- Remote work is here to stay, at least in some capacity
- Building and maintaining connections is critical to making remote work effective and sustainable
- Creating connections and battling digital fatigue among teams will be an important managerial skill for the foreseeable future
The last few weeks have seen a massive shift from office-based to home-based work. Of course, this has been driven by extraordinary circumstances, but the fact is, by many reports, remote work is proving an overall success. A recent Forbes article shows with the massive availability of remote technology, high levels of productivity are possible – despite our changed world, the work is getting done. Add to this that remote work provides benefits to both employees and employers (for example, more flexible work schedules and eliminated commute times, as well as reduced costs associated with providing physical workspaces), and it seem reasonable to assume that remote work – at least to some degree – is here to stay, and companies and managers need to be proactive about keeping teams engaged in the remote world.
It is a paradox – as we have become hyper-connected in digital terms, it takes more effort and intentionality to ensure human connection. What are some of the challenges?
- It can be tough to understand what connection really is: just because a manager phones their employees once a week does not necessarily mean they are truly deepening relationships or connecting on a human level.
- Digital connections can be effective but also fatiguing. The threat of burnout is real.
- In person connections are ultimately irreplaceable for building trust and true relationship.
To create real connection and combat digital fatigue, managers need to:
- Be intentional in connecting with employees. Simply saying “How are you” at the beginning of a work phone call is not connection. See your employees as individuals for whom work is one part of life. Take an (appropriate level of) interest in their personal lives and allow time and space to really listen when they talk.
- Create opportunities for your team to connect as individuals. Offsites, team lunches and other social activities give people a chance to connect on a human level. These can be done virtually (side benefit: you can use virtual socializing to connect teams from different geographies that may never have had the chance in the past), but when circumstances allow, there is no replacement for face to face communication.
- Create policies that balance the tendency for tech to take over people’s lives. Set the expectation that employees are not required to immediately respond to every email, text or notification they receive, and if necessary, establish appropriate service levels to clarify the parameters (e.g. an hour for a text, by end of day for email, or whatever is appropriate to your business).
- Reinforce the value of periods of deep work, where distractions are minimized. This not only works against digital fatigue, but it can improve the quality of work performed.
- Respect office hours. Employees (and you) are entitled to a private life that is not inundated with work interruptions. Recognize that it is just as appropriate for someone to turn off their work phone or laptop as it is for them to leave a physical office at the end of a workday.
- Define expectations and create policies around remote work. What are the expectations in terms of work schedules? How will accountability be established, and productivity measured when you can’t see what employees are doing? By documenting the answer to some of these questions, you can prevent confusion, misunderstanding and unnecessary stress or conflict over what’s appropriate remote work behaviour.
When employees feel respected and connected, their engagement increases. When expectations are clear, reasonable, and well-defined, employees have an opportunity to meet and exceed them. This is as true (perhaps more so) in a remote environment, where traditional means of connection are limited or (as in the current moment) unavailable.
Focus on connecting with your team and enable them to connect with each other, and you will build a solid foundation for navigating the remote work world for the long-term.