Less than 7% of the US population routinely work from home. For many, home can be the most productive work environment, while in some circles “WFH” is considered a privilege.
Until last month.
Working from home is the current norm for many businesses that can function with dispersed staff. The challenge for many of the CEOs I work with is simple—they’ve never run a remote business, are uncomfortable doing so, and would never have chosen to disperse their teams.
Three concerns have been top of mind—“How do I know my people are effective?”, “How do I maintain our healthy culture?”, and “How do I know the team is collaborating well?”
Moving to WFH is not a point in time, it’s a journey. In that regard, it’s no different from any substantial change initiative.
How does it feel?
If you’re a leader that is new to this mode, you’ve now had a few weeks of experience. Have these weeks left you desperate for everyone to return to the office—or are you intrigued by the new possibilities?
Many CEOs that I talk to have gone from “no way WFH” to “WFH forever” in a few short weeks. Those that have done well during this phase had six things in common:
- Technology: By luck or good judgement, many were well-prepared on the technology front, and others got there within two days. The easiest technical transitions occurred when all staff had laptops and Microsoft 365 was in place. MS Teams has turned out to be the killer app—but many 365 users hadn’t used it until a few weeks ago. Flip a switch and you’ve got a great collaboration tool and can video call colleagues and customers at the push of a button. Zoom has become a verb (every tech marketers dream), and collaboration tools like Basecamp and Asana have been around for years.
- Change management: As with any big change, everyone on your team is going through a disruptive cycle—discomfort, concern, acceptance, adjustment, and mastery. They WILL reach mastery, but you’ll need to cut some slack. Make champions of any seasoned remote workers and fast adopters and ask them to mentor groups who are earlier in the process. Build some change management discussions into your evolving collaboration process …
- Collaboration: This is the point of it all—when your team is collaborating remotely, they are operating at full function. A few tweaks will help them match their office-based performance. Daily team meetings—short and sweet 15-minute scrums—allow everyone to stay in touch and on pace with updates, dependencies and actions. Efficient meeting practice is always valuable, and more so when dispersed. Encourage updates to be provided through email, chat and documents. Folks can call each other up at the push of a button to resolve complex topics live. Regular cadences with robust agendas help meetings stay on point. And all this maximizes focus time to get their work done. These techniques all apply to in-office work—but can actually be easier when remote.
- Protection: Security matters to most businesses. When you move to a remote environment, be aware that your security will need to adapt. Your IT provider can help here with VPNs, AVS and all those other security acronyms. But you must make sure this happens in a way that does not open up security holes. (This is why you should equip all remote workers with company-owned, securely locked down computers—you cannot be sure that personally owned equipment is protected to the standard you require.)
Culture: You do not need to compromise your company’s culture and community in a remote world. In fact, it’s vital that you preserve it. Plan extra-curricular activities over video—a company-wide Monday morning preview of the week, a Friday afternoon 30-minute wind down. Support staff with training and advice about working in this new way—Pomodoro is a great productivity technique; encourage regular physical activity through the day; and be vigilant for signs of stress.
We’ve all adapted to social media in our private lives. All the easier to adapt with our colleagues.
Where will we end up?
WFH as a long-term feature of your business offers some intriguing potential:
- Safe return—in the medium term, WFH allows a progressive return to the office while observing distancing.
- Reduced overheads—work from home programs can reduce your need for office space. Premises with a capacity for, say, 100 desks, can accommodate 150 people if you adopt a 2-day from home program for 60 of your staff.
- Agility—it provides the ability for some or all of your team to function while away from the office. This presents obvious value in the current pandemic, during adverse weather, and during urgent situations.
- Talent acquisition—remote working allows you to hire the best people, wherever they live.
- Less commute time—often as not, your colleagues will use that time for productive activity.
To state the obvious, many in the healthcare, service and manufacturing industries cannot work remotely. In the current situation, the providers of essential services are, heroically, forced to risk their health. But most businesses have administrative, design, and sales functions that CAN be effectively conducted in this way. Doing so helps everyone keep physical distance.
Perhaps most of all, the period of distance-working has forced a new focus on old topics. Better meeting practices, sacred focus time and more frequent customer video-visits are assets that will outlive this crisis. It’s a component of Digital Resilience.
Many leaders have said that WFH will always have a role in their businesses. Don’t be surprised if we never return to those 7% levels.