In the pre-COVID world, no one could have predicted the events that would happen over the coming months. Even today, when many businesses have had time to adapt to those events, we’re still struggling to plan for the future. Which changes will go away? Which are here to stay?
If there’s one major disruption that’ll last, it could be this: remote work. According to a study from PWC, more than 80% of Canadian employees worked primarily from an external workplace before the pandemic. Last year, businesses that hadn’t adopted remote work practices were forced to embrace it fully – and quickly. By mid-2020, 59% of employees reported logging in from outside the office.
Four in five employees from that study say they want to continue working remotely in the future. Who can blame them, considering the hours they save without a commute and the freedom to work when, where and how they like? In manufacturing, 35% even report they feel more productive working remotely. Employers win, too. Not only do they save money by lowering administrative and infrastructure costs, but they also benefit from the flexibility to hire talent anywhere in the world.
Of course, remote work isn’t without its challenges. Most notably, employees say they struggle with collaboration, communication, motivation and loneliness. But if it’s here to stay, what can you, as a leader, take from your learning over the last year to mitigate those issues, align your teams and continue achieving your business goals today and into the future – whatever that future may bring?
Embracing the ‘new future’
Before the pandemic, SYSPRO had a strong infrastructure in place to facilitate remote work. But even with that infrastructure, paired with our employees’ can-do attitude, we still needed to adapt to a new reality. What worked – and what did we learn for the future? I’d like to share a few tips that can help you align your team while meeting your business goals:
Set clear goals, communicate them consistently and create meaningful context
Successfully achieving business goals is a team effort – it takes everyone working together like a well-oiled machine. But what, exactly, are those goals? As a leader you need to enroll your team in setting those business objectives and help them clearly define what the team needs to accomplish in a given timeframe, prescribe the tools to be used to get there and explain how results will be measured.
At the same time, you also need to create context for your team – why you are choosing those objectives over something else? By clearly defining your company’s “why” and connecting your activities from the smallest daily routines to the big organizational picture, your people know what they’re working toward and how their contribution matters. They feel more connected as a team and perform better.
Also, it’s not enough to simply set goals. Communicating them, and repeating them consistently ingrains them in the minds of your employees.
Set clear processes and expectations
Once you have your goals in place, it’s time to put a formal framework around them. What tasks need to be performed each day? How will you track work? How will you measure progress?
Addressing and documenting the answers will help your team focus on the desired outcome and align their efforts in the same direction. Plus, it formalizes what they can expect from you, each other and themselves.
Documenting isn’t a one-person job, though. Getting everyone on the team to contribute will help them understand how their work fits in with the whole, buy into your processes and take ownership for their part.
Empower your team to be accountable
Accountability is all about owning those responsibilities and making sure they’re met – and every person on your team needs to be involved, especially when there’s less in-person oversight than they’re used to.
To keep everyone on your team accountable to each other and your progress, consider:
- Setting commitments to reach specific goals by a specific time
- Agreeing to hold each other accountable for hitting those goals
- Encouraging individuals to set their own daily priorities and work together to define team-wide priorities
- Actively sharing progress with each other to foster trust among your team
- Trusting your team to come up with their own ways to meet deadlines
Facilitate social connections
Moving away from in-person work doesn’t mean the loss of social interaction. In fact, it’s more important than ever to bridge the gap between employees to strengthen collaboration, trust and togetherness. It just takes a bit of intentionality to carve out the time.
Social time could be as simple as regular, informal virtual coffee meetings, a buddy system that pairs coworkers up for support or dedicated space in your team chat for non-work-related conversations. At SYSPRO, we schedule weekly virtual happy hours where coworkers play games, discuss our outside-of-work interests and share stories from our personal lives with each other. We’ve found it goes a long way in establishing trust and camaraderie.
A culture of transparency is a culture that embraces openness, honesty and visibility. It hinges on the belief that employees should have access to all the information they need to do their jobs effectively.
As a leader, you can start by explaining the rationale behind your decisions and how they connect to your bigger organizational goals. Where possible, ask your team to participate. At SYSPRO, we have been having monthly regional townhalls in Canada and the format was fairly number heavy where we talked about how we are doing against the targets we had set for ourselves. We decided to ask our employees how they liked the format and what else they would like to see more of. We invested the time to get everyone’s feedback and, based on the results, we changed the format of our townhalls to reflect what we heard.
We found that involving everyone in decision-making not only opens up our processes but improves ownership over the results.
Cultivate personal connections
Video conferencing has opened up a new window into the lives of our coworkers that, until now, we’ve never had access to. With work taking place in the home, we have an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level than ever before – that little glimpse into each other’s lives when we see inside home offices, hear background noises, etc. – bringing us closer to each other despite the distance.
That kind of connection helps our coworkers become something more than text on a screen. It humanizes us and helps us come together as peers who stand up for each other’s success in the long run.
Encourage time away from work
I have observed that the sheer number of hours people are putting in at work has risen rapidly as people save up on all the commute time to and from work. No longer do we have the liberty to be ‘off work’ in the ‘always online’ work environment and so many leaders are already discussing ways to really unplug and recharge.
One great way I feel can help is to really encourage your team to take their vacations and find ways to devote that time for self care. With travel restrictions still persisting in many parts of the world, consciously devoting time to relax and unwind goes a long way in rejuvenating spirits.
“Together we succeed”
Yes, there’s physical distance between our teams. But that doesn’t have to spell disaster for team connection, motivation or productivity. It doesn’t mean we must put our business goals on pause until we return to in-person work.
I’ve seen this first-hand. At SYSPRO, we unite under the rallying cry of “Together we succeed,” a pledge we chose as a team to keep our collaborative spirit going and a promise to contribute to each other’s success. It’s something we repeat in our team presentations and on swag we share with our employees. We align with it and live it fully every day.
In the ‘new future’ we need to embrace the realities of being apart, together – including all the good and bad that comes with it – nurture the spirit of collaboration, align on our goals and plan for a future where remote teams are the norm, not the exception. Starting today.