Millions of people around the world are currently working from home – many of them for the first time. Entire organisations are switching to remote work overnight.
This unprecedented global situation poses unique challenges for HR decision-makers. They are responsible for ensuring a smooth transition to remote work. They also need to make everyone feel included, valued, and secure, as keeping up morale is essential for maintaining the organisation’s performance.
MERIT spoke with Peter Ivanov, an expert on remote work and bestselling author, about how HR can make a difference right now. Peter has won multiple awards for his management of remote teams, and his book Virtual Power Teams has been translated into six languages.
Read on for tips on how you can keep your people motivated and engaged throughout an extended period of remote work.
A key error Peter sees leaders of remote teams and organisations making is not communicating enough. When everyone is in the same space for eight hours a day, it is easy to feel connected. Not so when people disperse. Many leaders, Peter said, were only communicating tasks and responsibilities to their people. This may suffice in an office environment, but it is far from enough in a remote organisation.
Now is a time when reaching out and showing your personal commitment makes a real difference. Communicate openly, clearly, and often about the current situation. Share updates, tips, and even personal experiences. It is a leader’s task “to overcommunicate in a positive way,” Peter said. “Describe why we do what we do. If people have the bigger picture – which they would lack unless you do it – they will be able to have this guiding star”, he advised. Employees need a sense of context and purpose. Even if they do not know how long they will be working remotely, understanding why this step is necessary will keep them motivated.
2. Educate your people about remote work.
For people who are not used to working from home, the new situation presents many challenges – from childcare to self-management. Give them the resources they need to succeed.
It is important to share tips and techniques that can sustain people’s productivity and wellbeing. Essential habits that all remote employees should practise include:
- Taking regular breaks. These improve creativity and focus. Ideally, they should be active breaks.
- Bundling tasks. Peter recommends doing a set of similar tasks, such as phone calls, at a set time before moving on to a different bundle, for example creative work.
- Setting up a physical distinction between work and time off. Ideally, a separate place in the home should be reserved for work. When this is not possible, dressing up for work and not wearing typical home attire can help set boundaries.
- Making a plan with those at home. “I have five kids, and some are quite little – and for them usually, if you’re at home, you’re there to play,” Peter said. Employees should communicate to family ahead of time when they will be available to them, and when they are working.
These and other small changes can boost performance when working from home. Online training modules or microlearning can help set people on the right track.
Employees receive training and coaching on most business-critical tasks. During the current pandemic, adapting to remote work is crucial. HR should share resources or create their own that correspond to the organisational culture. A rewards system can be put in place to entice people to use those resources.
3. Focus on engagement.
A lack of sustained engagement is the number one issue that Peter has observed in remote organisations. Quite simply, when they are not in touch with their teams and companies, people “get bored”, he cautioned.
Before the Coronavirus, Peter was seeing significant employee turnover at remote organisations he worked with. People may be less likely to leave currently as recruitment is slowing during the pandemic – but boosting engagement is important if your organisation is to weather the storm unscathed.
Peter recommends two techniques to drive engagement: gamification and “praise, praise, praise”. “Make sure, for your remote workers, you praise,” he advised. “If there is a result, you praise the result. And make it as public as possible. If there is no result yet but they show a positive behaviour, like supporting their team members and so on – praise the behaviour. And if you don’t find anything to praise – look harder. There are always things to praise. You should put on your positive glasses and make sure you praise publicly. That would give them energy and fuel to carry on.”
To take this a step further, you can gamify praise. Peter recommends setting up an online “kudos system” where employees can share praise for their colleagues and everyone can chime in with comments and upvoting. This way, “you create a positive spiral of recognition”.
4. Give managers the tools to lead teams successfully.
Helping employees manage themselves is not enough. It is essential to also reach out to middle managers. They have an outsized impact on engagement, as they are the ones who can make people feel valued on a daily basis. You can create virtual training for managers to reinforce best practices for leading remote teams, including:
- Holding regular meetings. Teams should share updates at least bi-weekly. Those meetings should be inclusive: everyone should feature on the agenda. If someone stays silent, the manager should encourage them to speak up.
- Creating a distinction between online and offline work. A few hours a day should be set aside when people can schedule meetings or brainstorming sessions. The rest of the time should be reserved for concentrated individual work.
- Establishing a hierarchy of communication channels. The team should agree on what channels they will use and when. Managers should not expect people to check email more than three times a day. A separate channel, like an instant messenger, should be reserved for urgent communication.
- Rewards. Attractive rewards should be announced to incentivise outstanding work.
- Personal time. Finally, managers should set aside a time for people to share life updates –highlights, “lowlights”, or simply how they are feeling. This provides a human touch, which is missing when people are suddenly pulled from the office to work from home.
A period of extended remote work is not a time for HR to step back. On the contrary, this is your moment to shine. With a positive attitude, proactive communication, and targeted training, you can lead your organisation through rough waters and improve performance through people.
Check out Peter's in-depth online programme on motivating employees during the Coronavirus pandemic.
By Ani Kodjabasheva