For a long time, workplaces had been resistant to the idea of remote working, given the fact that monitoring and guiding workforce might be a difficult proposition in such a work environment. However, Covid-19 has mainstreamed, even institutionalised the practice of ‘work from home’ in corporate culture.
Away from the office environment where the leadership and employees perform their tasks under the same roof governed by well-established rules, guidelines and protocols, remote work is fraught with intrinsic challenges. As such, the absence of a supervisor or a senior overseeing an employee’s work in a work-from-home environment raises issues of productivity and accountability which are otherwise taken care of in a regular office environment.
Now, that remote working is the new normal, it is important to evolve methodologies and benchmarks against which productivity and accountability are ensured. This assumes that the foundational remote work infrastructure is already in place with secured virtual collaboration tools and platforms, group chat apps along with distribution of digital devices among employees.
How should managers ensure that the teams they are leading and working remotely will remain utmost productive in their output while being accountable at the same time? Here is how it can be done:
Maintaining Continuous Communication With Team
Given the physical distance, unless managers are open to periodic conversations with their teams and issue timely instructions, a miscommunication or a breakdown in communication could cost the company considerably. Lack of effective coordination may cause communication gaps and may imperil accountability of the team. Not just managers, even team members must communicate effectively with each other to ensure they are working in the same direction.
In fact, every day before the start of work, a manager should connect with his team, either collectively or in batches, on a video platform, check their well-being while setting tentative yet clear-cut goals for the day. Sometimes a typical ‘bad day at the office’ for an employee may not be visible as opposed to what was the case in a normal office environment. As a result, bad performance or less-than-professional conduct on a certain day is liable to be misread and generalised. This makes it imperative that the manager keeps the channels of communication with his team open at all times.
Clarity Of Purpose Builds Team Confidence
Second, when assigning tasks and setting deadlines for deliverables, the manager should also spell out the rationale behind a certain task, the scope of the task and the deadline for its completion. In a virtual world, a more detailed communication is always better than an economised conversation. If the team members are explained how a certain assignment is aligned with short-term and long-term objectives of the company, the manager also gains their confidence thereby raising employee morale as well as productivity.
Laying Down Rules Of Engagement Ensures Disciplined Productivity
While keeping the lines of communication open, it is also crucial for mangers to allocate certain tentative and flexible timings for team members to contact them based on the formers’ own workflows and demands. This not only ensures discipline but also helps manage the expectations of their team members.
Treating Outcomes Is More Important Than Processes And Activities
Instead of rigidly setting deadlines for micro/smaller targets in a project, managers should allow flexibility with a view to ensure that the timeline for the over-all broader project is adhered to. The steps and processes that went into a team member’s efforts should not matter much, as long as the quality and the timeliness of the final output have been maintained. Also, inflexible work timings should also not be imposed on a team member and she should be allowed to work at her own hours of convenience so long as she meets the final deadline.
Ensuring A Wider Range Of Technology/Communication Platforms
A manager should also be ready to recognise a team member’s weaknesses or lack of aptitude for certain technology platforms. A member may be more comfortable with one particular communication platform as against the others. This is particularly true if there has been no planned and structured training for those employees. Therefore if finances permit, members should be allowed access to a wider range of technology platforms. Also, a manager should ensure that the requisite digital tools along with high-speed Internet connection at members’ homes are available to them.
Adopt Remote Monitoring Tools
Different employees work in different ways. While some are efficient and diligent, others need greater monitoring to ensure they are spending their working hours at work. While it is more important to focus on end result as mentioned in point 4, it might also be sometimes necessary to monitor whether your remote workforce is working diligently or not.
A series of advanced new age employee monitoring software can do this for you. These applications allow you to keep a track of how much time an employee is spending on different tasks. Adopting such tools can allow you to keep a handle on your remote workforce and ensure greater productivity.
Setting Score By Work-Life Balance Of Team Members
Given the extraordinary character of these times of the pandemic, many of the team members – especially those staying away from families – may be facing intense social isolation and even loneliness. To perform optimally for any ‘emotionally-loaded’ person is a hard task to accomplish. With that in mind, managers should periodically take their members for virtual team outings complete with coffee, beer and games in order to instill a sense of community and belongingness while infusing a degree of levity and informality allowing ‘letting off steam’.
In short, as remote work gains increased traction, a combination of practical wisdom, tact and virtual communication skills on part of managers can to a great extent address the shortcomings of working ‘separately yet together’ making their team productive and accountable in equal measure.