There’s much more to working from home than setting up a video conference. We need creative ideas to keep people employed who have jobs that aren’t conducive to working at home. Flexible work arrangements are important to explore.
With schools closing down and workplaces going online, many of us are finding ourselves in uncharted territory. It’s not just that we have to work from home, but we have to do it with our kids running around the house. The fact is you’re going to be more distracted working from home over the next few weeks when the whole family is home with you. But there are best practices to help you stay focused without ruining your relationships with your spouse and children.
- Get privacy. If you have a separate office in your house, use it and close the door. If you don’t, create a temporary office in a separate room where you can close the door and have quiet. It may mean taking over the dining room table or bedroom during the day and cleaning up your work materials at the close of the day. Privacy is not only for you, it’s for your colleagues and clients, and it will help the kids adjust better too.
- Set boundaries. No doubt kids will see being at home with you as an opportunity to spend more time with you (unless you have teens or college age kids, which may require creating more space). It will be up to you to set the boundaries early on and stay disciplined. They will likely try every trick in the book to get your attention at first, but if you stick to a routine, they will adjust.
- Personalize your plan. You know what works best for you and your family. If you need to take a lot of breaks to check on the kids or to maintain your own sanity, do it. Set your plan to work for 1 hour then take 10 minutes off to socialize, get coffee, stretch your legs, or whatever you need. But set a timer and get back to work. If you know that saying good-bye to your kids will trigger a huge separation issue, plan to see them only at lunchtime and the end of the day. If you need to trade off childcare responsibilities, figure out a plan that works for you and your partner. It may take a few tries to get it right.
- Be flexible and forgiving. Adjusting to working from home takes time and experimenting. Be patient with yourself, with your colleagues, and with your family. Plan ahead for mitigating and resolving frustrations. That may include creating “safe words” to use with your family or boss to compassionately tell them to back off. Humor can be of use for this. For example, if you choose a safety phrase of “purple dinosaur,” you could say to your 5-year-old that you need to meet with a purple dinosaur to mean that you need to step out of the room and calm down. Respect them when they say it too. With your boss, it could simply be, “I need to take a quick personal break and I’ll call you right back.”
The last word for this time of the Coronavirus crisis is that it is only temporary. You can set up routines that won’t last forever, like giving your kids more screen time or shifting your work to the evenings or playing tag in the yard at lunchtime or calling your coworkers just to chat. We’re all on edge with the ambiguity of the illness and the effects of cabin fever. Treat yourself and others with compassion during this period of time. Think about how you will want to look back on it.
How do you lead your employees who work from home? How do you manage a virtual team? What are the best virtual communication hacks?
Two important challenges arise when we ask our employees to work from home. First is the technology challenge and second is the leadership challenge. To keep your team members productive, make sure they have the technology they need, are trained on how to use it, and have quick access to IT help to solve tech problems. This should be delegated to your IT department or service provider. You do not want to have to shift your role to IT support to keep your team up and running.
What you will need to do as a virtual leader is to shift your management style. No matter what your leadership philosophy is, going virtual will impact it. If you are normally hands on, for example, you will need to make peace with the idea your team working without you when they are working from home. If you are normally more hands off, you will need to find ways to check in more with your team to make sure things are going smoothly.
Working virtually is not fundamentally different than working in the office, but leadership challenges tend to amplify in virtual teams. Communication, trust, and engagement are three areas that are impacted the most. Here are some tips on managing virtual communication.
Make a Communication Plan
Set the expectations of how often and by which method you want to communicate with your team. Questions to consider:
- For what types of issues should they call you? Each other? Send a text? Email?
- What is a reasonable response time for each mode of communication? Hours, days?
- How do you want to be able to reach them? Should they have their phone ringers on?
- Should they send out a message or set a flag in your chat room when they are taking a break, like for lunch?
- Would it be useful to set up some group chats or channels for specific projects or issues to reach multiple people at once?
- What should they update you on and how often?
Use Effective Virtual Communication Techniques
- Choose the right modality. Use voice or video for any emotionally charged interactions, like performance feedback, disagreements, and sensitive issues. If text-based interactions seem to be going down an emotional path, immediately pick up the phone or open a video channel.
- Practice active listening. Ask others to summarize what they heard and understood to make sure you are on the same page. Similarly, summarize what they tell you to make sure you understand what they are saying.
- Communicate the same message more than once and in multiple modalities, such as verbally, followed up by an email. Ask for confirmations for receipt of text-based messages.
- Assume the best of others. When someone does not respond in a timely manner, don’t make up a dozen reasons why they are ignoring you. Check in with them. Ask if they got the message. More often than not, they didn’t see it or they got tied up and meant to get back to you.
To see more tips on building and maintaining trust in virtual teams, and engaging employees on virtual teams, stay tuned. Here are tips on running virtual meetings.