5 minute read 8 Apr 2020
Family using various technologies in living room at home

Four ways to enable your workforce in remote-working environments

By

Maya Smallwood

EY Global PAS Employee Experience Leader, EY Americas Change & Learning Solutions Leader

Exploring the intersection of art, science and client experience. Human-centered design student. Mother of a girl with big dreams and a smart mouth.

Local contact

Advisor, Technology consulting, EY Denmark

Solution oriented tech consultant with focus on team collaboration, supporting clients in both the private and public sector.

5 minute read 8 Apr 2020
Related topics Workforce COVID-19

Learn how you should respond in the era of COVID-19 as your people face a big shift in behaviors and mindsets to sustain business operations from home.

For most workforces, navigating processes, interactions and activities usually completed in-person takes more than a new technology or additional meetings. While offering greater flexibility, work-life integration and teaming, the remote working experience can also be isolating, silencing, and confusing.

How you connect, enable, and lead remote teams now sets the trajectory for your next success.

As workforces adjust to working remotely, these four areas could help to enable critical behaviors and mindsets that elevate the experience.

1. Connect and personalize

People want to feel that they matter. After you have safely moved your people to remote working, it is essential to help them navigate their new environment, while supporting shifts to new behaviors and mindsets.

It starts by intentionally increasing connection and communications that focus on relating, empathizing, and belonging. The connection and relationship-building activities which happen in person can be adapted to a remote working environment using 1:1 weekly check-ins and virtual mentoring; working from home buddy-matching; and through deploying virtual moments such as morning coffee, lunch catch ups and team virtual happy hours.

Team leaders should start all interactions with a focus on the person, their well-being, and needs, using pauses and playbacks to increase reflection and confirm understanding.

It’s important to take a high-empathy approach here — we are in truly uncharted territory and there is no playbook for the myriad of issues individuals are facing. Team leaders should avoid rushing into offering solutions; instead, empathize, probe and validate to gain a better understanding of issues and co-create solutions.

Teams must be cognizant of individuals who may experience increased disassociation or feelings of disconnect and prioritize inclusion of these individuals whenever possible, whether through virtual introductions or deliberate asks for input.

In remote working environments, the relationship between communication and virtual connection deepens; it is critical that team leaders strengthen and increase communications. This is no easy task as increasing communications often runs the risk of generating noise and confusion.

To mitigate, organizations should create a single source of truth – a central hub or single site – where aligned and critical information is housed. Humanized updates, deployed across channels, should ultimately lead back to the single site and should come at regular, cadenced intervals from team leaders and executives alike – thus building consistency and trust.

2. Listen and collaborate

People want their voices to be heard. Adjusting to remote operations necessitates the evaluation and optimization of key processes, policies, and meetings. People need to be seen and heard as they navigate the new challenges of working from home. 

Active and passive listening approaches and tools, followed by timely responses and recognition, can mitigate risk, identify opportunities and increase virtual teaming across your business.

Active listening and continuous feedback go hand-in-glove and are critical components of the migration to remote-work environments. Quick pulse surveys can be deployed to monitor sentiment and spot emerging issues, while randomized checks-ins and requests for feedback on new processes can provide context into bottlenecks and roadblocks.

Set up a virtual ideas box using an online form or generic inbox for people to submit feedback and improvement ideas for working remotely. Leaders should listen to identify personal needs that, when possible, can be supported by the organization or employee benefits program.

Feedback received must be actively managed for team members to feel that their voices are being heard. Changes that have been implemented as the result of feedback should be specifically identified in communications and celebrated during team calls and check-ins. When feedback has made an impact, team leaders should recognize contributors, thus ensuring the perception that not only is input heard but valued.

3. Support and focus

People want to define and shape their new work experience. Remote working removes many of the environmental systems and elements that help structure workdays – placing greater emphasis on setting the right expectations and behaviors with your workforce.

Priorities and productivity should be redefined as team members seek to successfully integrate and manage their personal responsibilities with new virtual demands of work.

In the current climate of uncertainly, businesses quickly change priorities. Given the decreased opportunities for informal check-ins, it’s important that team leaders clarify and prioritize work, removing non-essential work items and be actively involved in setting priorities.

Team leaders should emphasize quality completion of work, within deadline over remote presenteeism. To do so, they should model and encourage others to adopt working hours that account for their most productive times as well as personal commitments. They must also repeatedly remind teams to take a step back, care for themselves and care for others.

Making the move to remote work requires team leaders to think differently about how their team spends their time:

  • Schedule and fully take breaks throughout the day to refresh, get activity and eat
  • Encourage use of freed-up time (e.g., from commute), for self-development and wellbeing
  • Remind people repeatedly that their health and well-being is a top priority
  • Expand coaching and feedback, to include taking care of mental, physical, and emotional states while working from home
  • Support the integration of life while working at home, with virtual moments to introduce kids, partners, and pets

4. Lead by example

People want to retain humanity in remote work. Role modelling by team leaders will have greater impact on shifting mindsets and behaviors in remote work settings. In uncertain times, leaders should not avoid tough conversations from behind a screen, but visibly lead with authenticity.

Now is a time to use technology to enable human connection – turn on video in meetings where possible and authentically share personal stories of insights from your own remote working experiences. Explore new tools and apps that bridge the gap between humanity and the working world and reserve times for unstructured virtual meetings where teams can connect and share personal updates.

To do so means courageously asking for the top questions on people’s minds and proactively holding meetings and webcasts where those questions are responded to, ensuring opportunity for real-time questions to be addressed as well.

In order to build and nurture a sense of trust and belonging, team leaders must deliberately take action to show kindness and offer support to colleagues virtually.

  • Encourage support amongst colleagues, including financial support for those most impacted
  • Remember to recognize birthdays and work anniversaries, with virtual celebrations and messages
  • Send a note of kindness or recognition daily, to surprise and delight a virtual team member

Summary

Enabling safe remote working for people has been a critical shift for most organizations recently. Now faced with an even bigger shift in behaviors and mindsets, business leaders should focus on these four key areas to help elevate peoples’ experience and sustain business operations from home.

About this article

By

Maya Smallwood

EY Global PAS Employee Experience Leader, EY Americas Change & Learning Solutions Leader

Exploring the intersection of art, science and client experience. Human-centered design student. Mother of a girl with big dreams and a smart mouth.

Local contact

Advisor, Technology consulting, EY Denmark

Solution oriented tech consultant with focus on team collaboration, supporting clients in both the private and public sector.

Related topics Workforce COVID-19