Pretty much overnight, the monumental shift of a large proportion of a company’s workforce is working remotely and being dispersed. Something long-hailed as something that is coming, became our new reality as folks were encouraged / forced to stay home. From my friends I heard examples of how companies quickly responded in non-bureaucratic ways to enable people to do so. For example, sending dedicated IT teams in delivery vans to set-up colleagues with the means to work from home, donating video conferencing access to schools to help offset the transition, coordinating county-wide to ensure that all kids have access to at least two meals a day, having conference-call ready phones rush-delivered, and the option to have ergonomic gymnastic balls instead of your kitchen chair inflated for you (not for your kids who think “ohh, a bouncy playtoy”; you may have to remind them). This quick about-face is interesting within itself as the infrastructure to work from home was, prior to four weeks ago, reserved for the select few. Now for those who have the option, remote working will be — at least for the time-being — our new normal.
For those of you newly-joining the WFH (work from home) club, I will let you in on a little secret: working remotely from home is a weird conundrum. To be sure, there are benefits: One doesn’t have to commute, the dress code is very casual, tea is readily available, and you determine how you want to tackle your day. But there are downsides: tea is too readily available (break-time!), the sense of other people working is missing, one can feel very disconnected and, particularly in the current situation, isolated.
Which is why the topic of how can we maintain the sense of belonging, being part of a team, in the midst of the anxiety of the situation and its unforeseeable fallout, is even more important than ever. Be it as a colleague, leader, friend, parent, or human resource professional, it is an opportunity to take the insights and lessons learned about remote work and apply them more broadly.
Like the Trello writers of the ultimate guide of tried and tested strategies, from the world’s leading companies for remote work How To Embrace Remote Work advise:
“Effective remote work starts at the top. When company culture leaders correct non-remote friendly behaviors and put inclusive processes in place, the effects trickle down into a successful experience for everyone.”
“The key to building great remote relationships is intention. You need to try harder to find common interests, have meaningful meetings, and truly understand each person’s perspective. The result can be a lasting network of true friends that you can depend on, no matter where your travels might take you.”
With have two key recommendations:” 1. A clear set of “rules to live by” that have 100% buy-in across the company (Theirs are: Empathy is everything, treat others with transparency, asynchronous is A-OK, expect structure, and different but equal), and 2. a healthy system of meetings, events, and habits that keep people communicating.”
Further tips to continue to foster a culture of belonging and connection:
- Communicate, communicate, oh, and, lest I forget, communicate
- Establish a coordinated, remote leadership structure.
- 1 person is remote and has to dial-in for a video? All dial in for video
- Adding some whimsy to hangouts like my friend Sofia Broberger with their “different hat every meeting” challenge then tying in to what people do at their work e.g. fireman’s hat for IT support (analog Prof. Dan Cable’s research),
- Intersperse topic-themed virtual short energy get togethers — be they a dance party disco like Mike Hruska hosts, playing some bingo or getting into cahoots by setting up a pub-quiz sans pub.
- There is freed-up space on your calendar? Offer chat hours like awesome Employer Branding nerd, James Ellis does.
- Face-to-Face conferences are cancelled but you want the learning and exchange? Go virtual — Enrique Rubio piloted a great HR Innovation and Future of Work one.
Remote work in dispersed teams, and fostering a real culture of community during these trying times reminds me of the quote from Thomas Friedman “We have to be the best global citizens we can be.” That is true beyond today.