Remote working is looking like it's here to stay, and after 6 months, could it be time to rethink your team's communications?
If you asked most CEOs at the beginning of the year whether or not having an entire workforce working remotely would be feasible, it’s likely they would have brushed the idea off. Yet, employees have been bargaining for years for the possibility of more flexiworking, especially incorporating working from home into the mix. People with children or young families have particularly pushed for this kind of work balance.
It wasn’t like it was never happening. Working one or two days a week from home was becoming much more widely accepted across companies. You could be applying for jobs and a ‘perk’ could be freedom to sometimes work from home. But that didn’t mean you could work 5 days a week from your living room without someone raising an eyebrow.
Looking back, it almost seems bizarre that there was so much resistance against the remote work movement. We’re now 6 months into a lockdown that made remote working effectively compulsory. It’s funny how we can adapt when forced to but can be so resistant to change otherwise.
That doesn’t mean at all that we haven’t faced difficulties along the way, that there hasn’t been a constant niggling feeling in the back of all managers’ minds. Are you executing the balance of keeping in touch, Zoom calls, and ‘Friday Fun’ to the right level? Or are your teams falling out of touch, are people lonely at home? Or are you bothering everyone too much, are you using time in your working days inefficiently, and would people be happier with a reduction in Zoom calls?
Realistically, you’re not expected to get something perfect that you’ve never done before. Especially when it’s concerning people, when everyone is different. Levels of autonomy vary significantly among people, and it goes a bit deeper than simply introverts vs. extroverts.
Now is a good time to reflect on how the past few months have been and start to think about the future. That future might not be in the office, or it might be much more of a hybrid situation than prior to lockdown. Some businesses may do away with the office entirely, others may move to a more hotdesking and remote setup, others may go back entirely but not for a while yet. So, it’s time to think about whether or not the structure of the past six months is right for the future.
There are a few things to consider.
Finding the balance
This might not be applicable to each and every individual within your company, but since lockdown has eased people are most likely experiencing more human interaction than they were at the beginning of the pandemic. You may have felt that at the get go, twice daily check-ins across your team or company were important to make sure everyone was ‘surviving’. This may have also seemed sensible when everyone’s routines and lives had been turned on their head, and stress levels were high.
However, if we turn the focus to now, you may be starting to wonder if that once friendly twice a day check-in, has become a drudge for your team, interrupting workflow, and featuring very forced, maybe awkwardly silent moments that aren’t adding much to your days. This leads to the question of are you becoming walking, talking Zoombies? And if you are, what can you do to stop the dead stare, monosyllabic hours your team is spending each week, while maintaining your team communication channels and ensuring everyone is feeling supported?
You probably don’t want to drop from twice a day to once a week in one fell swoop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dial it back at all. It’s finding that sweet spot, the Goldilocks balance, to fulfil everyone’s needs as well as be beneficial for the company. This could, and probably will, need trial and error to get right.
It’s worth remembering that you can encourage your team to organise their own virtual meet ups. This allows those who prefer a lower level of communication to be able to keep to the crucial meetings, Monday kick offs and Friday round ups and their specific team meeting, but not the in between catchups. And then those who thrive off more human interaction and time to chat can do just that. Maintaining a flexible approach across your company will help to keep everyone happy.
There’s a bot called Icebreaker that has been developed for the purpose of strengthening your company culture. It’s a Microsoft Teams plug-in that helps grow personal connections by pairing up team members for a meet up every week.
It’s simple and provides a good solution for bypassing your regular ‘check-ins’ while allowing personal interaction to still happen for those in your team who want it. Icebreaker Bot will randomly pair up each team member who wants in and will even suggest times that both parties are free from your Outlook calendars. For more ideas that can help home working check out our article on technologies for more efficient home working.
It’s worth keeping in mind that video calling requires more focus than face-to-face chat due to the fact that having to process non-verbal cues and facial expressions is actually harder over video. Dissonance can occur when our minds are together and bodies are not, which can be exhausting. Zoom fatigue is real.
“Does this really need to be a video meeting?” is probably something everyone has heard at some point over the last few months. There are also probably several times when you’ve realised that actually, no, this doesn’t need to be. Logically the more time spent on team calls, the less time everyone has to spend working, which means productivity can be affected. So, the way to move forward is to make sure the meetings you do have really count. This means you’re not completely cutting down your ‘check-ins’, but the ones you keep create greater value.
Try making sure for each meeting you have an agenda and know what you’re going to talk about. Share the agenda ahead of the meeting so that everyone can come prepared.
One of the areas that many businesses have been trying to manage is keeping alive your company culture within the constraints of working remotely. If you have a team where everyone joins in for Friday afternoon beers, and there’s always a lot of chat around the coffee machine, you might have opted for a lot more Zoom meetings than businesses where people tend to be more insular.
But, given the challenges of video meetings, and the difficulty for people to gracefully bow out of team building chatter when everyone’s stuck at home, it might be getting to the point where the formally scheduled catchups are just getting to be too much.
There are ways to keep your culture going without having constant meetings/check ins/catch ups. This is where “asynchronous communication” comes in handy. Unlike synchronous communication (e.g. video calls), it allows people to dip in and out at their convenience.
Perhaps a team-wide gif party on Teams (or whatever messaging app you use)? Maybe a poll – it can be anything, whether it’s silly (favourite flavour of ice cream) or important. Why not a series of polls? Adding things into your team chat can keep that culture-focused chatter alive without the need for more and more video calls.
Staying up to date
One of the benefits of the many check in calls we’ve all been having over the past months is that we’ve been able to keep everyone up to date on what we’re doing. Not being in the same building means we have to make extra effort to keep everyone in the loop.
But this is another area where we can streamline, now that we’ve all been doing this remote thing for so long.
There’s plenty of software out there for collaboration – whether you have Microsoft 365 and can use Project, To Do, Planner, and OneNote to share project updates and progress, or if you have a combination of tools like Slack, Trello, G-Suite, Asana, and so on.
Getting everyone into the habit of keeping progress up to date means that you can save the time of those update meetings and use the time different – either for a more focused, strategic meeting, or simply to be working on the project itself.
That’s not to say that some project meetings won’t be necessary – of course they will, just as they would have been in the old world, too. But using software to keep everyone in the loop makes it easier to choose to have the right meetings, rather than needing regular meetings just for updates.
Our remote workforces are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and the more experience you have, the easier it will become to manage. But remember to play it by ear, make sure everyone feels supported and that video calls are focused, with agendas and reduced to important times, rather than all-the-times.
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