With more companies choosing remote working or at a minimum following a hybrid model than ever seen before, we are navigating uncharted waters en masse. Trying to understand what works and how to work in this new space, whilst considering the realities of juggling and prioritising personal lives and wellbeing.
One of the more tricky and also most important parts of working remotely effectively is the ability to build good relationships professionally and personally — both inside and outside of your team.
But how on earth do you do that when you no longer have the opportunity to quickly speak to Ade across the desk about a message you just received, or share your own experiences or advice on a particular client after overhearing Lucy have a dicy conversation over zoom. You’re not able to ask Piotr if he’d like to pop out for a coffee, to get some fresh air, and catch up on his latest dating escapades. You won’t see Marie sit back at her desk and stare at her screen, red-eyed and looking defeated after receiving a personal call. We’re simply not able to interact and be there for each other the way we used to and the reality is, though working from home is more convenient, the increased separation can make easing into a new role or just doing your job — a little harder.
So how do we tackle this? How do we learn to work remotely, more effectively? I have 6 tips I personally feel are crucial to remote work working!
Before we get started, I’d like to address company culture. It’s very important to understand the culture of your business and the culture of your team — both in their current states and ideal states. How do you work, communicate and interact today? What is working well? What could be better or scrapped? How can best practices be embedded in an organic way? Understand the needs of your team in order to put in place solutions that keep them connected and empowered.
Let’s get on with these tips, shall we? First up, we up we have…
Communication is one of the toughest pieces of this puzzle. Under-communicating is dangerous and can increase the feeling of insecurity, over-communicating can become exhausting, take a mental toll and quickly lose its value. Decide how best to share information within the team. Consider how team members currently communicate and ask what works best for them.
Communication goes two-ways. Managers should continuously remind the team they are there to support them and should not hesitate to reach out if they get stuck. Obviously, you don’t want the person to become reliant on you, but they should be able to approach you for anything. Don’t assume they know — you have to continuously remind your team and create opportunities that make this easy to happen. This could be daily digital coffee catch-ups or bi-weekly walking one-to-ones where the focus is the person rather than their role.
Regardless of your role, you should be proactively reaching out to your team members to check-in. Don’t make a habit of only doing so when something is wrong or when you need something, this will likely create more anxiety for the team member because they will always link your initiation of communication as a work task and an expectation of them. This style of communication dismisses the human need to be recognised as more than a worker.
This one is for managers. In order for people to manage their time in a productive way, independently and effectively, they need to be told what is expected of them. These expectations need to be a tangible goals where output is clear and can be measured, and there is a deadline.
Encourage the team member to share their opinion of the goals. Are the goals achievable in the time period suggested? What is currently on the team member’s plate? Do they have capacity? What support do they need? Is anything missing? What are we not considering? This then means the goals are mutually agreed in a realistic way, making the agreement a partnership rather than an act of handing down instructions.
Once goals have been agreed, give team members the time and space to own and do their work. This is where having deadlines come in. If the project spans over months, then agree check-in points. This way, the team member is clear on what they need to do, by when and will feel they have autonomy and room to do their work.
If your manager has not given you goals or objectives, you should be arranging a meeting with them asap. Discuss your objectives, agree deadlines and a review date. This way, you’re both held accountable through the commitment to review, and there are no misunderstandings around expected results.
The topic of meetings naturally follows on from the topic of communication. Increasing meetings does not increase the effectiveness of communication. Ensure meetings have a real purpose, where action is required in preparation for the meeting, there are clear owners and next steps are always agreed after the meeting and followed up.
Try to have regular points in time when you have your meetings. If the majority of your meetings are ad-hoc, this is chaotic for everyone. Bring some order by bringing in some predictability, clarifying purpose and setting expectations.
Do not overload your team with meetings. Do not use meetings to micro-manage, especially experienced professionals. When you have communicated clearly what is expected, give them space and time to get sh*t done. Don’t follow up with a meeting the same day or the next day, unless they request it. Your colleagues are adults, treat them as such.
Lastly, continuously ask yourself of the validity of your meetings. Particularly the ones that take up the time of your team members on a regular basis. Here are some potential qualifying questions:
- Does this topic require a meeting? Why?
- Could this information be shared in a more effective way?
- Are we having this meeting to compensate for something that is lacking? A system, a process, a person, a company value, an aspect of company culture?
You may start off genuinely needing a meeting, and as time goes on the need for the meeting dissipates. There’s nothing wrong with scrapping these meetings entirely. People will be grateful for it.
“Waste time” connecting
Because many of us are working from home the majority of the time — if not all, we are missing the critical little moments and opportunities to connect and build real bonds with people.
Try to start meetings on a personal note. This can be a little awkward at first (I’m very awkward deep down and quite a private person so this can be very difficult for me), but just try. With practice, it’ll become easier. It’s also comforting to know the person on the other side also wants to find a way to connect with you.
When new starters join, make the point to reach out and say hello to welcome them. If someone says something interesting or you agree drop them a message. When you get the opportunity to meet, make the effort to speak to people you normally wouldn’t interact with on a day-to-day basis. Find out what they do, what attracted them to the company, what they like to do in their personal time.
In this time of remote working, on-site interactions are undervalued. I have personally seen that the decrease in on-site interaction correlates with a decrease in connection and I truly believe connection is key to individuals working well together and being able to work through inevitable challenging times or conversations. I don’t believe this means we need to be in the office everyday. Living a fulfilled life outside work brings a much-needed balance to how we approach work. When the balance is right, the results are phenomenal. We should see physical meet-ups as a part of this game of balance as well as a way to increase and deepen connection, so where possible, meet up. This doesn’t need to be in an office space. You can meet at a coffee shop, for lunch, in the pub, on a walk… it really doesn’t matter. The more we have these interactions and opportunity to have quality conversations, the more we understand each other and can better cope with those inevitable bad days.
Have a Heart
Regardless of whether you are interacting with people inside or outside your team, remember our personal lives are much closer to work lives than we’ve ever seen before. For many, being able to work from home has been a blessing, enabling people to better balance their time. Others’ eyes have opened to the fact that they are more than their job. They are paying more attention to their personal lives and they are learning how to balance the two in ways that simply weren’t possible in the past.
The flip side of this is, there is often a lot going on personally and/or at home that people, no matter how comfortable they are with you, may never share. Bear this in mind when going into any conversation. This doesn’t mean you avoid having hard conversations, they are needed, but rather than being accusatory, try to understand what has taken place and what can be done to ensure things are better the next time.
People will have bad days, weeks or even a series of bad months. Be encouraging and supportive so when it’s your turn to have a bad day, week or months, they can hopefully do the same for you.