Welcome to the new business reality: managing a remote workforce

No one knows with certainty what the future of business will look like, but one thing is fairly certain — it will never go back to what we have known in our professional lives.

We are already living our new reality — or something closer to it than what we knew six months ago. The pandemic has reshaped our world, changing the way we live, and the way we work indelibly.

The Remote-First Hiring Model

When COVID-19 reshaped “business-as-usual” business leaders relied on their employees — asking them to adapt instantly, change workstyles, carve out a functional workspace in their homes, use Zoom calls and collaborative platforms like Slack to communicate, and keep the march of productivity moving forward with virtually no ability to plan long term, all without missing a beat.

Employees delivered, keeping businesses in a number of industries afloat almost without interruption.  Extraordinary stuff.

Businesses like Webprofits saw a steep increase in productivity. Our business and those around us had a feeling of collaboration, with everyone banding together to retain the culture we believe so strongly in as well as to keep growing and innovating for our clients.  And now  there is no going back — having asked people to make this transition and work from home partially or entirely, business leaders can not expect employees to come back to the office and work a tidy 9-to-5 schedule as they may have previously.

Adapting Team Culture for Future Success

While often earned, business leaders can’t afford to spend too long congratulating themselves on having made the initial transition — the real economic storm is approaching as the financial impact of the last few months truly takes effect.

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Future success belongs to the companies that are best able to reinvent the remote worker paradigm. Here are a few tips on how to begin:

  1. Bring Back the Gaps – There are natural pauses in our day — from the commute to and from work, to the short gaps chatting in and out of meetings, which make it easier to reset and focus. For a newly remote workforce, these pauses are suddenly gone and they need to come back in some form. At Webprofits we’ve simply begun scheduling them in, mainly by dialing back meeting lengths. One-hour meetings turn into 45 minute sessions so we can create the same buffers employees are used to. We also break up all-day strategy meetings into smaller bite-size chunks which ultimately are just as productive.
  2. Respect the Increased Workload  — Most business leaders moved away from the old fashioned view that a remote employee might not be as accountable as an in-office employee. In fact, the challenge seems to be in keeping team members from burning themselves out by working all the time, devoting what used to be lunch and commuter time into added working hours.It’s important to reinforce with team members that we are in this for the long haul and we need them to remain as productive as possible while maintaining the balance required for their own mental health and wellbeing. It benefits no one if working until midnight becomes the status quo.
  3. Beware of Zoom Anxiety – Experts have shown that video conferencing is simply more stressful for many people than in-person meetings. Because of the way the platform often leaves the speaker enlarged on the screen with everyone watching, people are more likely to feel like they are on show,  which the majority find nerve wracking. There is also a greater pressure to engage because even a one or two second delay in responding can be amplified by any latency in the connection and make attendees  seem unfriendly or unengaged. One-on-one video conferencing doesn’t have the same kinds of challenges, so it’s good to stagger group calls and to try and work in smaller groups when possible. If you’ve ever been on a single conference call with over 20 people, you know how much more like a performance than a conversation that can be.
  4. Commit to Corporate Culture  — Great work comes from highly connected people who know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and hopefully come to enjoy each other’s time. We instituted regular “buddy checks” for non-work related chat and virtual lunch groups (and Friday happy hour) as a way to share some time and socialise.

As a lifetime learner, I believe we must always keep growing in both business and in our personal pursuits. That means embracing change and letting it enrich your perspective.

I can’t say with any certainty what a year from now may bring, but I expect we can all keep growing through all of this. Businesses and whole industries will have to change, or even completely transform, but I believe we will ultimately come out of this stronger as long as we keep responding to the changing needs of our team and our clients.

By Paul Sprokkreeff, managing director, Webprofits

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