As employers and employees grapple with how to both work remotely and at the office all the while keeping safe, new strategies are forming to accommodate all the changes.
“Our current, and future, situation is giving employers an opportunity to rethink the way they are working with the goal of being agile, resilient and fluid to move forward successfully,” said Maya Smallwood, EY Global PAS Employee Experience Leader, EY Americas Change& Learning Solutions.
How organizations view and manage their workforce has taken center stage. In addition to dealing with safety protocols, there is also a new element of heightened communication. “There is a desire and an opportunity to really connect with our workforce in better ways,” says Smallwood.
One noticeable change is that organizations are reaching out on a regular basis to check in with employees and see how they are doing.
“The rise in sentiment gathering and analysis has been something that was always a goal and is already implemented by market leaders, but this new reality is making it a more widespread practice,” says Smallwood. “We are moving away from annual surveys towards pulse checks.”
And part of the analysis is examining more closely how remote working is faring. While this trend has been in place for a few years, it hasn’t been adopted across all industries. Yet many surveys are showing that employees want to continue working at home. And a variety of companies have announced plans to offer this working arrangement on a permanent basis.
“We are seeing companies, across all industries, develop new mindsets and behaviors toward this form of working,” says Smallwood.
Smallwood offers some pointers to help employers manage a remote workforce. Here are a few pointers from an article she penned on the subject.
Connect and Personalize
People want to feel that they matter. It starts by intentionally increasing connection and communications that focus on relating, empathizing, and belonging. The connection and relationship-building activities that happen in person can be adapted to a remote working environment using 1:1 weekly check-ins and virtual mentoring; working from home buddy-matching; and through deploying virtual moments such as morning coffee, lunch catch ups and team virtual happy hours.
Team leaders should start all interactions with a focus on the person, their well-being, and needs, using pauses and playbacks to increase reflection and confirm understanding.
To mitigate, organizations should create a single source of truth – a central hub or single site – where aligned and critical information is housed. Humanized updates, deployed across channels, should ultimately lead back to the single site and should come at regular, cadenced intervals from team leaders and executives alike – thus building consistency and trust.
Listen and Collaborate
People want their voices to be heard. Adjusting to remote operations necessitates the evaluation and optimization of key processes, policies, and meetings. People need to be seen and heard as they navigate the new challenges of working from home.
Active listening and continuous feedback go hand-in-glove and are critical components of the migration to remote-work environments. Quick pulse surveys can be deployed to monitor sentiment and spot emerging issues, while randomized checks-ins and requests for feedback on new processes can provide context into bottlenecks and roadblocks.
Feedback received must be actively managed for team members to feel that their voices are being heard. Changes that have been implemented as the result of feedback should be specifically identified in communications and celebrated during team calls and check-ins. When feedback has made an impact, team leaders should recognize contributors, thus ensuring the perception that not only is input heard but valued.
Lead by Example
People want to retain humanity in remote work. Role modeling by team leaders will have a greater impact on shifting mindsets and behaviors in remote work settings. In uncertain times, leaders should not avoid tough conversations.
Now is a time to use technology to enable human connection – turn on video in meetings where possible and authentically share personal stories of insights from your own remote working experiences. Explore new tools and apps that bridge the gap between humanity and the working world and reserve times for unstructured virtual meetings where teams can connect and share personal updates.
To do so means courageously asking for the top questions on people’s minds and proactively holding meetings and webcasts where those questions are responded to, ensuring opportunity for real-time questions to be addressed as well.
Having to work remotely during this crisis has moved the discussion of how to use digital tools to ensure a productive work environment forward. “This is a global experiment in rapid digital transformation and a rapid conversion from on-site work to remote work,” explains Smallwood. “Many of the old questions about whether people could work effectively remotely and be productive is being answered. And that answer is yes.”
What lies at the center of this new working arrangement is trust. “In order to build and nurture a sense of trust and belonging, team leaders must deliberately take action to show kindness and offer support to colleagues virtually,” says Smallwood.