In the pre-coronavirus world, companies moving to a remote workforce could take months to develop and implement their plans. But the sudden onset of COVID-19 gave companies very little lead time to figure out how to set up and support employees to work from home. With no time for formal training, many organizations have been left wondering how they would help their employees stay motivated and productive in this new way of working.
Discovery moved to a remote workforce model over a year ago and has gained a wealth of work-from-home expertise. Hoping to help other organizations thrive in this new remote world, we’re sharing some best practices based on what we learned.
1. Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, this adage reminds us that a company’s culture is often the glue that binds employees together and drives the desired behaviors throughout an organization. This holds true—and perhaps becomes even more important—when the “office” is virtual. Leveraging your organization’s culture will help employees feel more connected to each other and to the company. And it’ll create a virtuous cycle—the more you reinforce your culture, the stronger it’ll get. Is cross-functional team collaboration an important part of your culture? Use regular recurring meetings and communications—weekly emails from the CEO, monthly company meetings—to showcase how your teams are working collaboratively.
2. Effective managers manage, wherever their employees are
Whether employees are in a physical office or working from home offices, effective managers are the ones who use the right combination of motivation, monitoring, and feedback to keep their teams productive and engaged. When faced with the need to manage their teams remotely, some managers may require more support than others. It can’t be overstated how important it is to invest in helping managers be effective—the ROI is huge. Tap into your highly-effective managers as resources to help build up other managers’ skills. Conduct regular meetings and trainings to reinforce best practices and develop management skills. When the pandemic hit, Discovery pivoted from monthly people manager meetings to weekly check-ins. This allows people managers to problem-solve the new COVID-19-related challenges their teams may be experiencing.
3. Make your expectations clear and water what you want to grow
Pandemic or no pandemic, a key to a company’s ability to reach its goals has always been setting clear expectations and ensuring that all employees understand those expectations. Clear expectations act as a connecting force throughout your team and organization, creating alignment so everyone is working together to make the right things happen. At Discovery, we’ve defined our expectations through our five Core Values—Trusted Quality, Reliable Results, Applied Innovation, Mindful Stewardship, and Profound Client Value. These values guide every single employee’s decisions and actions.
Being clear with expectations must be coupled with holding ourselves and others accountable. Team and company leads need to proactively manage their processes in order to get the results they expect. Water what you want to grow—reinforce accountability, reward positive behaviors, celebrate employees who demonstrate their commitment to goals. When employees are remote, it’s critically important to do these things in a way that others can “see.” Discovery uses an online “Impressions” portal for giving and receiving kudos to employees who demonstrate behaviors consistent with our expectations. Everyone in the company can see who’s living our Core Values.
4. Trust…and verify
If you’ve clearly set expectations and are holding people accountable, then you’re well on your way to mastering this best practice. Being remote requires a good deal of trust that employees are managing their time effectively and concentrating on the right things. But you must also check in and check up. Make it a priority to connect with team members on a regular basis so they know you want to stay connected to what they’re working on. This also gives you an opportunity to ensure every team member has what they need to do their job effectively. Use a combination of instant messaging, video conferencing, email, phone, texts, or whatever works best for you and your team to be available and responsive when questions come up. Remember to also check in with employees frequently just to ask how it’s going.
5. Flexibility is free productivity…and free employee engagement
Flexibility is the secret sauce for helping remote employees stay productive. Nearly everyone’s daily life has been disrupted by social distancing, work furloughs, school closings, and other changes. Managers can help remote employees stay on task by working with them to establish schedules, processes, and timelines that balance individual needs with those of your team. Even a small accommodation like moving a meeting by 15 minutes can make a big difference. And remember, life at home still goes on even while employees are working. Learn to embrace those everyday interruptions!
6. Above all else, stay connected and communicate, communicate, communicate
Make sure your teams know what’s going on and have the information they need to do their jobs. People crave personal interaction, and working remotely can cause feelings of isolation and being cut off socially from coworkers. Carve out time during the day for your employees to connect with others. Take virtual coffee breaks or meet-up by video conference to brainstorm ideas, problem-solve, or just talk. You can even plan a virtual happy hour, virtual escape room, or other team events. It doesn’t have to be formal; be sure to lean on your employees for ideas. An unexpected benefit of working virtually is that co-workers are often more open and relaxed outside the office environment. Use this to your advantage and get to know each other on whole new level!
COVID-19 has presented some unique challenges for organizations suddenly transforming to a remote workforce, and it may take some trial and error to find the right approaches to managing in this new environment. By focusing on the things that are important at all times—culture, effective management, clear expectations, flexibility, and communication—you and your remote workforce can indeed thrive!
Please stay safe and remember we’re all in this together!
Learn more about our response to COVID-19.