office space—no laptops in cafés or papers piled up on the washing machine at home. Must have the appropriate computer hardware and software, high-speed Internet service, and any communication apps that the group uses. Must be available for mandatory meetings, either in person or by teleconference.
Whether in an office or offsite, ability to focus depends on the same lack of distraction. For home-based employees, common sense dictates that you can’t watch television while you are writing a report.
We let employees separate their work time from personal time. As long as they complete what needs to be done, to quality standards and on time, we don’t cross the line into managing their schedules. The less we interfere, the better they can focus!
Tear down the walls of isolation
But won’t virtual workers get lonely and spend all day on the phone with their friends? Not if remote companies help their people connect. It’s not as though individuals who need help or have news to relay can knock on a colleague’s office door or herd people into an emergency meeting.
When my office went remote, we had to create new meeting protocols–for quick one-on-one consultation; team input; or company-wide consensus. How, we wondered, could we set up those exchanges as quickly and effectively as possible? How could we ensure that people at remote stations were prepared and paying attention?
We set rules geared toward maximum participation of the relevant parties, active engagement, and achievement of concrete objectives. We did this by considering what gets in the way of that sort of efficiency and effectiveness. Folks tend to dislike meetings that start or run late, meander off topic, and lead to still more meetings, rather than getting things done.
Now, we always start meetings on time, end early, and narrow the agenda to one or two main topics. Including the right people, armed with the right information, increases the odds of real accomplishment. To get those relevant players on board, we created a sliding scale of meeting types, based on the degree of urgency. When a meeting is announced, everyone knows who’s involved, how to prepare, and what will take place.
Besides easily providing opportunities for formal collaboration and acknowledgement, we also have a digital platform for more casual group communication. Shout-outs to co-workers for their help, quick questions for the team, and even in-house surveys via instant messaging keep us connected.
Create true cohesion through transparency
The above solutions give us many individual workers who are capable and prepared to do their jobs, and ways for them to collaborate. But what makes them a team? And what makes the team a reflection of our brand?
A culture that brings everyone on board, on a level playing field, does that. Just as with traditional hiring, onboarding is the time to indoctrinate new employees to the company’s mission and vision. Periodic reminders about core values to all staff align everyone with the organization’s brand and reason for doing business.
But our people are also part of that brand. Their talents and knowledge base contribute to it. So, a means of sharing accurate information among them keeps the brand consistent.
In a traditional office, memos and word of mouth might work. But in a virtual model, there needs to be tighter quality control in communication. The best way to achieve a high level of transparency is for everyone to know what everyone else knows—who those people are, and how their work fits into the greater business scheme.
As our remote staff ebbs and flows, we periodically outline to the group the roles and job goals of every member, from clerks to the CEO. We explain why they do what they do, so when someone needs a resource, they know just where to look. When individuals understand how their colleagues fit into the corporate family, they know they’re not alone, despite the distance between home offices.
In addition to continually updating this role-and-goal information, we level the playing field by allowing anyone to consult with anyone in the company they believe to be helpful. People can compare data or clear up misunderstandings. Transparently sharing information brings the whole team together, with the resources they need to do their best work.
Today, our fully remote staff represents us well in the marketplace. The freedom to work as they choose keeps them engaged, while our shared accomplishments erase feelings of isolation. We’ve found that people who are motivated to think independently and act in everyone’s best interest don’t need to commute to get to the same place.