3 Ways to Help Your Remote Employees Thrive
Almost overnight, coronavirus has changed the way we work. Since the crisis hit, an estimated two thirds of employees have been working from home — and many say they’d be happy for it to stay that way.
Employers, too, have woken up to the idea of remote working: Twitter, Slack, and Google are just some of the firms who’ve pledged to extend and expand their work-from-home policies.
For firms like these, the benefits go beyond reducing the need for pricey city-center real estate. In particular, freeing your business from a centralized physical location gives you access to a broader and more diverse talent pool.
I created my course, Remote Working: How to Succeed in the New World of Work, to help people thrive while working from home — something I’ve done myself for nearly 20 years.
As a freelance writer specializing in employee comms, I’ve learned that communication is the key to getting any team to pull together, especially a distributed team.
Here are three things I’ve learned about creating a remote working culture where everyone can thrive.
1. Help people work out loud
In 2013, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, famously announced she was banning remote working at the firm. Her reason? Some ideas, she claimed, only emerge from the kind of impromptu hallway chats that happen naturally when you’re cheek by jowl in an office.
It’s true that when you’re working remotely, you can’t just drop by someone’s desk for a catch-up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage people to share ideas outside of formal channels such as meetings. You just have to consciously engineer those watercooler moments.
One way to foster fortuitous connections is to create a culture where people actively “work out loud.” Popularized by author John Stepper, working out loud means having people share their progress, challenges, and achievements (like completing a Udemy course, for example) beyond their immediate team. It’s about deepening relationships across the organization while making the opportunities for cross-team collaboration more visible.
A Slack channel or other enterprise social network such as Jive or Yammer can be a great space for working out loud. Just be sure to avoid a “build it and they will come” approach. If people aren’t already working out loud, you’ll need a comms strategy for nudging them to take the leap — starting with getting managers to actively model working-out-loud behavior.
2. Embrace the human moments
My sense is that the “Zoomification” of work is eroding some of the boundaries between our home and work personas. I never expected to meet so many of my clients’ children and pets, let alone peek inside so many of their bedrooms. But I welcome seeing a different, more human side to those I’m working with.
By happy coincidence, this change in our way of working comes at a time when many of my HR clients have begun talking about creating a culture where people can bring their “whole selves” to work — whether that’s being able to express their true gender identity or sexuality or being open about their family commitments or non-work passion projects.
The idea behind bringing your whole self to work is that, if people feel “work me” is fundamentally the same as “home me,” they’ll be happier, more productive, and more deeply engaged in their work.
But I suspect for many organizations, there’s still work to be done to help people feel comfortable being their full, authentic selves at work. Take, for example, this recent story about two news anchors’ very different reactions to the intrusion of a small child into a live broadcast. One response is warm, funny, and human. The other sends the message: “Your family commitments undermine your professionalism.” I’m not a parent, but I know which work environment I’d be more likely to thrive in.
On a day-to-day level, ways to encourage openness include devoting chat channels to shared interests and non-work topics, sending out short ‘How are you?’ surveys every now and then, and encouraging managers not to get right down to business at the start of every video call and to leave time for more casual discussions.
3. Promote well-being by encouraging boundaries and balance
Bringing your whole self to work is not the same as letting work take over your life. But without the physical distinction between work and home, switching off is one of the biggest challenges students in my remote working course say they face. And it’s a challenge that’s been particularly acute during lockdown, when the hours, days, and weeks all start to blend into one.
So it’s vital to encourage a culture where people’s downtime is respected, where they feel comfortable setting apps to Do Not Disturb mode, and where managers don’t send emails at midnight.
It’s also helpful if people have strategies for creating a clear demarcation between work and home life. That’s why I suggest recreating a stress-free version of your daily commute at the start and end of the day — for example, by taking 20 minutes to read a book or plug into your favorite podcast on a walk. We tend to think of commutes as dead time, but I prefer to see them as a twice-daily opportunities to reset.
It’s become almost a cliché to talk about our post-coronavirus “new normal.” But if anything is worthy of that phrase, it’s the idea that work is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do. As someone who helps companies get the most out of their employees, I’m excited by the idea that what matters today is not where someone does their job, but how.
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