This is a guest article by Tara Powers, MS, CEO of Powers Resource Center
We know many of you are new to this whole remote work thing. If you are one of the millions sent home with laptops to work at kitchen tables or spare bedrooms, praying for stable WIFI and a well-behaved dog – I feel for you. It’s definitely not ideal, but it’s the best way to reduce the spread of this global health crisis.
If you’re lucky, maybe the first few days or weeks of remote work were great. Flexible schedule, no commute, get to work in your pjs. But this is the new norm, and it’s likely to be in place for weeks or months to come. We applaud the actions you’ve taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and we believe this public health emergency will dissipate eventually, but for now we’re all living this mandated, trial-by-quarantine remote work schedule.
Welcome to our global work-from-home social experiment!
At PRC we are huge supporters of the virtual workforce – we based our research on it and I wrote Virtual Teams for Dummies – so we know it can work. Supporting virtual teams and leaders is my passion and we’ve been busy supporting the rising rates of virtual work. According to SHRM's pre-pandemic 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, nearly 70 percent of organizations offer a remote work option, with 42 percent having part time options and 27 percent offering full time remote work.
Enter the global pandemic, and new terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘sheltering in place.’ Obviously the work-from-home mandate is unprecedented and it has caught so many companies and organizations unprepared. I have a strong feeling that COVID-19 will change the landscape of work in the years ahead. Per this week’s issue of Newsweek, The Coronavirus Will Change How We Work Forever, this may be “tipping point for remote work.”
But today, remote workers need support and guidance as they try to navigate this new reality. It’s time to settle in and establish some best practices for the success of your remote teams.
On a virtual team, there are six areas where it is essential to get on the same page. They require a team conversation and agreement and are especially important during this highly disruptive time. These conversations are meant to be collaborative and not something that should be delivered in a top-down manner – alignment is the key to effective team agreements.
1. Communication - On remote teams, over communication is the rule. But you still need communication protocols; rules for what communication vehicles to use and when to use them. Think about the level of risk for misunderstandings and level of trust in the relationship before you choose your communication vehicle. This includes email, text, phone, video, Slack channels, etc. The more technical or emotional the content is, the more personal the communication delivery, so if it’s a potentially contentious topic, turn on that camera and connect face to face.
2. Connection - How you connect on a virtual team is essential. You’ve lost the ability to stop by your colleagues’ office and catch up on the weekend’s events. Make sure there are opportunities for social connection for your remote team on a personal level and non-work topics. Allow time at the start of meetings to catch-up, just as if you were sitting in a conference room. Keep those chat windows open all day. This is a stressful time in the world, so it’s even more important to connect as a team.
3. Conflict - No team is perfect and in this chaotic environment, any issues that arise will be exacerbated. Prepare for conflict escalation issues and make a plan for how you will manage disagreements with each other before they escalate. Conflicts can grow quickly and sneakily in a virtual environment, so get some agreements in place.
4. Technology - Many of the recently anointed remote workforce lack the technology tools that more established remote teams already have in place. I’m talking about collaborative technology tools for tracking time, managing projects, posting team updates, messaging, sharing calendars, brainstorming, document security, and more. If you have these – great!
If you don’t, you can still create the agreements for how to use the tech tools you have – calendars, shared folders and files. Decide what kind of video conferencing you will use (Google hangout, Zoom, Skype, Facetime) or messaging app. There are many free tools available so you don’t need to rely solely on email and conference calls. The key is to agree on the tool and its purpose and then use it consistently.
5. Meetings - Create expectations and rules around meetings. For example, rotating or sharing the meeting leader role, creating and distributing agendas ahead of time, keeping cameras on when the goal is to build trust, debate an issue or make an important decision. It’s helpful for the team to agree how you’ll use collaborative tools, whiteboarding, polls and chat during team meetings.
6. Availability - Determine service level agreements (SLAs) for response times, turn-around time on deliverables and expected amount of time you are available during the day, evenings and weekends. This is important to make sure work projects move forward, but in this high-stress environment, it is even more important to set boundaries on your personal time. Just because you’re in quarantine, it does not mean you must always be “on.”
Despite the disruption you and millions of workers are experiencing, remote work can be a true win-win – a highly productive and cost-effective work environment paired with a more flexible, autonomous and balanced life.
Try to embrace the possibilities and collaborate on these six team agreements to make it work for you. Understandably it’s been a challenge for many of you and we have a ton of free resources at https://powersresourcecenter.com/remote-workers-virtual-teams/ help you and your team adjust to the new remote work life. Keep keeping your distance and stay safe!
Want more tips from Tara Powers?
See all courses currently available from Powers Resource Center and find out how her team can help you create a culture of connection by developing engaged, emotionally intelligent leaders and truly cohesive teams.