Tips to help your remote workforce stay connected, reduce stress and achieve performance excellence
( PART 4 OF A 4-PART SERIES: WORK FROM HOME – THE NEW NORMAL )
If the covid-19 pandemic has a lesson to teach, it is one of resilience. An idiom commonly used among Silicon Valley developers riding the wave of ever-accelerating advances in technology – one that has now been adopted by health professionals working to stay in front of the coronavirus, is, “We are building this plane as we fly it.“ It seems to be an appropriate metaphor for any organization facing the unprecedented challenges of an unprecedented global calamity.
That said, there are a number of steps organizations can take now to assure business continuity and employee productivity as the transition to a new way of working, including remote workforces, continues to evolve.
Make Sure the Enterprise Security is a Key Consideration
When rethinking the organization’s IT support structure, start by making sure at-home workers are equipped not only with a clear policy defining best practices for cybersecurity, but also the appropriate anti-viral software and firewalls for their desktop or laptop devices. Ideally, they will have access to a corporate VPN (Virtual Private Network) for any online business interactions so any internet traffic is encrypted and thus unreadable to outsiders who may attempt to intercept it.
As stated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “Organizations should assume that malicious parties will gain control of telework client devices and attempt to recover sensitive data from them or leverage the devices to gain access to the enterprise network.” The NIST’s recently updated guide, Security for Enterprise Telework, Remote Access, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Solutions, provides a thorough checklist of the measures organizations should take to assure their remote workforce does not become a security liability.
Beware of Video Fatigue
Despite the widespread adoption of video collaboration to help bridge the gap between remote workers, there is growing evidence that too much reliance on video can be counter-productive. As stated by Scott Rosenberg in a recent Axios article, “The whole experience of a videoconference feels to us like an extended bout of direct staring at other people staring back at us. That’s draining.”
As the backdrop for video calls has moved from the office to the home, it also creates a new source of distraction for participants who not only watch themselves, for better or for worse, but also see the shifting faces and personal environments of other participants. All can make it harder to focus on the actual conversation. Gene Marks, a career remote worker and contributor to Entrepreneur.com online magazine asserts that “Video calls add yet another layer of stress to the work day.” That may not be a universal sentiment, but it is one that needs to be considered when managing a disparate workforce with varying viewpoints about their communication preferences.
In fact, voice calls, text or email without the distraction of the video viewer may in many instances be the more effective communication vehicle for quick conversations or issue resolution. According to digital media specialist James Jarc in an interview with CNBC Make, “I would challenge business leaders and managers to be purposeful in the way that they choose these tools, and then subsequently use them deliberately to set their teams up for success.”
Virtual Communications, a Barrier to Forming Meaningful Human Connections
Another challenge for remote workforce management is the loss of “mutual knowledge” that is otherwise intuitive for workers when they can see, hear and interact personally. This loss, according to a Amy Gallo in an article for Harvard Business Review, “translates to a lower willingness to give coworkers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations. For example, if you know that your officemate is having a rough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offense, or at a minimum to think poorly of your coworker’s professionalism.” These attitudes can undermine cooperation and disrupt the needed smooth working relationships between remote workers. And, they are likely to be more prevalent in the wake of the current covid-19 upheaval.
To counteract, managers should make sure workers are aware of the reality of this phenomenon and armed with strategies to resolve unneeded conflict. As recommended by Gallo:
Ask that, when faced with perceived negativity, employees give their co-workers the benefit of the doubt; assume it is not personal and move on.
Take the conversation out of email and into a phone conversation.
Increase informal communications as casual, unplanned communication diffuses tensions and dramatically reduces conflict when you’re not in the same location.
Overall, managers are encouraged to make regular contact with their teams, whether as a group or one-on-one, to make sure each member feels recognized, informed, and engaged in a common plan. Even more, notes Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Research for Gartner, managers need to project trust in their remote workers.
“The best thing you can do as a manager right now is to suspend your disbelief and put utmost trust and confidence in your employees that they will do the right thing — which they will if employers provide a supportive structure.
Managers may be concerned and even frustrated to lose the constant visibility they once had into their employees, but don’t respond by micromanaging. That will only disengage and fatigue already stressed employees. Don’t fixate on perceived performance problems; you’ll have plenty of time to lean on established performance management systems once the height of the crisis abates.”
Reduce Distraction, Increase Focus
Just as the newly remote employee will need to create a physical work environment that provides separation from home distractions, they must also be able to establish clear separation for the communications coming through their work tools so disruptive personal messaging does not interfere with their professional workflow. This is fairly easy to achieve with text-based communications, but it is more of an issue for voice when using a personal phone for both work-related and personal calls. To clearly parse the two, companies should consider maintaining employee business extensions behind the company PBX that transfers business calls via a VoiP VPN to a client on the employee’s computer and/or mobile device.
Not only does this provide clear separation between business and personal calls, but it also gives employees access to the more robust voice message management tools available with enterprise phone systems such as Mutare Voice and its related voice spam blocking capabilities.
Flying the Plane
Clearly, the conversation around how business, its employees, and the world in general will adapt to life beyond the pandemic is still evolving. Nevertheless, in an article for the Atlantic published at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Derek Thompson provides the following advice:
“What we learn in the next few months could help shape a future of work that might have been inevitable, with or without a once-in-a-century public-health crisis. A pandemic is not an appropriate time to determine what kind of labor arrangement is optimally productive on a per-worker basis. It is rather a moment for companies to build out the kind of technology and culture that, when the economy is back to full force, could make remote work easier for those who want to take advantage of it in a future where white-collar work might involve a little less commuting and a little more home.”
Ready or not, it appears that moment has arrived.