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  • Jude Mahony

Remote working - how to make it work

After my last post, many people reached out for support on remote working and how to keep connected through what are increasingly anxious times.

Flexible work arrangement discussions have offered a distraction from the anxiety of how to deal with the spread of COVID-19, ensuring social distancing and protecting the vulnerable in our community. Remote working also brings it’s own anxiety, especially for those who are not used to working without being surrounded by others, and also to leaders who are not used to managing remote teams.

If you have never worked remotely (even if you have, it is worth a reminder), there are some tips that will make it more enjoyable for you, as well as ensuring you are keeping connected and hopefully removing some of the associated anxiety.

Those colleagues who attended our most recent Roundtable at Norton Rose Fulbright (hosted by Sense Recruitment, facilitated by Bianca Starcevich and myself) will know that #loneliness was one of the top trending topics for HR for 2020. Even more relevant now with the lockdowns in some countries and potential for more isolation through this pandemic. Though isolation and loneliness do not go hand-in-hand (let’s face it, you can be lonely in the middle of a crowd), finding strategies on how to ensure self-isolation or quarantine does not lead to loneliness, and maintaining your ongoing mental wellness, is critical.

To help you stay healthy, connected and engaged we have put together our top tips for remote working.

Let’s start with you as an employee

  • Set up regular check-ins with your manager. These don’t need to be formal, but do need to be regular to give you both a chance to debrief on work and personal circumstances.

  • Make a list of colleagues you interact with the most during your normal day and week. Develop an engagement and communication plan with their input.

  • How will you keep in contact? Will it be by phone, email, Facetime, Skype, Slack, Teams, instant message or video?

  • How often will you touch base? A few times a day, once a day, once a week? More or less often than normal? I would err on the side of more often, where possible.

  • Will it be a formal “these are our priorities for the day” or an informal “hey, did you see that cat meme on FB?” Whatever works for you and for them!

  • Use video wherever possible. Remember how easy it is to misconstrue context of emails, instant messages and texts without the benefit of body language to convey meaning!

  • Maintain a routine. Getup at your normal time, get ready for the “office” in your usual way. Yes, it can be tempting just to stay in your PJ’s and uggboots, but try to find a balance between sleepwear and suits! Dress appropriately – especially for those video calls! (We’ve all heard the nightmare stories of the person who only had their underwear on during a video call and didn’t realise their camera was panning as they stretched….)

  • Take regular breaks. Unless you are lucky enough to have a full office setup at home, you are more than likely working from a less than ideal non-ergonomic workstation (ie laptop on your lap or dining table!) There are a number of checklists you can review for your home working situation, however having a regular break, standing up, stretching can give your body a bit of relief.

  • Find somewhere within your home you can use as your “home office”. A quiet, dedicated spot away from distractions is ideal. If that’s not feasible, use your headphones to try and remove any noise from others around you. Don’t forget, if you are wearing noise-cancelling headphones especially, you will be louder when you speak! Be mindful of others as well.

  • Use phone calls as an opportunity to stand up and stretch your legs. You don’t need to purchase a full sit-to-stand desk, but having a routine in place to stand and stretch whenever the phone rings is good practice, especially for your informal catch-ups when you are maintaining relationships!

  • If your hours need to change because of your environment, let your leader know. Flexible work arrangements may not work for some businesses – you may need to be at your desk from 8am to 4pm, if that isn’t possible, talk to your leader.

As a leader

  • Place as much importance on relationships as tasks! Do not become so focussed on ensuring people are “doing” that you forget they are human and will need to continue to interact with their colleagues and family/friends.

  • Remember that your team will add value whether they are in the office or working remotely. It is not just about presentee-ism.

  • Don’t add layers of decision making. You do not need to be the decision maker for every minute detail just to ease your anxiety – you will become the bottleneck and will actually de-value the work being undertaken as well as erode the engagement of your team.

  • Be very clear on your expectations (don’t wait until your team is remote – this should already have happened, but if it hasn’t, now is your opportunity to step up as a leader). Be clear, outcomes focussed and provide consistent feedback. Do not forget about feedback loops – positive and not so positive!

  • Keep in regular contact. Not just to check on the tasks being undertaken – build relationships, ask about your team member. Ask about their family, their pet, their favourite coffee, their living arrangements, their extended family. Build relationships. If you haven’t already, now is a perfect opportunity.

  • Trust your team to be adults. No-one comes to work to do a bad job (well… 99.9% of people don’t…), and if that workplace has moved to their home environment, they are more likely to be far more productive (Google it…)

  • Be realistic on the hours your team are working and available. Just because they have dropped an hour and a half in commute time each way, doesn’t mean they will now work 15 hour days instead of 12!

  • Be flexible on those hours. Working from home can have a different structure to it. Especially when you have others within the household also doing the same! Be understanding but also set guidelines. You need your team to be mentally well, which means allowing some flex for the circumstances they may be finding themselves in.

  • Lead by example. Don’t be available every second of the day. You need to show your team that it is ok to take a break, exercise, eat! If you are online and answering emails, calls, texts from 5am to midnight, you are not doing anyone (especially yourself) any favours.

  • REMEMBER, people leave managers… Be a strong, supportive leader who respects and cares for their team.

  • Respond don’t react

  • Use this opportunity for your own self-development. Build your emotional intelligence, without the physical cues you are used to!

This is an anxious time for everyone. Build your empathy, resilience and trust in your team. They need you more than ever to be their guide, supporter and anchor. Offer employee assistance programmes if they are available, provide other alternatives if they are not. Use them yourself if you need to.

Remember to focus on what you can control, and as a leader, if you find yourself without the support you are giving your team, we are a phone, Zoom or Skype call away!

See our original LinkedIn post here

Author: Jude Mahony

22nd March 2020