- 8 MINUTE READ -
- Remote work is here to stay
- Leaders should prepare for a hybrid model
- Remote work requires change management
- People need help designing their remote workday
- You leadership style needs to evolve (more change management)
3 BIGGEST CHALLENGES WITH REMOTE WORK
For some employees, remote work feels like a prison sentence. They feel confined, trapped and lonely. There are three main challenges.
- No life-work boundaries - not being able to unplug
- Social isolation/loneliness - feeling left out
- Home/family distractions - makes it difficult to focus
REMOTE WORK: CHANGE MANAGEMENT CHALLENGE
There are two types of employees, those that work remotely by choice and those that do so reluctantly. For many, remote work has been an unwanted change.
Like any change, people that like the change embrace it and those that don't resist the change. Those that chose to remote work are more proactive in designing their workday. They do all they can to take full advantage of the benefits remote work has to offer.
These people take a longer term view of remote work. They build routines that enable their remote work to be balanced, productive and satisfying. They're in it for the long haul.
Those that have been forced into remote work take a more reactive approach. They view it as a short term inconvenience. They take a "wait and see" attitude.
Instead of building new routines that enable remote work to be more balanced, productive and satisfying, they make short term accommodations.
Instead of taking advantage of the benefits remote work has to offer, they focus on workarounds. They do what they can to lessen the pain.
An unwanted change is often resisted and put off for as long as possible. This is a common change management challenge. Until people accept the change as a reality they have to deal with, they will resist.
Remote work presents a unique change management challenge. It's an unwanted change that may be temporary. It may not be a reality they have to accept over the long haul. Those that prefer office working environments can hold out hope that things will soon get back to normal. In reality, some may never fully return to the office.
People have to accept this as their reality for now, and plan to optimize their workday accordingly. Employees struggling to adapt to remote work need your guidance. Like with any change, they need a plan.
CHANGE MANAGEMENT PLAN
This change management plan has two components - 1.) Things they can do to design their remote workday, and 2.) Things you can do as the leader.
The reluctant employee needs your help to design their remote workday. When you do, it signals to them that's it's okay to take advantage of some of what remote work has to offer.
- Reclaim commute time - the average commute was 30-minutes each way. That's an hour a day. If someone has been working remotely for a year, that's 250 hours of newfound time. Think about it, that's a month and a half's worth of 8-hour days! People that chose to work remotely take full advantage of this time saver. Some use the time to work, which buys them more flexibility throughout the day. Others reclaim the time for personal interests. Whatever the case, its an opportunity the reluctant remote worker needs to leverage.
- Mid morning/afternoon breaks - encourage people to block time in their workday away from their computer. Remote employees working their way through what used to be their commute time should feel comfortable unplugging, but many don't. A client might call. You might call. Some jobs require them to stay plugged in, but most don't. You have to encourage these breaks and explain the mental, physical and emotional benefits of periodic work breaks. People that chose remote work love this benefit. You need to encourage reluctant remote workers.
- No working lunches - discourage people from working through lunch. Stress the importance of a mid-day break. Many would work through lunch because they had the evening commute hanging over their heads. Now that's a thing of the past.
- Flex time autonomy - the more daily autonomy the better. People are more engaged when they can own and balance their own schedules. When office bound, their schedule was tethered to the office dynamics. Now that they have more control over their time, encourage them to manage it as they see fit.
People resist any unwanted change. All they see are the barriers to change. You can expect some "can't/because" thinking, so be prepared to provide "if/then" coaching.
REMOTE WORK LEADERSHIP TECHNIQUES
It's hard to lead like you did face-to-face over Zoom or Teams. Your people have different needs than they did when in the office. They need help finding balance, focus and connection.
You have to rethink your leadership style and routines. Virtual happy hours aren't what people need. Some ideas to consider -
- Fewer and shorter meetings - remote work has spawned more meetings that last longer. 😖 When teams go remote, managers value updates and status reports more. Meetings are also viewed as a way to keep people connected and informed, but there are many unintended consequences. People still have work to do. More time in meetings means less time to complete individual tasks. The time people save in no longer commuting is spent prepping for meetings or doing work they can't complete while on a Zoom call. Rethink your approach to meetings.
- Daily goals - focus people on daily accomplishments. Each day is an opportunity to achieve something meaningful. A milestone crossed, a problem solved or a task completed feels good. It feels productive. It builds confidence and a sense of momentum. Hyper-focus on long term goals can be demotivating. The opportunity to feel achievement or accomplishment is somewhere off in the future. It's uncertain. It's easy to lose hope. It's easy to lose confidence. Daily opportunities are more certain. Daily accomplishments promote hope and confidence.
- Clarify expectations - Some employees report working more remotely than they did in the office. In remote environments, time zones blur so hours get extended. Employees assume they are constantly on call. They assume they can't step away from their laptop, they need to constantly check their mobile device, and they must be available 7x24. In most companies (and for most bosses), that's simply not the case. One of the simplest things you can do is to clear up misconceptions. Expectations aren't just about what people should do. They can be about what people shouldn't do. Hold your people accountable for remote work behaviors that should be avoided.
- Casual 1-on-1's - all 1-on-1's don't need to be the same. Some are agenda driven with a clear purpose. They should be run consistently so people know what to plan for and what's expected. These meetings have a specified duration and should begin and end on time. A casual 1-on-1 is different. Forget the agenda. Schedule towards the end of the day. It's best if you don't have a meeting to run to. This is not an update meeting, unless the employee cares to share. Pre-covid, people used to have a beer after work. The talks didn't center on business. People got to know each other. This is how relationships grow. The discussions often turned to work, but the employee took the conversation in the direction they wanted.
- Daily highlights - think of yourself as a news anchor. You're a clearing house of good news. When people work remotely, they lose the positive energy of others. The best source of confidence is when someone succeeds on their own. The next best source is vicarious reinforcement. Sharing good news should be a part of your daily/weekly routine. It gives your team something to celebrate. There's enough bad news. Everyone has problems. Bad events are more memorable than good. Negative emotions are stronger than positive emotions. Bad news travels faster than good news. Make a conscious effort to balance the bad with the good.
- "Take a walk" meetings - every meeting doesn't have to be a Zoom meeting. The camera's don't always need to be on. You don't have to tie people to their laptops and kitchen tables. Make some meetings audio only. Encourage people to attend while on a walk. Suggest they grab their ear buds and a leash. Dog's are optional. Maybe substitute your standard, desk bound stand up meetings a couple times a week. When people walk, they're more alert, confident and energetic. Walking is a great stress relief. People are more creative when they walk. This is a good time to share good news and provide company updates. Invite a guest (maybe your boss) to be a guest speaker. This is also a good time to cover a short training topic.
- Gripe sessions - from time to time you're going to be sharing bad news and unpopular decisions. It's part of the job. The natural inclination is to discourage b*tch sessions. Griping is an important form of communication. People can share their frustrations and vent. It's also a valuable form of team bonding. People feel connected when they share common concerns, frustration and anxiety. These meetings aren't regularly scheduled. Call one when you sense an issue. This is a good time for "Take a walk" meetings. The walk itself aides in stress relief.
- More recognition - daily goals (#1 above) present opportunities for daily accomplishments. One way to share daily highlights (#3 above) is by recognizing individual and team accomplishments. Burnout is a loss of hope. When people feel isolated and disconnected, it's easy to assume their efforts no longer matter. Timely, frequent and consistent recognition shows people that they (and their work) matters. It sends a very important message. It says, "You're working effectively from your kitchen table." It says, "You've got this!" "Your career is still on track." And, "You're still relevant, appreciated and valued".
- Growth plans - a growth plan is a way to build connection with each employee. Employees tend to be hyper-focused on what's next. The next raise, the next promotion, the next job. Those are important guideposts and growth metrics, but that's not a growth plan. A growth plan is like a retirement plan. The whole idea is to prepare today for the future. Most growth plans are discussed as afterthoughts to performance reviews or comp discussions. Focus your discussions on the opportunities to gain experience, develop skills, and building relationships that will serve them well in the future.
Most companies will adopt a hybrid working model. Employees that prefer office work will need to embrace the benefits of remote work. This is a change management challenge you need to help them facilitate.
Your leadership style and routines need to adjust, as well. This is a change management challenge for you.