The impact of Covid-19 on the global workforce has been both unanticipated and unprecedented. As governments implement lockdown measures and limit on-site employees to key/essential workers only, remote workers have gone from making up a small but steadily growing portion of the workforce to the dominant model for many companies during the pandemic.
Here are some of best practices for remote working to help make your company’s business run smoother, and how you can use internal communications for remote employees for managing workforces during Covid-19.
Preparing the infrastructure
The first step to making an effective transition to large scale remote working is to ensure that your employees have the correct infrastructure in place so they can perform their roles with minimal interruption.
Making sure your employees have the necessary means to communicate is an obvious priority. With businesses having to adapt to the pandemic crisis with little to no time to prepare, it’s time to rethink their communications strategy and consider better software for the circumstances. IM/chat tools such as Slack and Teams are fine for regular conversational tools, but fall short when it comes to more structured planning.
Investing in reliable tools which allow managers to coordinate objectives and tasks, schedule meetings and one2ones and allow instant communication throughout your company’s hierarchy is essential if you want to mitigate the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Performance management with remote workers requires greater visibility, so choosing a multi-channel platform which allows managers to log who has read messages and other communications and embed eNPS and worksheets will fill the void left by the removal of face-to-face discussions.
Working remotely introduces the potential risk of security breaches and loss of data, so establishing some guidelines to prevent this is necessary, for instance making sure your employees are working from secure networks.
Jonathan Segal, partner in the Employment Group of Duane Morris LLP, suggests in an interview with Forbes that companies should “require that employees log in and out when they are not using their computer. If an employee leaves the computer on, a family member with no bad intent may see what he or she should not or might a send a message that causes a data breach with the consequent notification requirements.”
Not everyone is suited to remote work, so helping your employees mentally prepare themselves for a potentially long stretch working from home will help keep them focused and reduce additional anxiety created by the uncertainty of the coronavirus and its long term impact.
Harvard Business School Professor of Business Administration, Tsedal Neeley, suggests the following strategy to prepare yourself for remote working:
“Develop rituals and have a disciplined way of managing the day. Schedule a start and an end time. Have a rhythm. Take a shower, get dressed, even if it’s not what you’d usually wear to work, then get started on the day’s activities. If you’re used to moving physically, make sure you build that into your day … Ask yourself: How will I protect myself from feeling lonely or isolated and stay healthy, productive, and vibrant? Create that for yourself.”
Goals and objectives
Set Visible, Cascading OKRs
Establishing clear and transparent objectives and key results which can be tracked and updated in real time via your company’s performance management system is a core foundation of effective remote management of employees.
Everyone needs to be clear on what their immediate and short term objectives are and who they should be coordinating with to achieve these, so disseminating these goals as broadly as is required across the workforce while allowing for constant real-time feedback helps keep everyone on the same page.
Hold weekly online meetings
Begin each week with online meetings in order to establish and clarify work objectives and take the opportunity to gather updates from employees. With the fluid interaction of the office space no longer available, scheduling online meetings helps keep the right conversations on track.
Managers and employees alike should make sure they are prepared for these weekly meetings in advance so that the pertinent issues are raised and addressed in a timely manner, allowing for any alterations to the week’s objectives to be clearly understood and processed into the company’s performance management tools.
Larger companies may need to break these weekly meetings down to departmental and team levels, and if necessary schedule end of the week follow up meetings to review the week’s objectives and performance.
Maximizing communication channels
With your objectives and key results established and ready to track, maximizing your digital communication channels and using them consistently will help to keep everyone aligned to their goals. Here are some methods you can use to keep communication frequent and timely.
Transparent team check-ins
Teams who are used to working together in the same office space need mechanisms to compensate for the lack of face to face dialogue while working remotely. Establishing regular and transparent team check-ins across your real-time internal communications platform helps keep those conversations moving.
Encourage team members to utilise all channels of communication while they work. Tsedal Neeley explains:
“The last thing is you have to follow up these virtual meetings with redundant communication to ensure that people have heard you and that they’re OK with the outcome. Say you have a video conference about a topic. You follow it up with a message. You should have multiple touchpoints through various media to continue the trail of conversation.”
Remote 1-2-1 meetings
Likewise, managers and team leaders should consider increasing the number of remote 1-2-1 meetings with their employees as part of a leadership strategy of regular engagement. These are also opportunities for informal catch-ups where managers can enquire into the well-being of their employees and offering any assistance if they are suffering from anxiety or stress due to either working remotely or the Covid-19 pandemic.
If an employee requires any additional training or other resources for work, you can look into offering video-based coaching and make the most of any other available online tools.
Tracking and updating the progress of your company’s objectives is important, but so too is the development of your employees. Implementing systems which allow your staff to continue to develop their skills while allowing managers and team leaders to identify any skills gaps which need addressing will help your company to continue to grow across all fronts.
You can use your performance management and communications tool to put together personal development plans, allowing remote workers the opportunity to continue to develop the necessary skills and acquire the online training needed to improve.
As well as managing goals, your digital performance management tools can be used to help create stronger bonds and reduce anxiety by encouraging a sense of community and reinforcing your company’s cultural values. Remote workers are deprived of a literal watercooler to gather around with their colleagues, so you can create “digital watercoolers” as part of your internal communication system to keep those informal and sometimes inspirational conversations going.
The coronavirus crisis will have a profound and lasting impact on how companies will deal with remote working, and providing a virtual environment which fosters the same sense of community found in the workplace will be an essential part of business strategies moving forwards.