Tag Archives: remote work

The Surprising Effects of Long-Term Remote Work

“It happens every time.  The same people talk and everyone else stays quiet.” 

Does this sound like your zoom meetings?  Have you noticed that the same people keep contributing to meetings while the rest fade into silent observers?  Have you asked your team members if they feel frustrated? 

A year into the pandemic, there is a lot of talk about the stress and isolation resulting from remote work, but there are more subtle problematic effects that may last long after the stay-at-home orders are lifted.  If you act now, you may be able to reduce the impact.

Reduced Creativity and Innovation

Are you marginalizing some employees in meetings?  If so, the team may be missing out on alternative perspectives that could inhibit creativity and innovation. In any meeting, face-to-face or virtual, it is important to make sure a variety of people are contributing to hear challenges to ideas, different angles that may not have been considered, and questions that may have not been asked.  When people remain silent, the status quo becomes the norm.

Recommendation: Rotate who leads the meetings and add facilitation processes to make sure everyone participates and people’s ideas are not shot down prematurely. Consider asking for people’s input ahead of time to give less extroverted people a chance to think and be heard.

Decreased Efficiency

Better qualified people could be making the decisions and getting the work done.  Often it is the leaders who speak but they are not necessarily the ones who are closest to the tasks or who best understand the issues.  It may be that others should be talking and raising issues upward rather than listening to decisions made by their leaders and feeling powerless to influence them.

Recommendation: Examine whether decisions can be pushed lower to free up leaders to do other things. Create an agenda prior to the meeting that includes the names and/or roles of people that have relevant information, knowledge, experience, and/or proximity to the issues being discussed. Facilitate the meeting to make sure they are heard. 

Lower Productivity

One of the biggest complaints about remote work is the number of meetings people have to go to and how they don’t have time to get their work done.  This is often an issue in normal times, but the quantity of meetings during the pandemic has skyrocketed.  It may be because people are dispersed and don’t have casual conversations anymore or because it’s so much easier to all pop onto a call than to travel to a conference room or because people are afraid of missing out on something when they are isolated at home.  The result, however, is that, when so many people are sitting in a meeting and are not being engaged, they are likely wasting their time. 

Recommendation: Talk to your team members about how they feel they can best use their time.  Create communication channels that keep people informed, such as sharing meeting minutes, having a point of contact, or creating subgroups that report back to the larger group less frequently.

Exclusive Culture

We are at a time where inclusivity is key to recruiting, engaging, and retaining high quality employees.  When you don’t see people day-to-day in the office, you may fall victim of the “out of sight out of mind” adage.  Whether intentionally or not, you may leave people out of meetings and decisions.  If employees feel excluded from the conversations, they are likely to “check out” and eventually quit.  That is the best-case scenario.  If they feel they are being discriminated against, they may take legal action. 

Recommendation: Examine how you and others determine who should be in meetings, who is on the agenda to speak, how the discussion is facilitated, as well as who has not spoken up, who is not at the meeting, and who you have not connected with one-on-one recently.  Ask your team members for their observations and feelings about participation in conversations and decisions.

Frayed Relationships

Remote work environments lend themselves to more task-oriented approaches.  Have you noticed, for example, that people tend to show up for meetings at the precise start time and leave abruptly and there is no time to chat?  Have you noticed less humor?  Do you feel that you haven’t really spent time with the people you work with over the past year other than in meetings? 

Recommendation: Dedicate part of each workweek to relationship building.  You will likely find that a little time invested in relationships saves a lot of wasted time due to poor communication and lack of trust.  It may seem strange at first to ask people to show up to social meetings during the workday and some people may reject your requests.  Stay at it and tell them explicitly how much you value your relationship with them and how important it is for you to spend time supporting each other on a personal level.

There are many ways to address these negative effects of prolonged remote work. The important thing is to notice when they are happening and take action to reverse them.

Overcoming the Challenges of Long-Term Remote Work

Are you starting to see the long-term effects of remote work?  From what I’ve seen, some organizations are achieving great results, some adapted well at first and are now running into challenges, and others are struggling.  This is not surprising.  I conducted several research studies* many years back on what is necessary for remote work to be successful and three components are necessary: the right job, the right person, and the right organization. 

Job

Some jobs are easily done remotely, like coding, writing, and marketing.  As we’ve discovered over the past few months, other jobs simply cannot be done remotely, like food delivery, emergency response, lab work, and hair styling. Some industries, however, have made very creative adaptations to enable remote work during COVID-19, like gyms providing video classes, judges conducting telephonic hearings, and schools providing online learning.  If people are struggling working remotely in your organization because of the job requirements or structure, there may be ways to change that to make them more successful.

Person

Because of COVID-19, we’ve had to move people en masse to remote work without consideration to whether they are suited to it.  Certain personality characteristics correspond to success at remote work, both due to the person’s satisfaction with doing it as well as their manager’s satisfaction with their performance.  For example, a highly extraverted person may feel lonely and isolated at home while a highly introverted person may not communicate enough.  For those who are miserable working from home or who are not productive or collaborating effectively, it may be worth finding ways for them to come into work at least in a limited way.

Organization

Certain characteristics of the organization help and hinder remote work.  The culture and infrastructure are the two most important factors.  Many organizations are overcoming the IT aspect of the infrastructure, but other systems, processes, and cultural norms may need addressing.  For example, hierarchical, highly centralized organizations fare worse with remote work.  Organizations with a lot of community and friendship may suffer going remote if systems aren’t put in place for people to keep in touch.  I’ve seen this start to become a problem for a number of organizations.

If you’d like to talk about how to solve any of these long-term remote work challenges, please set up a call with me.  I’ve been consulting with organizations on leading remote teams for twenty years and have a pretty good handle on how to help.

*Research Studies:

Connell, J. B., Sorenson, R. C., Robinson, K., L., & Johnson, S. T.  (2004).  The Birth of a Telecommuter Selection Instrument: Results of a Validation Study.  Proceedings of the International Telework Academy 9th International Telework Workshop, (Crete, Greece: September 6 – 9, 2004).

Connell, J. B., Sorenson, R. C., Robinson, K., L., & Ellis, S. J.  (2003).  Identifying successful telecommuters.  Proceedings from the International Association for Development of the Information Society International Conference:  WWW/Internet 2003, (Algarve, Portugal: November 5 – 8, 2003).

Sorenson, R. C., Robinson, Connell, J. B., K., L., & Ellis, S. J.  (2003).  Factors affecting the success of telework:  A collection of case studies.  Proceedings from the International Conference on Advances in the Internet, Processing, Systems, and Interdisciplinary Research, (Sveti Stefan, Montenegro: October 4 – 11, 2003).

Employees just want to have fun!

Thoughtful businessman drinking coffee and thinking at workplaceHelp! My employees are experiencing quarantine fatigue! My employees are disengaging! How do I motivate my team remotely?

Shortly after school went online, my daughter said to me, “They’ve taken away all the good stuff from school and made the bad stuff even worse.”  There’s no more lunchtime with friends, prom, spontaneous trip to Starbucks after school, and classes have gone from hands on interaction to dreadfully long zoom meetings where half the kids turn off their cameras.

Work is the same way.  If you ask most employees what makes work good, it will be the people they work with.  People like going to work because of the social interaction—and that’s exactly what’s missing right now.  There are no “water cooler” conversations, no Friday lunch outings, no after work activities.  We just go to dreadfully boring zoom meetings.

Managers have good reason to be concerned that their employees are not motivated because they aren’t.  Quarantine fatigue has set in.  How do you keep your employees engaged when they’re not working face-to-face?  There are lots of ways to incentivize performance remotely (see my free webinar for tips), but, right now, fun is the answer.  It’s time to add fun back into work.

Fun goes beyond the now-cliché virtual happy hour.  It means setting up the infrastructure and culture for people to engage with each other about personal things, enjoy humor, and feel connection.  Here is a small list of ideas that are working for leaders I work with.

  • Fun zoom meetings that are not about business. Introduce your families or pets, most creative dish you’ve made with limited ingredients, best vacation you’ve ever had, and so on. These can spawn themed Slack channels or email lists for continued engagement.
  • Fun Slack channels or email lists. Favorite playlist, favorite theme (jazz/hard rock/show tune/etc.) song of the day, Netflix binges, kids activities, pets, and so on.
  • Games. There are many online games available that are approachable to everyone. Try a 4:00 game time during work hours.  Break people up into teams to increase engagement and bonding among team members.
  • Virtual coffee and virtual lunch. Go for smaller, more personal meetings with team members and colleagues. Take someone to coffee or lunch one-on-one like you might normally do at work.  Just set it up virtually.  Perhaps you can even do a socially distant coffee or lunch in person and offer to drive to a park our other outdoor setting near where they live.
  • Teambuilding activities. We offer several teambuilding activities that are fun and engaging and are more relevant to work.  The Invisible Path game helps build trust and communication, the Strengthen Your Team activity uses the Gallup StrengthsFinder tool to help team members appreciate each other’s contributions, and our more sophisticated business simulation brings out the competition and challenge for people who crave that.

No matter which path you take, try to get your employees to smile again.  It really helps build morale.

Coronavirus Tips: How to work from home when your kids are home too

Kid reading for school lying on floor at home

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 Family lying outdoors smilingneed 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.