With the onset and spread of COVID-19, most of the country is in the midst of some sort of social distancing policy. Under this policy, many organizations have had to unexpectedly close offices and, where possible, have their employees work remotely. Credit unions have always made their employees a top priority, and now this includes supporting their employees as they transition to remote work.
The use of remote work has been steadily increasing within the United States. Recent research suggests that over 40% of the US workforce works remotely in some manner and that approximately one third of all jobs in this country could be done fully remotely.
In an ideal setting, organizations would selectively pick which employees and which roles were ideal candidates to work remotely and then prepare for the shift to remote work. Unfortunately, we are not in ideal times and that choice has been taken from most organizations. However, there are several things that credit unions leaders can do to help make this forced transition a bit easier.
- Understand Differences Across Team Members
First, it is important to recognize differences within your remote workforce. The demographic makeup of each remote team may require different resources. While employees will be working “from home,” they are likely to vary in their obligations to care for loved ones, having access to a dedicated workspace or high-speed internet. Pay attention to the geographic and temporal differences that may exist within a remote team. Virtual teams may also have significant operational differences. Team size will have an effect as well as the type of technical expertise on the team. Lastly, take note of affinity differences on remote teams. This includes understanding organizational ranks, cultures, and languages for the members of your team and how these may shift in a virtual setting.
- Over Communicate
Probably the most important organizational factor for remote work is communication. It is better to err on the side of over communication, especially at the beginning of a remote work period. It is also critical for leaders to enforce certain rules and norms around how people communicate, outlining which mediums the team should use to communicate (i.e., chat, email, etc.) and when they communicate, outlining what times people should be available to communicate. Additionally, it might be helpful to explicitly describe which team members own certain documents, inputs, and outputs, as well as the etiquette for electronic communication and audio/video-conferencing.
- Do Remote Work Training
Most employees, even those who work on virtual teams, admit that they do not have much training about how to operate on a virtual team (Virtual Teams Survey Report - 2016). Managing and operating within a remote team requires more formal structures than are customary in most organizations. Again, over communication at the beginning will help avoid confusion and disengagement in later stages. Training on remote work will help facilitate communication, set expectations, and reduce frustrations.
- Reorganize and Reprioritize
The speed by which COVID-19 restrictions became implemented took many organizations by surprise, leading to some rushed accommodations for remote work. Now that the initial phase has passed, it might be useful to reassess the structure of your remote working teams and make adjustments. Perhaps this means temporarily reorganizing employee roles or workflows. Make sure each person has the technology for the tasks they are being asked to complete.
It is also a good idea to reprioritize employee tasks and functions. The first step is to communicate that while we are remaining calm, this is not business as usual! Managers should work with staff to help them understand what parts of their regular job might be more or less critical to the organization during this period. Employees that are caregivers may need to work unconventional hours. In short, this is not typical telecommuting; we’re living through a global pandemic! Let’s keep perspective and be more flexible with monitoring.
- Closely Manage Synchronicity
Synchronous communication time, when employees are working together in real time, is a scarce commodity with remote teams and should be treated like a precious jewel. Employees are attempting to juggle work while also managing their households, health, children, parents, siblings, pets, etc. Finding a time when everyone can drop everything and be dialed into a meeting is going to be tough. The old adage that “this meeting could have been an email” is even more instructive. Leaders should be vigilant in thinking about what truly requires all hands on deck and which matters can be done via asynchronous mediums such as email.
On that note, I see that many organizations are having virtual get togethers. Informal meet ups can be good for social connecting on remote teams, but make sure they aren’t too frequent. Be mindful that social gatherings are a debit on the precious synchronous communication time bank. In addition, employees are also spending significantly more time looking at their computer screens. Your employees might be more appreciative if you allow them to log off earlier than to have a virtual happy hour after a long day on their screen.
- Establish and Nurture Trust
Virtual teams work best when people fully collaborate, which requires competency-based trust. People need to trust that other team members will keep their commitments and deadlines, and that outputs will be high quality. One easy way for leaders to help nurture this type of trust is to praise team members for their efforts and outputs. This serves a dual role: it improves morale for the praised team member while also communicating their efforts to others.
Working remotely, especially when it isn’t by choice and accompanied by stressors such as COVID-19, will challenge even the most resilient teams. People want to contribute, and your job as a manager is to help structure and support remote team synergy and ensure staff understand your organization’s new priorities and how to achieve them. Well-managed staff will have what they need to adapt to new workflows, foster virtual connections and help advance your mission.