Even before something measured in nanometers pushed us out of our work spaces and into our homes, remote working environments were on the rise. Regular work from home has grown 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce and nearly 47x faster than the self-employed population (Global Workplace Analytics). There is plenty of data showing that many people want to work from home, and are even willing to exchange some salary to do it. But now that we’ve been forced to turn our homes into our offices, our kitchens into coffee shops, many of us are struggling to work from home. Companies that will thrive, brands that will survive, will do so because of their ability to make people feel connected even when they are apart.
Remote work has some major perks for employers. Aside from making employees feel heard and providing an option for happiness, employers benefit monetarily — from increased productivity to lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism to employee retention. And now there is the added benefit of being prepared for an unpredictable global pandemic.
Silver linings aside, this is a difficult time. One of the most essential things you can do right now is to make the transition from office to home easier on your employees. Here are a few ways you can stay connected to remote employees while you all work from home.
Work From Home Techniques to Stay Connected
Everyone’s gone all Brene Brown, and there’s good reason for it. Leaders who are vulnerable with their team create environments for growth and learning. Being vulnerable transforms people into better leaders (when done appropriately… we all have examples of someone who is too vulnerable…). Brown describes vulnerability and authenticity as lying at the root of human connection, and human connection is what we are so desperately lacking right now. Good leaders share their true emotions, take ownership over projects, and ask for help. Those calls for help are heeded when employees feel like part of a greater cause. People trust leaders who are authentic, and trust in a leader improves employee performance.
Schedule Daily Meetings
Seeing small faces in a computer, voices stuttery with the lag of in-ter-net is not the same as sharing a physical space. Of course it isn’t. But, beggars can’t be choosers, and thanks to covid, we are beggars. Schedule a daily meeting with your team. Allow a little time to chat personal items, and update each other on work projects. The goal of this meeting is to remind everyone they are part of something. A few minutes of human connection will help employees feel closer throughout the entire day, and will even help them with other tasks, like email productivity. One way to implement this is through stand-up meetings. Though daily stand-up meetings have roots in tech, many companies are adopting the practice. As you could likely guess from the name, a stand-up is traditionally held while standing. The goal is to go over important tasks that have been finished, are in progress, or are about to be started (Kanbanize).
Acknowledge the Positives
Some of your employees are struggling with this new work-from-home routine, and some of them are loving it. Most of us fall somewhere in between that spectrum of extremes. Wherever someone is, a daily dose of gratitude can help alleviate anxiety. “At a neurobiological level, gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our anxiety responses, and at the psychological level, it conditions the brain to filter the negative ruminations and focus on the positive thoughts” (Positive Psychology). Feelings of gratitude are linked to all kinds of benefits, like more positive emotions, less stress and fewer health complaints, a greater sense that we can achieve our goals, fewer sick days, and higher satisfaction with our jobs and our coworkers. This can show up as a gratitude roundtable at a meeting, asking everyone to share something they are grateful for, or an automated prompt in Slack, asking people the three things they are most grateful for right now.
What might be most alarming about “these unprecedented times,” is that some of us feel fine (of course many people are not fine. Losing jobs and loved ones and lives, living with violence, being put back into the closet, pushed into a deeper bout of depression, etc. Not fine at all.). If you’re still working, you’re one of the lucky ones, we all know that. A record 20.5 million American jobs lost in April, and the unemployment rate sits at an ugly 14.7% (CNN Business). Even though you and your employees might be lucky, this experience can still be incredibly difficult. Your employees might need to vent, to you or to each other, about their struggles. Let them do this, though try to find the line between venting and obsessing. It’s not helpful to bring up how many other people have it worse, or compare their situation to someone else’s. Just listen and acknowledge that what they are going through is difficult.
Share Coping Mechanisms
Along the lines of acknowledging hardships, share what works for getting through tough patches. Everyone has different ways of reviving their inner light, and sharing these ideas can have major benefits. Sanjay might feel elevated from finishing every morsel of laundry while Maria prefers a Netflix binge, Jordyn gets takeout while Natalya cooks elaborate meals. Having a place to share anxiety and coping mechanisms can be hugely beneficial. Though your team might only find one idea in ten useful, this could become an essential tool in their toolkit. And while covid can’t go on forever (right?!), there will always be events that raise stress and anxiety. Finding creative outlets can be a huge help. Help your employees build their toolkit.
Schedule core hours where employees are expected to be available, and make those expectations clear. Buuuuut, be as gracious as you can. Some parents are working while teaching, cramming in hours of work during a 90-minute nap, then moonlighting after bedtime. Some of your employees are delivering meals to elderly parents and immuno-compromised friends. Extraverts are being hit by a lack of social recharging and introverts are struggling to be heard. Most people are hurting in some way, so be gracious and allow flexibility wherever possible. Flexibility is one of the highest ranked benefits by Millennials, even higher than student loan or tuition reimbursement. It ranked high for Boomers too although the percentages were 15-20 points lower (State of the American Workforce, Gallup).
Introduce a Journaling Practice
Writing is wrongfully seen as belonging to certain people and not to others. You don’t need to be Hemmingway to experience benefits from a writing practice, and you don’t need a publish-worthy product to reap the benefits of the process. In one study, participants were asked to write about emotional events for 15–20 minutes on 3–5 occasions. Those who did, experienced significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who did not (Cambridge BJPsych). Try a bi-weekly email or Slack message with a journaling prompt. You can make room for employees to share their writing, but recognize that this is an intimate process and people might not be comfortable sharing.
Create Connection While We’re Apart
Things were different before this remarkable smallness drove us inside. Before a bat caused indigestion and everyone learned about wet markets. And though there are calls for a return to normalcy, our world will never be the same. People that were told their job couldn’t be done remotely are doing their jobs remotely. Quite possibly, this new standard is here to stay. We need to find new ways to make this standard work for us, and remain connected while we’re physically apart. We need to provide meaning in work without the physical interactions and distractions we’re accustomed to. One of the most meaningful parts of a manager’s job is making other people’s jobs more meaningful.
We’re learning that the world will go on without us. Whenever this ends, people will have learned new ways of grieving and celebrating, being together and being apart. Some will be afraid to take each others’ hands and others won’t be able to let go.
Companies that will thrive, brands that will survive, will do so because of their ability to make people feel connected even when they are apart. This skill will extend to your customers. Can you make people outside of your walls feel like they are part of your brand?