While homeworking is a logical solution for our fight against the spread of the coronavirus, we need to realize that a lot more changes than just the place from which we work. The circumstances under which we are now introducing home working are far from ideal. Most managers do not have experience with managing their team members remotely. Most employees do not have experience with working from home. Here are some key thoughts and tips to keep in mind to make this transition as fluid and successful as possible.
Homeworking : some important things to bear in mind !
- Homeworking with children at home is hugely challenging.
- Homeworking takes discipline and practice.
- Working from home can be destabilizing as we can lose our routines.
- Working from home can be lonely and monotone.
- And working from home can be very unsettling for the manager as he can feel disconnected from his team.
Homeworking : some important things to bear in mind for the manager !
- Reality is that your team needs time to get used to home working and will not be as productive as you are used to.
- There are members of your team who will have to juggle with children at home or even sick family members.
- Some team members will not have a place at home where they can work undisturbed and with a good internet connection. They might feel uncomfortable to tell you about this.
Homeworking : some important things to bear in mind for the team members !
- Your manger is adapting to this situation at the same time as you. He or she did not have time to prepare for this.
- Your team members all go through the same process as you, but their circumstances might not be the same.
- It is normal if you feel unsettled and even overwhelmed.
Homeworking : some tips on how to manage this transition !
1 — It is crucial to keep the social connection within the team !
I advise organizing a virtual coffee or tea break every morning at a set time. This time, 15 to 20 minutes, should be spent on just chatting and connecting, preferable through video conferencing. Depending on the dynamics of the team, this chat can be structured or free format. A way to structure is to ask every team member to share a positive thought about this situation and a concern. Make sure that every team member gets his/her turn. Most important is that this time is not spent on planning the day or client matters but on connecting socially.
2 — It is important that every member of the team feels trusted !
During a time of change, it is logical that we want to grasp control as much as possible. This goes for the manager but also for the team members. For managers, this might result in wanting to micro-manage the input and output of the work. For some team members, this might result in depending too much on structured process descriptions or in needing freedom to manage their work as they feel best. People all have different preferences and during times of change, they will emphasize these preferences. It is key that the manager communicates clearly and proactively on what is expected. It is just as important that the team member informs his/her manager pro-actively on any constraints or concerns he/she might have. Most important is that the manager and the team members speak about how they feel not just about what needs to be done !
3 — People need to feel safe !
Change makes us feel unsettled and unsafe. We tend to reach out to the people around us to talk about what is going on. Very often, the conversations take a negative turn and are not based on facts. To mitigate this, structured and consistent communication is key. I advise the manager to set up a repetitive and transparent communication plan. Repetitive in the sense that every day the key communication should be set up the same. Transparent in the sense that the plan should be shared with the team.
Homeworking : an example of communication plan !
- Good morning email with the planning of the day.
- Virtual coffee/tea break to allow a social connection.
- Afternoon individual calls to discuss individual and client matters.
- End of day recap email to inform the team on organizational matters and communicate about company-wide policies and strategies.
The content can vary day to day but the structure stays the same. Of course, flexibility is important. I advise however to be flexible in the one to one communication with the team members but to keep the general communication structure in place.
Homeworking : the last tip but not the least !
My experience of working with remote teams across 35 countries has taught me never to assume that people are ok. Email doesn’t replace one on one communication. Pick up the phone and have a real conversation!