The coronavirus outbreak has triggered an accelerated trial run for remote work at a previously unthinkable scale. What we learn in the next few months could help shape the future of work and drive innovation across a range of business functions and industries. However, while much of the focus has been on whether technology and infrastructure can handle the surge in demand, what’s often not considered are the communication nuances crucial to productivity.The digital era has ushered in a revolution in communication that’s equivalent to the one surrounding the invention of the printing press. It’s changing how we speak — often in bullet points. And it’s affecting what we hear, as the jumble of information coming at us can lead to frequent misunderstandings and confusion.People who work on remote teams face these challenges consistently. According to recent estimates from Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22% of Americans work from home, while nearly 50% are involved with remote or virtual team work. This continuing shift calls for a new range of behaviors and skills.Why do remote teams demand new collaboration skills? What’s missing from our texts, emails, conference calls, and other digital communications? Body language. Even when we’re co-located, the tone of a text or the formality of an email is left wide open to interpretation, to the point that even our closest friends get confused. These misinterpretations create an anxiety that can become costly, affecting morale, engagement, productivity, and innovation.Remote communication can distort the normal pace of our conversations. The delay between our messages can often postpone or hide emotional reactions to our comments. How many times have you written an email and, immediately after hitting send, felt concerned about how it would land? Would your boss see your late-night email and consider it to be an intrusion on their private time? Would they tell you if it was? While we may have become used to these types of asynchronous interactions, they can still conflict with our normal rules for social interaction. Lacking an immediate response, we can become distracted, second-guess ourselves, or even grow frustrated with our teams.To perform at the highest levels, remote teams have to find new and better ways to operate First, consider that there are three kinds of distance in remote collaboration: physical (place and time), operational (team size, bandwidth and skill levels) and affinity (values, trust, and interdependency). The best way for managers to drive team performance is by focusing on reducing affinity distance. Try switching most remote communication to regular video calls, which are a much better vehicle for establishing rapport and creating empathy than either e-mails or voice calls. And design virtual team-building rituals that give people the opportunity to interact regularly and experience their collaboration skills in action.When remote teams communicate well and leverage their strengths, they can actually gain an advantage over co-located teams. Here are some best practices to master. Don’t conflate brief communications and clear communications: In our efforts to be efficient, we sometimes use fewer words to communicate. But such brevity can mean that the rest of the team wastes time trying to interpret your messages (and then misinterpret them anyway). Don’t assume that others understand your cues and shorthand. Spend the time to communicate with the intention of being ultra clear, no matter the medium. Indeed, you can never be too clear, but it is too easy to be less clear than you should.Don’t bombard your team with messages: Do you follow up on a task by email, text and phone? Do you tend to ask people if they got your previous message? Abusing those access points can be a form of digital dominance, a relentless and uncomfortable form of harassment. The medium you choose creates different demands on the time of the receiver. Using all of them for the same messageis ineffective (as well as annoying). Choose your digital volume wisely.Establish communication norms: Remote teams need to create new norms that establish clarity in communication. Companies such as Merck have created acronyms for their digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that bring predictability and certainty to virtual conversations. Individual teams can also establish their own norms — e.g., to use or not use Teams, Slack, Google Docs, or WhatsApp groups. And norms can also exist on an individual level, such as people’s preferred response time, writing style and tone. For example, some individuals prefer short and quick messages, while others favor lengthy and detailed responses; people also differ in their preference and tolerance for humor and informality.While we often tend to regard human predictability as a defect, few qualities are more sought-after at work, especially in virtual collaborations. We are all unique, but our consistent behaviors help others predict what we do and, in turn, help them to understand us — we all benefit from being understood. You can make that easier for others by establishing a clear personal etiquette and sticking to it consistently.See the hidden opportunities in written communications: Being behind a screen can create new opportunities for certain team members, making space for those who might be less inclined to speak out in groups. Text-based communication places less importance on interpersonal skills and physical appearance, offering an effective way to share power and decision-making. Research shows that introverted individuals are less inhibited in online versus offline interactions. However, you need to watch out for virtual unconscious bias, where punctuation, grammar and word choice might reveal prejudiced attitudes towards certain groups.Create intentional space for celebration: Old school birthday cakes are still important for remote teams. Creating virtual spaces and rituals for celebrations and socializing can strengthen relationships and lay the foundation for future collaboration. Find ways to shorten the affinity distance. One company we worked with celebrated new talent by creating a personal emoji for each employee who had been there for six months. You can find your own unique way to create team spaces for social connection. How you do it is less important than whether you do. As more and more of our interactions happen digitally, we will continue to experience new forms of miscommunication and misunderstanding. The solution will not come from new technologies (although, no doubt, developers will keep trying to bridge that gap). Instead, the solution is in understanding the new rules of engagement; in building a communication skill set that reflects the demands of our digitally-driven age.
How to Collaborate Effectively When Your Team Is Remote
As the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, employers need to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of their employees, as well as providing transparent and regular updates related to the business and virus. Critical to this process is the role played by the Contingency Manager – an individual who can take steps to manage this evolving situation to keep employees safe, while ensuring continued delivery of business operations. Their role should include: Actively monitor development of the virus outbreak and work with management to disseminate messages to employees with clear instructions of when measures need to be activated.Educate employees on the latest available information. Brief them on the need for infection control measures and the preventive procedures that have been set in place. Educate employees on the different types of thermometers, such as oral and ear thermometer, and the proper way of using them.Collate updated contact information of all employees, i.e. home address/home telephone number/mobile phone number. Make sure all employees have contact numbers of Contingency Manager/Assistant Contingency Manager*. Employees are to contact the Contingency Manager if they are admitted to hospital with suspected infections for contact tracing purposes.Ensure that the company has appointed at least one designated Point of Contact (POC), who will be responsible for liaising with the local government agency during activation of contact tracing processes at the workplace.Check local government websites daily for updated advisories (e.g. travel advisories) and update employees accordingly.Ensure that employees who have travelled to affected areas are quarantined for a sufficient number of days, as advised. Check on employees’ health by phone or email during his/her absence from work.Appoint employee to keep quarantined employees informed of events in office.Ensure that the workplace has adequate supplies of tissue paper/hand towels, disinfectants and masks.Brief employees on personal hygiene measures:Wash hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and waterSneezing and coughing should be done onto tissue paper which should be carefully disposedAvoid sharing of cups, cutlery, etcBefore and after preparing foodAfter going to the toiletBefore and after eatingAfter coughing and sneezingAfter removing personal protective equipment like mask and disposable glovesAvoid physical contact such as shaking handsPut up notices in washrooms on proper hand washing techniquesEnsure common areas e.g. pantries, washrooms, meeting rooms are disinfected daily. Liaise with cleaning employees/contractors on thisDesignate a room/area in the office with nearby toilet facilities as the isolation room/area for the employee(s) with fever to use. Identify the isolation route (a route that is not commonly used by employees/visitors) that leads to an area where the employees with fever can be brought to the flu clinic/hospitalIdentify hospital/clinics that employees with fever can be brought toWhere advised by government agency, carry out symptom or temperature monitoring of employees. If temperature monitoring is instituted, ensure employees measure their temperature twice daily*Note: Depending on the employee strength of your company and the size of your company’s premises, an Assistant Contingency Manager should be appointed as a backup to cover the duties of the Contingency Manager.
Three Ways To Help People #Worksmart for Covid-19 and Beyond
#1 Embrace New Ways of Working Leverage smart tools and tech which level the playing field for all workers – not just those who were equipped to work remote anyway. Enable collaboration but also ensure data security and privacy by explaining to workers that everyone is responsible for protecting data, while initiating practices and procedures that will strengthen data security within a business. Focus on output, not online presenteeism. Too much emphasis is placed on ‘being seen’ as a proxy for how committed an online worker is to an organization. Ensure clear output targets are set as the measure, rather than being hung-up on specific hours.Create structure for remote teams via scheduled meetings and informal checkins, boosting engagement as workers will feel included and clearly understand the value of their daily output. Find online expressions for your culture. Create a virtual water cooler (e.g. culturally dedicated Slack channels) where employees can run into each other and play out their personal and human sides. Think long-term. The reaction to COVID-19 will leave behind a legacy on which to build a way of working closer to the needs of people, proving that we are capable of overcoming physical barriers.Think of remote work as not a challenge to overcome but a business advantage to achieve. By not tying work to a physical location we democratize opportunity and open-up a world of new possibilities. #2 Prioritize Strong Leadership Remember prepared and responsible leadership is critical to react promptly and competently in a time of crisis Lead by example. Leaders should be visible in online tools and channels, communicating proactively and engaging in timely conversations where they are happening. Trust teams to be more autonomous but with processes, responsibilities and clearly defined roles to measure results and readjust behavior Consider how new ways of working and getting work done can contribute to industry transformation, redesigning business models and diversifying supplyRemember a good contingency plan is just the start to creating the basis necessary to seize the opportunities to rethink your company and its leadership in a context of great transformation imposed by the crisis.#3 Stay Focused On Reskilling And UpskillingHelp people learn, apply and adapt to new roles and new ways of workingGet ready for more training to move digital. Webinars and online tutorials “solve” the theme of copresence. Quizzes and tests allow companies to verify learning and keep the engagement curve high.Create a culture that enables people to nurture their learnability and continually update their skills. The Skills Revolution we predicted is here and it’s happening now, ensuring people re-skill and upskill is how companies will stay competitive and people will be motivated and engaged, bringing value for the long-term.
Home Is (Now) Where The Work Is
In response to the current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, many companies are requiring some or all of their employees to work from home. While working remotely does provide some advantages such as saving time and money by eliminating commuting, it can also increase stress levels. For many, this is an unexpected development they may be unprepared for.Working remotely can be challenging under normal circumstances—but for those doing so for the first time or adjusting to sharing their home office with children, spouses or roommates—it is important to create structure and expectations. This applies to your colleagues and also within your home.Potential Challenges Working Remotely:Lack of colleagues and managers to collaborate with and stay on taskWorking too many or too few hours Managing work/life balance and establishing boundaries to limit distractionsLack of everyday face-to-face interaction, increased feelings of isolation and decreased motivation and trustPotential for miscommunication due to lack of non-verbal cuesEssential Tips for Successful Remote WorkingIn addition to any best practices your company will share relative to specific requirements for your technology and cybersecurity, the following tips enable optimal productivity:Prepare for SuccessCreate your workspace: Establish a dedicated work environment that is free from distractions. Consider logging out of all social accounts during work (unless necessary for your job). If sharing a space with others, lay ground rules and expectations for noise levels and break times.Evaluate and upgrade your home technology: Consider increasing or boosting your Internet bandwidth especially if you have multiple people accessing your network at the same time. Those with spotty cell reception may consider a dedicated office line.Establish set working hours: Develop a routine where you “start (and end) your work day.” Potentially schedule a recurring meeting each morning to ensure you start your day on time. Similarly, log out and log off at the end of your work day.Stay ConnectedHold daily check-ins: Maintain open and frequent communication with your manager, colleagues and those who report to you. Managers should hold regular meetings with team members. Establish expectations for response times to emails and phone calls while utilizing out of office reminders or notifications if you will be away from your desk for extended periods of time.Leverage multiple technology platforms: Phone, email and chat are likely standard in your work life. Using video conferencing may enable feeling more connected and decrease isolation (Tip: video calls can also motivate users to “dress more for the office” which can also help shift mindset throughout the day).Be productive and proactive: Plan to deliver the same productivity that you do when you are in the office. Have your manager or colleagues hold you accountable. Alert colleagues if you anticipate delays in your work or if you are collaborating on a group project. Leverage technology support: Leverage your company’s IT support desk if you have questions or need support. Understand that they are likely receiving a large number of requests for similar support at this time.Manage Your TimePractice effective time management: As you adjust to your new environment, you will establish peak performance times such as early morning before other family members are awake. Find the times that work best for you to maximize your productivity.Build in time for the unexpected: If you build in extra time for unanticipated work demands, you will be less stressed if and when this happens. Set aside time and you can always reallocate it to get ahead on a project if no emergencies pop up.Take breaks: Step away from your work area for 10-20 minute breaks every two hours. Take a short walk, read a quick article, check in with your family members or other friends working remotely. This shift in your focus will make you more productive when you return to work.Be flexible and patient: This is even more essential now that you are working from home. As your company is responding to properly equip the newly remote workforce, there may be delays in responses from colleagues or a lag in technology.
A Framework For Business Continuity Planning
As COVID-19 continues to impact governments, businesses and communities around the world, it has never been truer that a resilient organization needs to plan for uncertainty and be built for change. In these emergency situations, business continuity planning must be outlined in a Business Contingency Plan - a process that identifies potential risks and scenarios and provides operational solutions. Establish Local Business Continuity Plan TeamThis can be a small team to start with that can be expanded with pre-identified, named people. Representatives from HR and the business should be included.Set clear objectives for the team and delegate areas of responsibility.This team should specifically be made aware of what they are expected to do in case any of our people are impacted.Cover Each Business Unit / Site Office When You Develop Your Contingency StrategiesIdentify critical aspects that may be affected.Develop interim mitigating/recovery guidelines and procedures for business unit operation for maintaining/resuming to normal situation if abnormality arise.Identify backup resource as and where required.Establish Communication ProtocolOutline a call tree system (emergency contacts list, staff telephone no., management contacts, government contacts etc.).Decide who should communicate what to whom and at what frequency (to staff, associates, clients and other stake holders).Keep in mind that all communication should be factual and do consider carefully how any message that you plan to communicate can be understood in the minds of the receiversWork With Building ManagementWhere relevant, clarify with the office Building Management Company the emergency procedures they have (e.g. emergency contact, additional clean down, taxi arrangement etc.).Discuss the expectation for special hygienic practices with the Building Management Company.People FirstRegular reminder to all staff about preventive/mitigating actions that everyone can take such as personal hygiene etc.Request Declaration for Health Status (both for the staff and their family members).Study work from home / remote office / operations feasibility and develop relevant procedures (e.g. information security). Update family emergency contacts.Encourage staff members to take regular temperature checks before going to the office and remain at home in case of fever.Consider not having all leadership being located in the same physical office in case of an outbreak. Develop plans in case virus is confirmed among staff where you should consider the following:When you make your plans, consider different scenarios of severity and plan for minimum or no interruption of operations due to the actions you’re taking.Ensure that your technology infrastructure aligns with you plans.If the staff member has been confirmed no return to the office is allowed, even if it relates to pick-ing up personal things, and the staff member should immediately be put into quarantine.Seek to map out who the staff member in question has interacted with during the last two weeks, prior to being confirmed with the virus. Depending on length and time of interaction, consider who else should be put in quarantine/work from home or remain in the office but being observed for developing symptoms in the coming weeks.Regular CommunicationsRegularly update internal and external audiences on the latest guidelines and business continuity plans.Periodically review, amend if needed and refine your plan as required for change in status of the virus spread or other reasons.