Many of us live in an incredibly digital world, and some companies already have remote staff and offer digital products and services. For other workers, working from home is a new concept and practice. Some firms don’t have remote operations which makes remote work a challenge. For many companies, and their employees, remote work will lead to new and likely unforeseen adjustments.
Whether you’re used to operating remotely or this is all new to you, consider these four rules for running your business well with a distributed workforce.
Build a Company Wide Toolbox
Your remote staff will need new tools; many of these will be digital. Some of these tools will be physical. Your work from home employees will need to work together and with your clients and partners to create successful business outcomes. Help empower your staff by providing them resources, software, office supplies, and tools that they can leverage to work successfully. According to Author Allan Filipowicz, Cornell University’s Professor of Management and Organizations, companies should strive to find themselves on new optimal frontiers.
Meaning they should not be able to improve without seeing diminishing returns in one or more areas of their business because they are actively pushing the limits of their output. When a company is inclusive and provides workers with the tools that these workers need to have an impact, they are not only empowering their staff but they are creating a level playing feel. This creates a spirit of inclusion and benchmarks performance and output correctly and uniformly.
I know of some companies that provide tools to more senior people. Or the firm provides resources, training, or leadership guidance to some staff but not others. While it is ok to treat people differently (for the correct reasons, of course) it is imperative to make sure that all people have tool that enable them to do their job. Keeping your organization running smoothly from sales, marketing, services, to product management is as important as ever. You can survey your Work From Home workers and ask them what tools or resources they need. Understand why these tools are needed. You should work hard to distribute these tools to your employees to ensure the best business outputs.
Set the Proper Digital Tone and Etiquette
Are you a manager or leader of a business? Are you sending emails 24/7? Are you scheduling meetings at all hours of the day? If so, your staff might see this to be the norm. Are your working from home policies the same as when your staff reported to a physical office?
If not, these incongruences might upset your employees or create a culture or tone that harms your workforce. Try to be consistent and set the tone the right way.
With this in mind, don’t leave people hanging and show extra empathy. Your staff might be unaware of critical business changes to your firm or the external environment. Treat people well, as if you were seeing them face to face and not virtually.
A key lesson I have learned as a remote employee is that interactions done in person (i.e. traditional interactions) feel and look differently when done via other mediums (i.e. via email). What might come across as funny in person might be insensitive or rude via written communication. And vice versa. When sending emails I love to deploy a technique called “pause, the art and beauty of delay”.
In this approach I write what I want or need to and then pause. I don’t press send. I usually wait a few minutes; the more important the email, the longer the wait. When you are managing staff remotely it is wise to not only read your messages again before sending, but to understand why you are sending that message and what your intended goals are. Your staff will judge you: is the email sent late at night? Is it open and transparent? What does it actually communicate?
Here is an example of how an honest messaging mistake caused huge upheaval within a technology firm. A senior HR manager asked employees working remotely to fill out a form. The form had a number of questions but one of them was, in short, if the workers would take severance pay if necessary? Now this question was not intended to make people think that layoffs or furloughs were coming. But it did! The HR manager was simply doing a survey to understand where people stood on the issue. But the employees were fearful when they read it. Messaging and transparent communication matter. Think about your words and think about how your words will be interpreted.
Take On Hard Problems Head On
Working From Home staff might be out of the loop on key conversations or decisions. Perhaps you will need to have hard performance management or restructuring conversations with your workers. Don’t duck these chats; tackle big problems and take them on head first. Just because people are remote doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate candor, guidance, and empathy even if big problems need solving. Aligned with this concept is the need to set expectations well and fully. Let your remote staff know where they stand. What goals or targets must be met? Let your employees know. They will care about these topics.
President John F. Kennedy famously said the following: “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” Many of the tasks that you will face running a remote business will be far easier than a moonshot. But the muscles used might be similar. Do hard things because that is what makes life worthwhie. You want your staff to know that you are bold, in charge, and competent.
In the end of the day your staff wants to be treated with respect and compassion. Working From Home employees are the same. Often these workers might feel like they are on an island and that key information or decision making guidance doesn’t flow their way. If you treat these people well and communicate clearly and compassionately with them, they will do better work. Empower them with productive working environments. Compassion is a form of empathy. They go hand in hand. I remember I had a colleague who also worked from home. Over the period of a week she missed a number of virtual meetings or was late. I didn’t know him that well so didn’t prod.
Eventually he opened up about how he was recently divorced and responsible for taking care of his child, part-time. He said the schedule was new and that he apologized for being late and that his behavior would change immediately. Sure enough, it did. This team member needed a bit of breathing room because life happens. When room was provided he opened up. It made immediate sense why his work was suffering and he was able to turn the page. By showing up and listening we were able to help this gentleman. And he in turn did good work and was an admirable employee.
Hopefully these recommendations will make the transition to remote operations smoother for your company, and your staff. If you need to improvise, please do so. But use these principles as guides – they will be helpful and there to support you in times good and bad.