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Much like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous title Love in the Time of Cholera has a hidden double meaning*, the current running title of our situation: “Life in the Time of Coronavirus” has one as well– bear with me, I’ll explain. In what seems like a matter of weeks, our worlds have been flipped upside down. Children are at home when they should be at school, cars are missing from the once-stacked highways, handshakes and hugs are suddenly off-limits, even the simple pleasure of being in the presence of other people has been robbed from us. However, despite the financial, physical, and emotional stresses that we face, this “Life in the Time of Coronavirus” may present us with one of the only chances we’ll receive in our lives to truly live, to cut out the daily grind and unnecessary responsibilities that stem from routine office work, commutes, and all of the things in between that don’t ultimately lead to a better, more fulfilling life.
In other words, work from home is here to stay. While many employees and business owners will ultimately transition back to some kind of in-office capacity, there will be just as many, if not more, who will have realized the freedom, productivity, and joy that teleworking brings and will move forward in either a part-time or full-time capacity. The sudden, unprecedented, wide-scale social teleworking experiment that we are all a part of has been a huge success, and there’s no going back once Pandora’s box has been opened. But since the future is now and the change is already here, let’s talk about some of the key strategies that you can implement and discuss with your leadership teams and employees to create a sustainable teleworking policy. At the end of this article you’ll also find multiple links to research that clearly shows how a sustainable teleworking policy can not only benefit your employees, but your business as well.
Strategy 1: Set Expectations for Communication
It’s been said that communication is the backbone of business (and successful relationships), and that has never been more true than right now. Here are 3 main tips for communicating better during Life in the Time of Coronavirus:
1) It’s your responsibility to make sure that your communications are understood
A clear, direct line of communication – preferably with a written follow up, is essential when directing projects, setting strategy, and executing your plans. Teleworking often forces us to be direct in our communications, because any added business jargon “fluff” (synergy, go-live, bandwidth, drill down, etc.) can add to confusion and slow down the business of business. Strategies like recapping longer conversations, sending follow up emails, asking for clarification, or even just restating what the person just said – all of these can help ensure that what you’ve communicated is what the person actually heard. And for the sake of everyone, it’s time to let business jargon die.
2) Go out of your way to include all of the stakeholders
In the sweet days of yore, before coronavirus held us all hostage with our home-grown sourdough starters and we were free to gather in groups of over 5 people, the “watercooler” was the place where business was done. Even though someone might not have been invited to the meeting, their opinion might have snuck its way into your project through the office grapevine. As a result you might end up finding out that there are certain important stakeholders whose ideas and opinions might end up missing without you realizing it. This makes it even more important to consciously consider who the stakeholders in meetings and projects are, and to go out of your way to ensure that they are included. One way to do this is to ask everyone who is on your current list if there is someone else they think should be involved in a project – even in an advisory capacity. The ability to do so is going to be one of the key decisions that separates the companies that successfully ride the teleworking wave and those who stagnate in the water.
3) Leverage technology to your advantage – with a caveat
Technology is a wonderful tool for productivity, communication, entertainment, and so much more. There are many different software platforms that can allow you to communicate across vast distances, almost as easily as poking your head into the next cubicle – but there’s a hidden danger. Constant access to instant communication can set a bad precedent and poison the orchard – if you find that you’re emailing, texting, instant messaging, or pinging your team at a time when you wouldn’t be willing to walk up to the office and talk to them in person – rethink sending that message. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that your home is now your office. If you wouldn’t expect your employee to still be up at the office at 10pm, don’t expect them to answer their emails at home at that time either. Breaks and down time are important for overall productivity – and you’d be surprised how much better you’ll feel when your phone isn’t going off past dinnertime. Your team will thank you, too.
Strategy 2: Ensure Your IT Team is Top-Tier
Murphy’s law states “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Technology is a boon to both society and your business, but through both general user error and the inevitable issues that crop up as software and hardware are used, you need to be ready for things to go wrong. That’s where having a top-notch IT team comes in: not only can they help squash the bug that does crop up, they can also act as preventative exterminators by putting security practices and administrative controls in place to help create the most secure, error-free user experience possible. Having an excellent IT team is even more important if you, like many in the world today, heavily utilize and are dependent on software in your day-to-day business operations.
Strategy 3: Build Better Trust
Long gone are the days of the “butt-in-chair” productive worker. This phenomenon – called presenteeism, describes workers who are physically present but emotionally and mentally disengaged – and it’s rampant across the world. One potential salve that’s been studied is, you guessed it, teleworking. Research has shown that teleworking not only increases worker happiness but also increases overall productivity – even if the employee technically works fewer hours per day. Those hours just happen to be far more productive. But in order to ensure that you’re trading fewer hours at the office for better hours at home, you need to foster trust in your team, create and communicate clear goals, and learn to walk the delicate line between micromanaging and being too hands off.
Building better trusts starts with effective communication and clear goal setting. For roles that are measured by productivity, the metrics you’ve used before to set goals are still ones that you can use in a teleworking situation. But for roles that are less productivity-oriented, being able to clearly communicate daily and weekly expectations will allow you to build trust in your team. Conversely, your team needs to be able to trust that they can come to you with questions, barriers, or issues and know that you will help them when things get tough. Consistent communication from both parties is key to building trust.
Strategy 4: Foster a Spirit of Problem Solving
If you haven’t already discovered this, you probably will in the next few weeks: there may likely be a select few people in your business or organization who are the “go-to” problem solvers. When the printer breaks at the office, when the computer starts acting up, when someone can’t figure out how to take a screenshot, there’s a select group of people who end up (usually unwillingly) being the solution holders. In any kind of situation where these people are no longer right down the hallway with an answer at the ready, you may find a sudden increase in people struggling with simple issues that normally don’t come across your desk. Even worse, they might not be willing to speak up and let you know that there is a problem at all.
Building off our previous strategy of developing a deeper sense of trust within your team, it is more important than ever to encourage and reward the skill of individual problem-solving. Some ways to do this include the creation of guides, how-tos, and fixes for common issues that employees (especially new ones!) might come across in their positions or with software. Encourage employees to learn how to search for their own solutions (especially technical ones) on the Internet: Google-Fu is a skill that can be taught. Employees that work to cross barriers on their own should be encouraged and praised, and those that fail to do so should be gently corrected and steered in the right direction. It is however, important to note that just because someone fails to solve a problem doesn’t mean they didn’t try – it’s the trying part that’s important. Employees should always be encouraged to speak up when they need help, but there’s a stark difference between needing help and choosing to be ignorant.
For right now, at least, the coronavirus is here to stay. Some of the changes that have been brought about to our work and daily lives are here to stay as well, but it’s up to us to make the most of them. While we want hugs and handshakes to come back, we also hope that some of the lessons learned during this pandemic can ultimately help build a better workplace for everyone, but that means that we need to develop the smartest strategy in order to make the most of our new teleworking world. Codedge has studied teleworking in both large and small businesses since the inception of our company, and we strive to be the experts that you can count on both for software development and technology consulting. We’re here to help make you better, however we can.
* The title Love In the Time of Cholera alludes to the love story that occurs both during a plague of cholera, as well as the "choleric" (difficult and contentious) times of civil war that the story was set in.