We’re starting to understand what really matters for leadership in a remote environment.
Do we take the Twitter route on the “forever” WFH experience?
What was still the future of work only a few months ago has become our reality. By force of circumstances, whether we wanted it or not, we became remote teams. Extraordinary resilience and incredible self-discipline help people compensate for their environment. Most of us deal with small home spaces, the over-presencing or the under-presencing of their loved ones. And sometimes with everything at the same time, plus the economic struggle.
It’s all about adaptation, how to overcome the crisis, and accept the new normal with resilience. And each individual has their own way. For instance, we hear a lot today on Twitter, in an already highly digitalized workforce from California that individual productivity has never been so high. And Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey informed his employees that they could continue working from home “forever.”
Well, if you work less for the same result, your productivity is higher. And you gain the reward of time in your personal life with the bonus of more freedom and flexibility. But today, after a few months working from home, most of the time, the number of hours encroaches on personal time, taking advantage of the blurred boundaries of the single work-home location. And it’s all about finding a balance.
From an economic standpoint, remote work is a cost reduction bonus for companies and can help to go through the crisis. If we manage to learn the delicate balance of working hours, it creates even more individual development opportunities and time to take care of our health. And the planet benefits from less pollution.
But, beyond the individual productivity mirror, new issues arise, such as burnout and more challenges for managers to foster cooperation while avoiding micromanagement. Where can we start?
The reality of self-discipline and freedom with WFH:
Create routines – We are transitioning from a structured world to a blurry timeless world. Time was the ultimate currency diluted in multiple routines as commute, school, daily workout sessions, hobbies, and social times. In uncertain times, we have to decide more, and it requires more brain energy. Routines can save energy and help perform tasks efficiently. Read The power of habit by Charles Duhigg.
Articulate wisely self-accountability and freedom – If self-discipline is key to organize and perform efficiently, pushing too hard on a heavy workload leads to burnout. Learn about burnout to prevent it.
1. Two-thirds of companies are concerned with employee morale
We crave data to understand this new productivity equation better. According to a recent Culture amp survey from 200 organizations around the world, 90% of all employees believe they are adapting well to remote work, regardless of company size. This confirms the Twitter paradigm and how digitally prepared the workforce is.
But another report highlights the extreme stress and pressure to perform, with 45% of the workforce currently experiencing burnout due to increased workloads, lack of support, and higher expectations at work stemming from COVID-19.
Also, a study from Lattice reports that two-thirds of companies are concerned with employee morale, one of their top 3 headaches right now.
How to take care of people in a remote environment:
Start with recognition – Research shows that companies with a recognition program increase engagement and productivity. It doesn’t need to be a costly program. A simple thank you or kudos has a powerful effect on our dopamine and motivation. Most of the time, in a virtual environment, you don’t know what your co-worker thinks about your job quality. Sharing your satisfaction in the most straightforward way can create trust and increased engagement.
Don’t forget your management learnings – The curious thing with a radical change of environment is sometimes we forget what we learned because our old routines are broken. This is where the power of values comes in. Values help you make the right decisions when you face too many options. The pros and cons process of decision-making is undoubtedly critical. But if you combine your rational mind with your managerial values of respect, fairness, coaching, giving the benefit of the doubt, or having forums to discuss top issues, you win as a leader.
2. Trust is the most valuable currency for remote teams
The market is shifting quickly from an employee engagement toward an employee experience market. A better experience for employees is the new condition for attracting and retaining talents. During this crisis, there is a phenomenal opportunity for leveraging a better experience by inspiring management to emphasize values and behaviors that foster trust and empathy. And it might be the answer to sustain collective engagement in the long run while keeping the benefits of working from home.
The reward in the virtual world is our freedom and flexibility. And we are ready to pay a high price for gaining more control over our lives. The individual freedom zone generates more asynchronous communications because we tend to limit real-time chats over time. If you’re not in the same time zone, you could have to wait a few hours for a response to a burning question. And there is no way to speed up collaboration.
Asynchronous communication can be frustrating for everyone in the team, especially for managers who can’t track their team members’ progress in real-time.
Recently, we heard stories from employees denouncing the rise of software monitoring all the tasks performed during the day, including private conversations on social media. The fear of control might be a productivity stimulus on a short-term basis, but modern management condemns this trust breaker.
In a virtual environment, trust is the most valuable currency to connect people. It generates self-accountability and extra effort to answer burning questions right away. And high-engagement increases collaboration and team productivity.
How to fight big brother:
Start with empathy – Get to know your coworkers and team members. This is especially important in remote work because the default communication is no-talk. Daily meetings help, but sometimes initiatives like highlight of the week or weekend can petrify introverted people. The best way to start a conversation is to share something about yourself and your environment in a 1-to-1 exchange, making yourself vulnerable first. It can be your cat or your kids, but if you want to get more neutral, share tips about how you’re making yourself comfortable working from home by showing people your new chair or stand-up equipment.
Get the most of asynchronous communication – The beauty of virtual work is to disconnect from continuous real-time communication to essential meetings. With practice and time, the frustration of missing in-person meetings crystallizes in a bigger bonus called freedom. Learn from Gitlab, remote-first company tips to prepare meetings.
3. A virtuous and strong leadership also works in virtual work
In the same Culture amp survey, organizations that scored the highest on the question “My company is making sufficient adjustments to the COVID-19 Pandemic” also had the highest response rate. It shows a correlation between leaders implementing plans and overall employee engagement. Strong leadership traits generate more involvement in the workspace. Furthermore, a prompt leadership response can foster feelings of safety and belonging, feeding that trust for seamless collaboration.
Toward a better WFH experience with a new agile leadership
How to be an inspiring virtual leader:
Lead with values – Inclusive values are the shortcut to trust because they make people feel safe and respected. A team contract encouraging behaviors can go a long way for building team engagement. It can remind your team to keep the interest of others in mind, to ask for help, give the benefit of the doubt, allow everyone to share their thoughts, or to have a forum to discuss tough issues.
Work with people strengths – Coaching is good, but working with people’s strengths is even better. We are much more productive and happier when we have the luxury to work in a role aligned with our values and where we have control. Knowing the strengths of team members is an energy saver for everyone. Kudos and thank yous can help to identify the skills people are good at and craft better roles to leverage team productivity for the next project.
Photos by Chris Montgomery, Kyle Hanson and Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash