Though we’ve entered a new year, many employees across the country are still logging in to work from home to adhere to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Working from home in an effective way goes beyond utilizing technology or meeting deadlines—instead, it is driven by our ability to care for ourselves and others, connect in meaningful ways, and to foster a culture of transparency and collaboration remotely.

As we continue to embrace long-term, large-scale remote work, we seek to improve the ways employees work from home and maintain impactful synergy from any setting. This article outlines key considerations and helpful best practices specific to remote work for managers and employees alike.

Managing Well-Being and Relationships Remotely

How we care for and help ourselves and others shifts into focus as we adjust to this new normal. Making our own mental and socioemotional health a priority helps support our colleagues and teams as they do the same.

Whether you’re familiar with remote work or new to the arrangement as we adhere to social distancing, there are a number of best practices to follow to help you feel balanced, productive, and to care for and promote your wellbeing.

  1. Nurture your workplace relationships. It can be easy to feel disconnected from the team or organization without face-to-face interaction. Connecting with others, including coworkers, can reduce feelings of isolation of loneliness, so consider carving out time to chat by scheduling virtual coffee breaks or casual catch-up meetings. Feel free to keep these meetings lighthearted and resist the urge to center every interaction around work.
  2. Prioritize self-care. Find a few minutes to check in with yourself every day. How are you doing physically, mentally, and emotionally? If you’re having trouble focusing, reevaluate your work set-up or consider using PTO to focus on self-care and rejuvenation. Schedule lunch breaks, stretching breaks, or processing breaks whenever needed.
  3. Separate “work time” and “home time.” If possible, try to work in an area of your home that you can leave at the end of the day. At the end of the workday, take steps to physically distance yourself from your work, such as consciously closing your laptop or hiding your notebook so you aren’t reminded of work. Consider changing into a different outfit, spending time outside, or doing something you enjoy with your family or alone.
  4. Assume positive intent. Remember that we’re in a novel time of crisis and everyone is adapting to their own set of circumstances or additional pressures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Always assume positive intent. Be aware of significant changes you may see in your coworker’s personality or work product, as it could be a sign that a person is struggling at home.

Communicating Effectively During Telework

Remote team communication requires two foundational principles: thoughtful consideration of others and subtle adaptations for the virtual “office.”

As we continue to turn to remote work, it’s important to remember that the nuanced, face-to-face communication we get in an office setting doesn’t necessarily translate in a telework capacity. Establishing norms around team and org-level communication is a necessary step in making sure all employees are productive, happy, and fulfilled regardless of where they’re working.

The following principles should help guide the way we communicate and connect from home.

  1. Establish structure. Work to create a process, structure, and agenda around meetings within your team. Ensure agendas and key takeaways from team meetings are written down and easily accessible—this can help employees who may have had conflicts during the meeting time and/or help to create a running log of deliverables for future reference.
  2. Establish rules of engagement. Remote work can feel more efficient when teams set expectations for the frequency, mediums, and timing for communication. Start by having a team conversation around the best times and ways to reach each team member during the workday and expectations surrounding response times. Clarifying team-wide norms around “office hours” or the expected cadence of communication should be a joint effort that is reflective of all team members’ needs during this time.
  3. Consider the context and over-communicate. When you’re communicating virtually, it can be hard to know what the person on the other end of the chat conversation or email is doing at that moment. Let your colleagues know if you are working on an important project or can’t respond to their chat messages immediately—over-communicating is always preferred.
  4. Determine when to use email or chat and when to use video. Though chat is an easy, quick way of connecting with others, there are times when a video meeting is the preferred mode of communication. Work with your team to figure out your specific norms, such as using video meetings to give constructive feedback but using chat or email to articulate deliverables or assignments.
  5. Rethink meetings. If your team has a meeting-heavy culture during normal times, consider rethinking this and reducing the number and length of meetings as we work remotely. Is there an opportunity to scale back a meeting that typically lasts one hour to a 30-minute debrief with a clear agenda? Though meetings provide the opportunity for informal communication between remote employees, it could be helpful to rethink the cadence of your weekly meetings or reserve meetings for decision-making touchpoints.

To maintain performance and collaboration, remote teams must continue to find enhanced ways to communicate that foster workplace culture and provide genuine opportunities for social connection.

Fostering a New Remote Experience

Fostering culture as you continue to work from home will take mindfulness, intentionality, and rethinking the way you work together. In the office, culture evolves organically as employees collaborate, catch-up casually, and share experiences.  Building on your culture remotely is a challenge—but the need is far greater without the typical in-person interactions or celebrations to keep employees fueled and motivated.

Below are a few helpful tips on maintaining remote company culture and feeling the spirit during remote work.

  1. Stay curious. Effective collaboration is the key to a connected, healthy remote culture. If a discussion, chat or email didn’t resonate, left you feeling confused, or just didn’t feel “right,” follow up with the other person. It’s perfectly acceptable to say you don’t understand, to ask “why?” and “why not?” or to request a follow-up meeting with a colleague to dive further into a topic.
  2.  Exercise patience with yourself and others. Some days will feel more stressful than others or productivity might drop based on circumstances at home—and that’s okay. We are going through a collective shift. If you need some time to yourself, turn off your video on a meeting or block off times on your calendar for head-down, focused work.
  3. Take some of the pressure off. Employees can feel like they need to constantly be “on” or “visible” to prove they’re working. This pressure creates unnecessary anxiety and might even reduce productivity or focus when it matters most. Inherent in remote work is trust that all employees are working to contribute to their teams and managing their own schedules the best way they know how.
  4. Lead with transparency. The cornerstone of effective remote work is having enough transparency to ensure employees feel heard and teams work well together. If you’re struggling to find a good balance between your professional and personal life, let your manager know. If you feel overwhelmed with deadlines, let your manager know. Your manager can help you problem-solve or bring in additional resources when needed.

Together, we’re shaping the future of the workforce and the way we work. By caring for ourselves and others, connecting effectively, and nurturing company culture, we’ll continue to empower each other to learn, engage, and succeed during this unprecedented time.

Looking for more resources to shape your organizational culture? Reach out to the Greater Human Capital team today to explore.