The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is changing the world rapidly. In recent days, more and more companies had to quickly adjust to working from home. Working remotely has evolved from perk to the norm.
“This is not the typical kind of working from home we’re used to in high-tech. The Corona outbreak presents new challenges”, says Orit Rappaport, HR Manager at Forter, a global leader in online trade fraud prevention. The company has a 200-person office in Israel and also operates in the US and Europe.
“It’s one thing to work from home, and a different thing to work during a crisis with your kids running around,” adds Meirav Fox, Head of People at Autodesk Israel – one of the largest R&D centers in the world. “Working remotely requires a shift in mindset. It’s vital to make it clear to employees that they need to wake up and work – even though they’re not physically going to work”.
IBM, Intel, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (and Forter), among many other tech companies, have officially recommended for all of their employees to work from home. So how do you make sure everyone can do their best work, remotely? How do you turn these trying times to opportunity for employees to upskill and reskill?
- Create a Technological Workspace
The first step is overcoming the physical separation: using technological tools to manage meetings and tasks. It’s important to make sure all employees have the proper equipment and a secure connection. Provide hardware, software, and remote access to all internal company resources (and don’t forget training). Help employees feel comfortable with the new routine by allowing them to take their chairs and screens home.
Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Meet, Viber and others for video meetings. To manage tasks from afar, services like Slack or Trello can be used, while TeamViewer and other remote-control software offer technical support management. Proper infrastructure will increase efficiency and reduce friction.
- Switch to a Video Routine
Employees who aren’t used to working from home may find themselves in pajamas long into the workday. Holding video meetings will help them keep their routine.
Don’t give up on team meetings and one-on-ones either, just like you wouldn’t trade daily meetings for emails. It’s important to see everyone’s faces.
“Autodesk provides external emotional counseling and coaching to employees on video calls”, Fox says. “Also, we have a Slack channel for parents with tips on how to keep kids engaged, create a workspace, and manage their time so that they complete their tasks comfortably”.
- Don’t Stop Recruiting
Changing work habits does not require you to stop the talent acquisition process. A job candidate can be interviewed on a video call. Candidates may be out of their element, so you should be more flexible to improve their experience.
“We have employees who have just recently joined us”, Rappaport says. “We send a computer and all the equipment they need straight to their home”.
- Train Your Managers
Executives are significant players when it comes to working from home; it’s important that they feel comfortable in this role. “There is a difference between managing a remote team and managing a team that is completely out of sync”, Fox explains.
All managers need to focus on building talents during this crucial period. Good talent management will allow you to maintain results throughout this difficult period. Train managers for crisis management and encouraging employees’ sense of belonging and significance. Rappaport agrees: “Be sure to give your managers the right tools to manage (“stress management”) and maintain organizational effectiveness despite uncertainty”.
Some employees like receiving feedback three times a day and for others, even once a day is too much. Meet everyone where they’re at and give talents what they need to continue thriving. Go over their to-do lists together and discuss which tools they need. Quality management will improve employee retention when things go back to normal.
“Small talk is gone – the new routine needs to support this reality”, says Fox. “Spend a few minutes in one-on-one conversations with your employees. Find a way to make these meetings happen despite the new reality”.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
“There’s no such thing as too much communication”, Rappaport says. It’s important to relay official updates from authorities. “We respond to authorities’ directives and interpret them from the company’s viewpoint”.
Fox adds: “It’s important to communicate what is happening at the business level, as well.” Your employees probably have many questions and you should be available to provide answers.
- Provide Maximum Flexibility
Working from home when all household members are around is far more challenging than doing so alone. Allow talents flexible work hours, even during a few different daytime segments. Encourage them to figure out what times are right for them and manage the transition period with sensitivity so that they can still communicate with each other and be effective. This requires flexibility from everyone involved and it will take time to understand what’s convenient for everyone. At the same time, make sure employees communicate their challenges and their working hours instead of letting them over-exert themselves in an effort to maintain typical working hours.
Every manager needs to be in sync with their employees. A daily check-in between managers and all employees helps understand team progress and difficulties.
- Work on Your Company Culture – From Home, Too
As co-workers separate from their work environment and habits, there is a sense of dissipation. Avoid this sentiment as much as possible, by maintaining a sense of togetherness. Beyond professional interactions, create a virtual space where employees can let off steam, make jokes, exchange ideas for activities to do with their children, and generally be social with one another. This can be easily done with a Slack channel or a WhatsApp or Telegram group. If you have regular social activities in the office (like Happy Hours), think about how some of them can be creatively adapted to virtual spaces.
“If the team has a coffee break together every day at four, we do it on a Zoom video call now”, says Fox. Rappaport says: “In our New York offices, we started conducting mini-surveys to get a sense of people’s moods. We also asked everyone to share pictures of their home workspaces – it helps reduce the distance”.
- Express Trust in Employeesand Their Integrity
When everyone is working remotely the importance of company culture becomes especially evident. Trust between managers and employees helps increase effectiveness. Explain how to work remotely without having to slide a time-card, clarify procedures and constantly review performance, but don’t bombard employees with information just to make up for the distance. Believe in them and look to receive regular feedback from them on where they need creative solutions. Open dilemmas up for everyone you’ll find that creativity is not the sole responsibility of managers. This added responsibility serves as an excellent way to turn employees into talents.
- Be More Sensitive
When you don’t see your employees physically, it’s very easy to overlook their hardships. This period brings about unconventional challenges and employees may find it hard to communicate the things that bother them. Pay attention to missed appointments or surprising letdowns in task completion to clue you in on who needs your help.