How to modernize your workforce to maintain business productivity virtually
Concerns about remote worker productivity have long prevented and slowed down the expansion of work-from-home practices for many businesses. So, while the concept of remote work has been around for a very long time, it took the coronavirus pandemic to force the hands of many reluctant organizations to finally take the plunge.
Modernizing your workforce to be able to remain productive encompasses many facets of work, from technology infrastructure to management practices. Keep reading to get tips on how to help maintain the productivity of your team during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Characteristics of Effective Virtual Teams
While managers may worry about the productivity of individual team members, a better place to start from is by understanding what makes for an effective and productive virtual team. If a strong virtual team culture is created and cultivated, your task of ensuring the productivity of individual team members will be much easier.
The characteristics of strong virtual teams are not very different than those of other high-performing teams. The difference is in the practices that need to occur in order to foster them. The key characteristics are:
The Harvard Business Review reported on research that looked at how people are coping with their new remote work realities. About 40% of the supervisors and manager that participated in the study reported doubts about their abilities to effectively manage remote workers. Approximately the same percentage doubted the abilities of their teams to effectively work in remote conditions.
Unfortunately, these negative attitudes and concerns do not remain isolated to managers. It is easy to see how these concerns can lead to increased monitoring and surveillance techniques that employees can perceive as micromanaging. When individuals feel they are being micromanaged, they can sense their managers distrust of their behaviors. And distrust, breeds distrust. Managers often complain that employees don’t trust them or the decisions being made by company leadership. But if managers don’t extend trust to employees, it is hard to make the case that trust should flow in the other direction.
Ensuring that everyone has a common understanding of what is expected of them is a key first step to creating a trusting environment. Honesty, openness, and flexibility also contribute to an organization’s ability to foster trust as a team value.
Getting the right level of engagement to ensure connection without making employees feel like they are constantly under surveillance is key to creating high-functioning virtual teams. Employees do want their managers to be paying attention to what they are doing and providing recognition for their contributions. It is also important for managers to be available to provide employees with support for both professional and personal matters during this difficult time. Developing ways to demonstrate attention without being overbearing are vital to managing remote employees. Regular check-ins and simple reporting and tracking tools can foster the right kind of attentiveness to ensure productivity and engagement.
Strong virtual teams communicate openly, honestly, and frequently. Humans are social creatures, and most people are happiest when they have at least six hours of interaction with other people. When teams conducted business in offices, the opportunity to have casual interactions was simpler and more organic. One benefit of these unstructured interactions is their ability to help bond people to one another, which can make dealing with challenges and conflict simpler. It is important to devise ways to make these kinds of communication and connection happen, even though teams are no longer physically together.
Improving Remote Worker Productivity
Since strong virtual teams share these characteristics, what can you do to help put them in place for your team and help drive productivity with your team working from home?
Provide the right tech tools.
Technology has made the current work-from-home world possible. But equipping your team with laptops and relying on email and traditional phone calls is not enough. Employees need a suite of capabilities that support smooth interactions on multiple fronts.
At a minimum, virtual teams should have tools for each of the following:
- File sharing and collaboration (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box)
- Online meeting (Microsoft Office Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting)
- Real-time communication (Slack, Microsoft Office Teams, Flock)
Companies should also consider evaluating and recommending other productivity apps, such as task management tools (Asana, Jira, Monday, Trello) and distraction blocking tools (FocusME, LeechBlock). These tools are the infrastructure needed to help foster effective communication and human connection.
The unsettled nature of our current environment makes goal clarification more important than ever. Management teams should review and clarify what the organizational objectives are for the quarter and the year. These in turn should be shared with the full team and individual goals should be reviewed and modified if needed to support the broader organizational mission.
While many organizations may have an annual review processes in place, the volatile nature of this year, combined with the reduction of in-person interaction should make management reevaluate this timing. Consider conducting monthly conversations so that employees know how they are performing and adjustments can be made if they are needed to keep everyone on track to success.
Manage to results, not process
The traditional work structure of arriving to work at 8:00 and working undisturbed until the end of the day is very comfortable and familiar. Unfortunately, this approach is likely not going to work for your distributed team. One of the benefits of virtual work is that it allows your team members to balance their work and home lives, something that is still very difficult for many families with young children.
When working with individuals in remote locations, it is counterproductive to spend time monitoring their activities from moment to moment. This kind of surveillance also signals distrust to employees, who then internalize these concerns, and end up with elevated stress levels.
Instead, institute tracking and monitoring of discrete goals. Each week, lay out what should be accomplished and by when. Have daily check-ins to see how things are progressing and to offer support if it is needed. Remember that what really matters is that tasks are completed on time, and that giving workers autonomy for the particulars of how that happens demonstrates your trust and appreciation for their efforts.
Support human interaction
Remote work can lead to loneliness. So, contact your team regularly. Daily check-ins by phone or video will allow you to stay connected with your team. This can help you to identify when someone may be struggling with either work or personal matters.
Also encourage your team to use group messaging channels or video conferencing to chat with one another on non-work issues in addition to doing the work of conducting business. These small social moments can help refresh and reinvigorate people, allowing them to be more productive when they turn back to work tasks.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is still going to be with us for a while. To help move our businesses forward we need to continue to look for opportunities to learn new approaches and retool our processes to get the most from our teams and organizations. At Gift CPAs, we are here to help our clients manage through these difficult times. Check out our COVID-19 Resources page to get updates and advice for your business.