As the Covid-19 pandemic wears on and employees everywhere continue to work from home, more and more businesses are reconsidering their traditional office arrangements. After all, many businesses have “proven we can operate with effectively no footprint,” as James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, which has moved about 90 percent of its employees to a remote-work model, put it. Gorman added: “Can I see a future where part of every week, certainly part of every month, a lot of our employees will be at home? Absolutely.”
But making the switch to an effective, productive virtual workforce doesn’t just happen overnight. It requires careful planning and forethought to ensure success. Here are some of our tried-and-true strategies for companies look to shift some (or all) of their workforces to remote work — as well as tips for employees who are new to, or simply need added motivation for, the remote-work experience.
1. Provide the right tools. Thanks to technology, working remotely has never been easier. But where do you start? Evaluate all the tools and apps on the market and determine which are the most effective for your employees, keeping in mind it might vary from department to department. And after you choose the best tools for your teams, don’t forget the training! The shiniest new technology is still useless if your people don’t know how to use it. Provide ample, frequent and detailed training — and make it accessible around the clock, so your employees can log in whenever they have the time, which is particularly important now.
2. Consider project-tracking software. On a related note, if you haven’t before, consider implementing cloud-based project-tracking software to help monitor the progress of remote work. These systems help keep projects visible and allow all the relevant stakeholders to view and track progress anytime, anywhere. These can be used to centrally store files or can be used in conjunction with cloud-based file storage systems so that all the relevant project documents are also universally accessible to remote workers.
3. When in doubt, overcommunicate! It’s imperative that employees still feel like they’re part of a team, and that managers and executives understand what everyone’s doing and where projects stand. Without regular face-to-face meetings, companies need to invest extra time in establishing good communication systems. Check in regularly with everyone, by phone, text, email, Zoom or Skype, and messaging services like WhatsApp or Slack. Ask questions and follow up on previously discussed tasks. Keep in mind that it’s important not to come across as micromanaging in these communications, but rather as a helpful support system.
4. Instill an open-door mentality. Managers should assure employees that they are always available and willing to assist or listen. They can help create that atmosphere by asking for feedback during meetings, following up individually with employees to check in, or sharing something that they themselves are working on to demonstrate that they’re all in this together.
5. Keep regular routines. This goes for both companies and individuals: Set daily, weekly, monthly and/or quarterly meetings and deliverables. This will help to establish a work cadence and keep productivity high. Maintaining normal standards and expectations regarding work output will also help. Individuals may also want to establish their own daily routines to stay motivated. For example, if before the pandemic a particular employee was waking up at 7:30 a.m., showering, and eating breakfast before heading off to work, they may want to do the same thing now even if they’re not going in to a physical office.
6. Be patient. This goes for both companies and individuals. Making the transition to virtual work can be entirely new for some, and old-hat for others. Consider this new normal a work in progress. Be patient with yourselves and others. Everyone is adapting in their own ways.
7. Ask questions! This one is for remote workers especially: Now is not the time to be fuzzy on the details or assume you can follow up later. If anything is unclear, ask about it! And don’t be afraid to request to speak by phone or Zoom — not only is a chat sometimes the best way to clarify information, but the personal connection, even if only virtual, can really help stave off isolation. And remember: Your questions may even uncover important issues that need resolving — a major business win.