Welcome to the world of freelancers.
Fortunately, it hasn't been an over-night transition for many. The phrase 'working from home' has (almost) lost its stigma as companies worldwide have been gradually shifting to remote working for years now. And, for most of them, it has been working remarkably well. Naturally, it has taken them quite some time to set and perfect the work culture, but overall, studies show that 83% of employees enjoy the opportunity of working from home!
That being said, the situation is quite different for those who were forced to think on their feet while switching to remote to ensure business continuity. It dealt a heavy blow to their traditional policies, company culture, and processes that weren't quite ready to handle the rapid digital evolution. Now, when the whole world is learning to adapt to a different lifestyle due to the voluntary/mandatory lockdown, some businesses have no choice but to set up new processes and systems to move their operations online. They are coming to terms with the circumstances and digitalising their traditional way of working to avoid extinction.
Surprisingly, a pandemic has brought forward a digital transformation that was long pending.
People are talking about how this is going to be the fourth industrial revolution with different technologies changing fundamentally how we work.
Jennifer Christie, the Head of People at Twitter.
Remote working is here to stay. There's no time to do a trial run now. As a leader, you have to take fast actions, nurture real relationships with your team members, and find creative solutions while maintaining performance standards. You have to instil a sense of urgency into the organisation, learn to trust more, celebrate more successes, and pay attention to the emotional needs of your colleagues.
In short, you are (directly or indirectly) responsible for boosting the spirit and motivation of every employee irrespective of their location - be it a Pinterest-worthy home office or a kitchen with an over-flowing sink.
The biggest challenge is not lack of productivity
Inexperienced remote workers deal with several issues but decreased productivity is not the biggest threat to performance. On the contrary, a study by Digital Ocean revealed that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out, 52% work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feel as though they are expected to contribute more than their in-office colleagues.
Furthermore, workers feel more stressed to maintain their work standards and exceed expectations to prove their value. They end up experiencing more pressure to show tangible results every day.
Buffer's State of Remote Report 2020 puts collaboration, communication, and isolation as the biggest challenges when it comes to working remotely over an extended period of time.
For a number of people, the line separating their work-life and home-life starts getting blurry after some time which results in excessive stress and an inability to switch off their work-mode after a long day.
39% of people who mostly work from home often work additional hours to complete their tasks compared with 24% of those in fixed workplaces.
Some workers feel that they waste extra time and effort in clearing up misunderstandings and waiting on their colleagues to respond or confirm. Some have issues reconnecting with their old desk mates and sometimes, the internet. They feel out of the loop and run the risk of losing touch with the company vision.
Lack of preparationon the management's side also paves the way for unnecessary stress and bottlenecks in the process. Especially during times like these, employees look up to their leaders to help them feel secure and drive the business forward. If instead, they find more confusion and lack of direction at the top-level, they are bound to become aimless and disengaged.
Bring structure and balance to the process
It's not the optimal time to think long-term when the immediate goal is strictly revenue-driven. Priorities change. Companies have to stay afloat first. However, finding temporary fixes to organise a makeshift arrangement for employees ends up taking more time and energy than anticipated. To focus on the goals that matter, first, you need to spend some time bringing structure and balance to the operations. Compartmentalise issues and spend some quality time to figure out protocols and sustainable frameworks that will help you reduce miscommunications and misunderstanding.
Take, for example, the following scenarios:
Structure: Set a few reasonable yet non-negotiable rules to strengthen the work environment and enforce discipline.
Balance: Provide flexible working hours, especially for parents who are home-schooling their children.
Structure: State individual responsibilities and clear expectations from the get-go.
Balance: Ensure that employees get access to the resources they need. Organise knowledge sharing sessions to help them do their tasks efficiently.
Structure: Set priorities for teams and individuals, along with a follow-up plan.
Balance: Track progress without micromanaging.
Structure: Come up with creative social interaction opportunities and set up virtual workspaces.
Balance: Schedule breaks so the casual meetings don't go over time.
Structure: Set 'tickets' for communication channels, tasks, and requests based on priority: Urgent, time-sensitive, medium, and low priority.
Balance: Keep wiggle-room for wrong estimations or planning fails.
As one might expect, leadership capabilities will be tested during these tough times. It's quite natural to feel as though you have the sole responsibility to help your team perform better and show results faster. However, being available 24/7 is not a healthy alternative for you. Along with clear rules, managers should also draw clear boundaries and learn to delegate responsibilities better. That entails collecting and providing access to resources and information, so everyone knows where to find the right data, whom to consult, and how to plan and seek approvals ahead of the deadline. It's a challenging task - to help employees retain a sense of purpose and keep the vision of the company alive - but it's definitely not impossible.