COVID-19 means many are now required to work remotely for the first time.
We want to help. While we can't do much about the virus, we do have a few strategies to help you fill in some of the potholes lining the remote work road. Successful remote work requires two things: trust and communication. These pillars complement and enhance one another. Let’s talk about how and why.
If a person works from home and nobody’s around to see it, are they really working? Our culture likes to surveil. In school, you learn in class under your teacher’s eye. University, the same. And then work, in an office, under the eyes of management and colleagues.
But surveillance isn’t an option right now. Yes, you can make people track their time and install apps that allow you to see their screens, but there’s a much more obvious and less-invasive solution: trust.
In his book, Leadership is Language, David Marquet talks to the problem with a lack of trust in the workplace. That it can encourage the bare minimum since the assumption is you're not trusted to do your job without supervision. Responses such as "I was told to do it" and "I'm not paid to think" are common.
So then, how do you create trust?
Trust and culture
Culture is how people act when nobody’s looking. It begins at the top and trickles down and through every facet of an organisation. Creating a culture of trust comes in two parts:
Assuming positive intent
We assume that if someone isn’t watched, they’re not working, or at least not working very hard. But this, ultimately, is an assumption. Do you have any proof that someone is slacking off? If they’re turning in their work on time, then what’s the problem? Maybe you need to spend less time worrying about what other people are doing and more time on your own work.
Remote work requires us to presume that someone is working when un-surveilled, and not the other way around. That’s the prerequisite.
Identifying the right problem
By the time you begin working full time, you’re an adult. You can be expected to manage your own time and responsibilities. Therefore, if someone actually isn’t working when unsupervised, the problem probably lies in your hiring process. Or, maybe it’s endemic: there's a problem in your work culture, where people don't feel motivated to work, or that it matters whether they work or not. Either way, this is a problem in the workplace, not remote work itself.
Therefore, a culture of trust requires us to first presume that people will work unsupervised, and only rebut that presumption when there’s evidence against it. And second, when someone proves us wrong, to identify the source of the problem. Is the problem in the hiring process? Or organisational? Work backwards from the root of the problem, so we solve it, and move forward once again towards trust and autonomy.
Most communication is synchronous; it’s real-time, immediate. It’s talking in person, messaging back and forth, calling on the phone. However, successful remote work requires as much, if not more, asynchronous communication.
What’s “asynchronous” communication?
Communication that’s not real-time. Someone says something, and another replies in their own time. Here’s a breakdown with examples:
Why is asynchronous communication important when working remotely?
Because when you’re working remotely, it’s not always possible or preferable to communicate synchronously. Messaging back and forth is time away from work. Every time you ping someone on Slack or email, you’re taking them away from their task at hand.
In the office, we have visual cues: you can see whether someone is working at their desk, in a meeting or on a call. We use these to know whether it’s an appropriate time to talk to someone, and whether they have capacity to answer our questions.
But when working remotely, we don’t have these cues. We have no way of telling if we’re catching someone at a good time or not. That’s where asynchronous communication comes in: it allows staff to respond when they have capacity, and when they’re able to give a considered answer.
To really level up your communication, however, also requires a cultural shift: from under-communication to over-communication
Write it down and send it out
Remote work often means you lose context. You don’t have the five-minute chats, the tid-bits, the check-ins. This is fixable, however, through documentation and over communication.
Context needs to be egalitarian. A team can’t work together when certain people know certain things and other people know little or nothing at all. We need to be on the same page. And you do this by putting it on the page. Or at least, on the screen.
The only way to ensure that everyone knows everything they need to know, is to write it down and disseminate it. You can’t do your job if you only know part of the story. You’ll find that people aren’t doing what you need them to do, not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know what you want.
The solution is, therefore, to over communicate. Brainstorm everything someone might need to know to do their job, and document it. Add to it over time, and ensure it’s accessible anytime so people can go back to it when they need.
Help along the way
The silver-lining in the COVID cloud is that this is the first time, probably in the entire of human history, that we’ve all been on exactly the same side. There’s no grey here: we all want to defeat the virus as quickly as possible, and protect one another in the meantime.
Flexible and remote work has been a part of Yarno DNA from the very beginning, so our transition to fully remote work has been smoother than silk. Because of this, we want to do what we can to help other organisations adapt and evolve to remote work as well. For information and resources on managing remote teams, head to the remote learning section of the Yarno blog. We’re also offering a complimentary coronavirus course for the duration of the crisis (more information below).
The effects of coronavirus won't be limited to the time the virus is active. Its ramifications will influence the future of our social, business, and political institutions. This virus has taught us that if we have to, we really can do most things remotely. Remote work won't just affect us now, it will affect, and likely shape, the future of our working lives.
So take the time, invest the minutes required to set your workplace up remotely. You'll be thanking yourself for it next week, next month, and next year.
Courtney is the face behind the Yarno blog. She’s our fact-finding expert, Instagram connoisseur and the only person we know who can write 1500 words and fix a fence in the same half hour.
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