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I worked remotely for many years, long before the Covid-19 pandemic. I have led teams, worked with remote clients and successfully communicated in a remote role. I've been a proponent of the idea that almost any job, with a few exceptions, can be done this way. However, companies have been slow to adopt the term. The technology is in place, and there is no doubt that huge cost savings will be made for businesses that don't require road traffic or internal visits – from desks and laptops to office space. For those visiting customers or suppliers, it would be more cost-effective to send key staff on a visit than to rent a room.
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However, if you have a deliberately remote business, the most important thing is how you hire. I mean: In a stationary office, it only depends on the skills of the employee. In a remote company that is important, but equal, or more important, is your potential candidate's ability to manage their time and focus on any potential distractions that can arise while working from home – and there are many . Not every employee is a good candidate to work remotely, even if they have years of experience to complete the job. Working from home is hard and a mindset.
So you can imagine why during a Covid-19 pandemic the challenge is not whether remote control is possible, but whether it is possible with your current workforce.
Hiring a remote workforce
Rewind back to March. Almost every company, no matter what, sent employees to work from home. Hence the idea that this is not possible is now out the window. But where is the real challenge? The employees of these companies have not been screened for their ability to work successfully remotely or for their desire to work from home, which is equally important. Many have never worked from home. Many do not want to work from home. And in all honesty, many may not be able to do multiple tasks as well as they thought they would.
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So what can be done when a new business concept is formed, the best human capital may not be available for the particular situation (through no fault of your own) and the work still has to be continued without missing a beat? Here are three suggestions:
1. Understand the state of the country
When your employees took the job and expected to drive to work every day, they didn't plan to have their kids home, their spouses home, or even have their TVs in the next room. Then add to the wound that it is even difficult to go to a cafe a little quietly, since many places are not yet open. Therefore, every manager should plan an open discussion with all employees as soon as possible. The goal is not to get into their personal life, but to find out where the employee sees their challenges and help them overcome them in every possible way. You're a team, but as in any business situation, you can't change what you don't know. So ask. If ever there was time to invest in your people, now is it. Do everything to make the new work environment pleasant. This not only helps with satisfaction, but also creates loyalty when a sense of "normal" returns.
2. Reevaluate what "time" really means
Since the employees at home are facing greater challenges, I would ask you to reconsider the idea of time. Here's what I mean: in an office where I've worked in many of them, that's what I call "pretending to work". That sounds harsh, or like I'm suggesting something unethical. But I know many nod as they read this. Having to work for a specific amount of time instead of just focusing on getting the tasks done becomes an unnecessary task and burden, especially during times like these. The reality is that sometimes a day doesn't last eight hours. It only takes four. Why punish an employee when they quit their job? You can sit at your desk and pretend you're working, but why?
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I suggest meeting with all staff. Establish a 3 month plan of what to do. And "work" is not the answer. It has to be quantifiable and specific. Give the employee a specific goal they need to achieve, when it needs to be achieved, and all team members they may need to coordinate with. This will relieve the stress of having to help their son in their remote third grade. Trust me, they do – but under the current plan, they just don't tell you. Modify the narrative and make it acceptable. By moving to a structure of benefits everyone will be clear, the business will still be done and they will have less stress in their new work environment. It's not about the time that is spent, just what needs to be done. Some days it can be quick. Some days it may take longer. It is equal to. Trust me.
3. Have fun
Your employees are stressed when they don't want to work from home. I guarantee it. You are fed up with it. They are concerned about what is to come. You are socially exhausted. It is now your job to become the fun coordinator. Set up 15-minute breaks every day to socially connect with the new remote teams. No work allowed. Only share GIFs across the company. Offer a gift card for a coffee for the best captions. Share music. Get creative. Taking the breaks required can help keep teams engaged, get the brain working again, and provide a sense of connection at a time when they may feel very disconnected.
These are hard times. You didn't plan that, and neither did your employees. The rapid development of this new business landscape is blurred at best. But how you deal with it and what agility you show will inevitably determine how well your company will do on this path. Be ready to think about things in new ways. Be sensitive to the specific situation without judging. Be a place that they welcome into their home. The challenges are real, but moving forward quickly. This could be the change you never knew your business needed.