How would you feel about working from home until the summer of next year?
That idea may fill you with dread if you’ve been longing for a return to the office. Others may have adapted to this new way of working and be pleased that it is set to continue.
Whatever you feel, it does seem that while many companies are slowly returning to the workplace, plenty of others are planning on employees working remotely for some time yet.
Google has said it will keep employees at home until July next year. Twitter has said that those workers who want to continue to work from home can continue to do so “forever”.
Facebook has previously said that it expects around half of its employees to work from home for the next five to ten years.
And it is not just the tech companies who are making these decisions.
I know of at least one organisation close to our media training studios that has told its teams they will not be returning to the office - ever.
When we went into lockdown and the world embarked on the biggest working from home experiment, it was generally perceived it would be a short-term measure. Plans were quickly put in place and we all muddled through – at least for the first few weeks.
But now that it is a long-term, even indefinite option for some, what communication challenges does this present?
How do you communicate effectively with a workforce that will be working remotely long-term?
Visible virtual leadership
There continues to be a lot of uncertainties at the moment.
The news is not only dominated by the spread of the virus, but also its economic impact, particularly reports of businesses struggling, job losses and closures.
And this means it has never been more important for leaders to be visible, particularly to those working remotely.
There are a few ways to do this.
Leaders hosting regular live Q&As is one approach we would recommend.
Another is for them to drop in on some of the more informal online team meetings and simply say ‘hello’, show their face, and see how everyone is getting on. It’s amazing how reassuring that can be.
Another great tactic is to embrace the video message.
This not only makes leaders visible but it enables people to watch and listen to what they are saying at a time that is convenient for them, away from other home distractions.
And video doesn’t need to be expensive. You just need a smartphone and a bit of know-how.
One of our most popular online courses shows you how to make and edit more professional, compelling and effective short videos on your mobile.
And we can deliver bespoke one-to-one or group remote training that will help your leaders feel more comfortable appearing on video and able to better communicate in this medium with confidence and clarity.
Let’s face it, we could all do with hearing some good news at the moment.
Starting online meetings with some positive news is a good way to help get the energy levels up on the call, get over that ‘Zoom fatigue’ and help remote workers feel focused, motivated and energetic.
It could be positive news about the organisation or celebrating individual successes. You could even encourage your teams to come to the meeting with something positive to report – you never know, it could help identify a story that could result in positive media coverage.
Marking birthdays and work anniversaries can also help to start meetings positively.
Don’t skip the weekly online meetings
Many organisations relied on weekly team meetings to stay in touch during the early months of the lockdown.
And they proved to be a great way of removing the feelings of loneliness many felt when suddenly having to work from home.
It can be tempting to skip these meetings now work is building up and maybe returning to something closer to normal levels, or if you have a workforce where some are in the office and others are working remotely.
Holiday season might seem like another good reason to postpone them.
But these meetings are crucial to many remote workers as they help with feelings of being disconnected, isolated and maintain team spirit.
Take the office culture home
One of the things remote workers tend to miss is those fairly innocuous conversations.
Much of what we say in the office isn’t actually about work.
Things like the watercooler chats, the discussions on the latest football match or the gossip about the TV show we are all watching are taken for granted when we are all in the office.
But these conversations, where people connect as people, are a crucial part of building bonds and developing that important sense of camaraderie.
So, it is important organisations find and develop ways that workers can interact on a personal level when they can’t be together.
Consider options like short daily catch-up meetings, team Whatsapp groups, weekly ‘happy hour’ meetings, virtual coffee chats, quizzes, or even some of the many remote team building activities you can find online.
Getting the amount of online meeting time right is tricky.
As we have already highlighted, employees can feel lonely and unfocused if they don’t have enough face time interaction.
But too much can also cause problems and leave staff feeling overwhelmed and get in the way of them doing their job.
It is important to track how much work time is being taken up by meetings and assess whether this is having an impact on performance.
We would also advise setting a time limit for meetings and making sure people stick to them.
This helps employees plan their working day and sets expectations on how much of it will be spent in virtual meetings.
‘Another meeting that could have been an email’
This follows on nicely from the point about overcompensating with online meetings.
We’ve probably all said these words at some point when we’ve been left bemused by a face-to-face meeting in the office.
As frustrating as that can be, it is even more annoying when you are working from home and have to take part through video conferencing software. There are enough distractions working from home without having to attend unnecessary meetings.
Organisations need to think even more carefully about the communication methods they use and, in particular, whether they need to call a meeting.
For example, if the objective is to simply pass down straight forward information, then an email is probably the best option.
Again, as we mentioned earlier, videos are another great option leaders can use to communicate with their teams and offer an alternative to getting everyone to dial into a meeting at the same time.
Working remotely has presented many challenges over the past few months.
One of the key ones in the early months of lockdown was the need to balance childcare and home-schooling with work.
Others have battled with IT issues, poor connections, loneliness and distractions.
And no doubt other issues will materialise for those who will continue to work away from the office for the foreseeable future.
A good way to deal with this is to find a way for your teams to share their experiences, frustrations, stories and anecdotes, such as through a regular blog. It’s always reassuring to find that others are feeling the same way and experiencing the same things.
And if you can involve your senior leaders in this work, it could help them to show their human side.
Back in March, the shift to remote working was sudden without much time for planning.
Bedrooms and kitchen tables became our offices almost overnight.
If it now seems likely that your teams will continue to work from home for months or even years, it is time to assess what has worked well and what could be done better.
Involve your remote workers in this process. Do they want more or less video conference meetings? Would they like to receive fewer emails? Maybe they would be keen to see more videos?
It could also be the case that they like the quantity of team meeting but would like more one-to-one time with their line manager.
Once you have a clear picture of what needs improving and what has proved successful, you can adapt and tailor your approach.
And you can change it again in future as the coronavirus situation changes.
Get in touch with your account manager to find out more about how we can help you with your internal and external communications challenges. Our bespoke, training by videoconference can help you make the most of online technology, whatever your experience level, ensuring you get your personal branding right and that you continue to communicate with confidence and clarity – wherever you are.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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