In the past few months, many organizations, including the DeBoer Fellowship, have moved to remote working environments. We are all seeing that leaders can maintain connectedness and productivity while working in remote settings. Your organization can thrive in a virtual environment by:
- Prioritizing employees’ mental health;
- Practicing self-discipline while working from home;
- Developing new communication channels;
- Creating processes of coordinating remote employees;
- Maintaining a strong culture; and
- Practicing enhanced trust and collaboration between managers and employees.
- Human resource leaders need to prioritize employees’ mental health.
Many of us find ourselves facing new challenges, like a loss of our routines or greater financial insecurity. In Psychology Today, Dr. Shauna H. Springer identifies that many people feel their future horizon has changed and have dropped down to the survival level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where they are concerned about basic safety needs.
Human resource leaders have also warned that in the midst of a global crisis and sudden changes for employees (including remote work or change in job responsibility), there must be special attention on employees’ mental health.
Author Rachel Ranosa recommends that leaders should take time to connect with employees individually who may feel isolated through video calls, social media, or via phone.
- Practice these simple habits of self-discipline for increased productivity at home.
Both trust and self-discipline are required to maximize the productivity of virtual employees. In an article published in Inc. Magazine, contributor Marcel Schwantes shares findings from a survey of about 1,000 full-time employees, over half of whom work remotely a majority of the week. He recommends the following practices:
- Take breaks;
- Have “set office hours” to help you stay focused while working from home; and,
- Keep to-do lists that allow you to stay on track while away from colleagues.
- Leaders must develop new communication channels in virtual work environments.
Communication is always vital to high-quality leadership, and even more so in remote settings or crisis situations. Sean Graber, in a Harvard Business Review article, writes that, “it can be difficult to explain complex ideas” in remote settings. “(T)he lack of face-to-face interaction limits social cues,” which can lead to “misunderstandings and conflict.”
To combat these misunderstandings, he recommends that companies use videoconferencing to share “complex or personal” information where you may need to “observe body language, hear tone and inflection, and be able to see what you’re talking about.” For other types of tasks like “small, non-urgent requests,” he suggests that email or instant messaging “are best suited.”
Graber adds that frequent communication such as “providing regular updates, responding to messages promptly, and being available at important times (especially when colleagues are located in different time zones)” goes far to build trust.
- Leaders should create formal processes to coordinate remote workers.
Remember when we could stop by another colleague’s desk or discuss business over lunch at the office? These interactions, Graber writes, “serve as course corrections,” as points of clarification for work projects.
While working remotely, leaders must “clearly articulate the mission, assign roles and responsibilities, create detailed project plans, and establish performance metrics.” But, additionally they must document these in a location that employees can access remotely.
Be ready to provide your teams with clear direction on “how and when individuals should provide updates, review deliverables and make decisions.” Leaders must then “model and enforce” these processes of remote work behavior until they are followed and incorporated into the new normal of virtual work.
- Leaders must maintain organizational culture of trust and collaboration virtually.
When colleagues are unable to meet face-to-face, “they tend to focus on tasks and ignore the team.” This task-oriented approach can be detrimental to the organization’s mission if individuals do not see themselves as part of a larger purpose.
“Cognitive trust” or trust “based on competence and reliability” can be built through consistent communication and coordinating processes, as we discussed above. However, building “affective trust,” or trust based on feeling often requires informal conversations, according to Graber. This may be uncomfortable for leaders at first but is very important when working virtually. These check-ins or points of connection help employees to not feel isolated, but rather to feel like a valuable contributor to the organization.
According to Harvard Business Review, “building shared identity and personal connections,” through regular informal calls as a group or individually, “will lead to greater engagement and better performance” for your organization.
- Managers, trust your employees. Employees, keep your manager’s trust.
Tsedal Neeley, professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, shares in a recent podcast interview, “Remote work is a learned skill…It’s important, [as leaders], to help people, coach people, [and] provide resources on how to do it well.”
“The most important thing is that managers have to trust their team, that they’re working and they’re going to fulfill their responsibilities…Give them full trust, equip them, support them,” Neeley advises. [Listen to the full podcast episode here: “Adjusting to Remote Work During the Coronavirus Crisis”]
In her accompanying article, Neeley echoes author Ernest Hemingway’s advice, “’The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.’” Likewise, employees must manage their time and have self-discipline to fulfill obligations and to keep their managers trust.
While no one expected this COVID-19 pandemic to disrupt so many of our regular rhythms and office norms, leaders must be able to lead these changes. Working remotely may become the new normal for a short while or for many months. However, while we may be socially distant, our organizations and leaders can implement behaviors, practices, and processes to thrive.
About DeBoer Fellowship
The DeBoer Fellowship develops change leaders across all sectors of Myanmar society. Through a multi-year training class and additional public programs, the DeBoer Fellowship serves Myanmar by helping to grow competent, compassionate, and ethical leaders. For more information about DeBoer Fellowship or to apply for the Fellowship, please visit: www.deboerfellowship.org.