The restrictions on movement and doing business are being lifted in phases over the next few weeks. If you have been reading my columns and taking action you should have decided on your response to a physically distanced world—delivery only restaurants, limits on group sizes, more online commerce. I hope that you have also taken the time to complete a more in depth analysis of your business, particularly its purpose.
A recent McKinsey Quarterly article entitled “Purpose: Shifting from why to how” noted “the majority of employees in the corporate world feel “disengaged,” they are agitating for decisions and behaviours that they can be proud to stand behind and gravitating toward companies that have a clear, unequivocal, and positive impact on the world.”
This week, I want to focus on team member engagement and the mechanics of operating in a world of remote working. Are you worried about your inability to control your work force? Do you think that your employees will be distracted and therefore unable to deliver the results that you are paying them to deliver because they are not present,’ because you can’t see them?
Are you aware that many employees who are physically present are performing well below their potential? The problem is so serious that there is a name for it—presenteeism. Harvard Business Review noted that presenteeism—the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or lack of engagement, not fully functioning—can cut individual productivity by one-third or more. They note that presenteeism appears to be a much costlier problem than its productivity-reducing counterpart, absenteeism. And, unlike absenteeism, presenteeism isn’t always apparent: You know when someone doesn’t show up for work, but you often can’t tell when—or how much—illness or disillusion, is hindering their performance.
Therefore, remote work, if properly managed, far from being a threat, may be a real opportunity to significantly increase productivity. However, it needs to be done carefully. The pandemic has dramatically changed the way teams get stuff done and how they communicate. As I noted two weeks ago, the use of tools like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams have made collaborating from a distance easy and effective. However, this new way of operating was forced upon us and most of us are still struggling to come to grips with the software and meeting protocols, making the transition very stressful for both companies and employees.
I know that many companies locally are exploring options for their employees to continue working from home after all restrictions are lifted. I would like to share some suggestions, in five broad themes, that I have gathered from my research to help you and your team members maintain, if not improve their productivity while working remotely.
1. Ensure team members understand, support your purpose
It is important that you start with your company’s “why.” Who are you in business to serve? What value are you creating for your customers? How does the specific team member help to deliver that value? Does he understand that by completing that bank reconciliation correctly the first time ensures that the finance director knows the cash flow situation and can be provide more timely advice to the marketing and production heads? Make the links crystal clear.
2. Define specific objectives measured by key results
According to research, 39% of people working from home complete their tasks faster than those in fixed workplaces. However, in order to help them complete their tasks successfully, employers have to set clear and measurable objectives for remote employees. With remote teams—where communication is more challenging and things can get lost in translation —it’s important to be crystal clear about their duties and responsibilities.
3. Communicate regularly
This is a real opportunity to reinvent the human resource function. As John Doerr notes in his book “Measure What Matters,” a mobile, agile workforce requires ongoing conversations and real-time feedback. Remote working provides an ideal opportunity to replace the annual, backward-looking assessment with forward-looking conversations between leaders and contributors centred on five questions:
• What are you working on?
• How are you doing; how are your objectives and key results coming along?
• Is there anything impeding your work?
• What do you need from me to be (more) successful?
• How do you need to grow to achieve your career goals?
In addition to regular one-on-one conversations, periodic virtual or in-person all-hands company meetings is crucial to help everyone stay on the same page and aligned with the company’s mission, vision and values. This is especially important for remote employees who do not have the opportunity to communicate with colleagues in person on a daily basis. Once it is safe to do so, you should also organise team building activities so that remote workers get the chance to meet with each other.
4. Make collaboration
easy and enjoyable
Team collaboration is critical for increasing the productivity and efficiency of your remote workforce. Therefore, I strongly recommend investing in training in the best way to use tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Hangouts, and Slack. These tools, along with software like SharePoint, should allow all team members to find the information needed to complete their work at their fingertips. These tools also provide a virtual central meeting place where all team members can collaborate and instantly share relevant ideas and provide feedback, fostering a culture of knowledge sharing while promoting team member learning and growth and organisational success.
Consistent peer-to-peer feedback is also a great way to connect a remote workforce and encourage collaboration. Research also suggests that the majority of team members would like daily or weekly feedback—they want to know where they stand. For remote teams to be productive and engaged, it is crucial for managers to understand how to coach and motivate remote teams. Therefore, you should invest in training for your team leads to help them improve their ability to converse with, provide feedback to, and recognise the contributions of a remote workforce.
Some team members may feel threatened by the shift to remote work. They may experience anxiety as a result of their perceived loss of status, uncertainty, fear of exclusion and lack of fairness as a result of being directed to work from home. You will need to address these concerns. Therefore, if you plan to continue having team members work remotely, you should draft a work-from-home policy to address their concerns.
Research has revealed that 78% of remote work is done from team member’s homes. However, this may not always be the best place given the many opportunities for interruption. Therefore, companies should consider partnering to invest in or rent co-working spaces with good wi-fi, peace and quiet where employees who live nearby can meet or simply provide a sanctuary away from the distractions of the home.
The pandemic has forced us to change the way we work. Those of us who understand and adapt to this new way of working and who are agile enough to change the way we communicate and collaborate, grounded on a foundation of purpose, vision and values will engage our teams for success.
As usual, I look forward to your questions and comments. Please send them to me at email@example.com. Remember to be responsible and stay home if venturing outside is not critical. Be safe. Take good care.
Nigel Romano is a partner at Moore Trinidad & Tobago, Chartered Accountants