Strategies to Transition from Sudden Remote to Sustainable Remote
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Since COVID-19 will continue to impact lives and drive business decisions in the coming weeks and months, uncertainty is the only thing certain right now. Even though we don't know how long this will last, it’s safe to say we need to be settling into this as our new reality for at least the next couple of months.
In this new reality, it's important to address the challenges your team is facing now. It is also necessary to put processes in place that will help maintain a viable and effective temporary remote work environment for the coming weeks or months. But what happens after that? According to a recent Gartner survey, 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently. What actions are required to make that transition successful?
As we’ve said before, unexpected remote work is not the same as sustainable remote work. Sustainable remote work relies on the intentional adoption and maintenance of remote work policies and norms that ensure companies, teams, and individuals thrive in the long term. Now, as more and more organizations realize that working from home is not as temporary as they originally assumed it would be, they need to start thinking about how to effectively transition from sudden to sustainable remote work.
Teams that fail to transition to sustainable remote work model will be susceptible to the following mistakes that can seriously impede business continuity:
- Putting off decisions, challenging work, and collaboration until “things go back to normal”
- Attempting to recreate everything in the office in a virtual setting
- Spending all day in synchronous meetings using video conferencing technology
- Failing to align expectations amongst all stakeholders
- Failing to prepare leaders for managing distributed employees
- Lack of digital tools or resources designed for distributed employees
"Even in a crisis, individuals and organizations can and must learn to adapt to the ever-changing reality of their situation. When left to just happen naturally, this learning is haphazard, prolonged, and inconsistent, leaving the organization vulnerable to costly mistakes. Having a strategic approach to learning and development during this time of uncertainty will help you, your coworkers, and your organization adapt more efficiently to remote work, which will lead to increased stability, saved time, and better personal and business outcomes."
—Tammy Bjelland, CEO Workplaceless
As you begin to think about how to sustain a positive and productive remote working environment for as long as necessary, as well as what this means for the future, you will need to develop an action plan with clearly defined milestones, ownership, and next steps.
Immediate (right now)
As unexpected problems arise, solutions are developed or sourced ad hoc, with no thought to how they will support the long-term health of the organization or the success of employees.
This is a common reaction. In times of stress, we resort to reactive and passive decision making, rather than strategic and proactive solutions. A study by Future Workplace revealed that only 10% of companies are providing training for how to work remotely during quarantine. This means that those individuals are all working in a new and uncertain scenario without aligned expectations or support.
At this time, companies and individuals should prioritize urgent, important, and necessary remote work decisions. Our recommendations for adapting to an unexpected shift to remote work, which are further detailed in our Preparing for Emergency Remote Work resource article, include:
- Review an Emergency Remote Checklist.
- Lay a Foundation of Trust and Empathy.
- Assess Your Current Resources.
- Prioritize Output Goals and Assign Metrics Accordingly.
- Prepare Your Employees to Work Remotely.
- Use Meetings Strategically.
- Document and Communicate Decisions.
- Check In On Your Team.
When you’ve addressed these initial needs, you can move on to the following recommendations.
1. Providing aligned and situationally appropriate support.
If your newly remote team is experiencing challenges now, it’s likely that you missed a step. The most common mistakes from above are failing to align expectations and failing to prepare leaders. It’s perfectly acceptable to “press pause” and go back and evaluate where your gaps lie. Restart by supporting your employees with resources that are immediately relevant to sudden remote workers.
⚡ Enroll employees in the Unexpected Remote Work course to learn the most critical skills to succeed in this situation. Read here about how this course is supporting the extended team of our client, Toyota Financial Services.
2. Reducing isolation while maintaining boundaries.
Isolation is a primary concern for remote workers and is intensified by social distancing and an uncertain future. It’s important to keep communication channels open and connect with your team regularly. However, it’s equally important to maintain a balance between the desire to connect with and support colleagues and friends and the need to protect your time and energy. A common pitfall of newly remote teams is the expansion of working hours and an “always on” mentality.
⚡ Unite your team during a Saveplaceless workshop to get support through the creation of a Boundaries Agreement and other strategies for preventing isolation and burnout.
3. Optimizing your tool stack.
You may be tempted to adopt brand new tools right away. Instead, focus on processes and desired outcomes first, then move on identifying any missing tools in your tool stack. Look for ways to simplify your tool stack so that everyone is in the same “place” as much as possible. At minimum, you’ll need a platform that allows video conferencing and one that enables asynchronous collaboration like Google Suite or Microsoft Teams.
“Tools enhance leadership roles, not replace them. We can't depend on tools to do our work for us—such as provide mentorship, motivate productivity, and inspire innovation.”
—Laurel Farrer, CEO Distribute Consulting
Soon (in the next few weeks)
As remote working conditions shift from an emergency solution to an undefined temporary condition, everyone who has made the sudden transition to remote work, including companies, leaders, and workers, will need to prepare to maintain a remote work setup for several weeks or several months. This calls for a strategic shift from reactive to proactive and predictive decision-making.
1. Creating a temporary to permanent remote work policy.
Having a written remote work policy is a critical piece of your remote work strategy because it sets the foundation for compliance with relevant laws and regulations. According to Laurel Farrer, such a policy “can protect your company from breaches of employment, expectation misalignment, and equal opportunities legislation.”
⚡ Write the policy yourself using a template or participate in a learning program like Goplaceless that guides you through the policy writing process.
⚡ Alternatively, outsource the writing to experts like Distribute Consulting.
2. Creating a learning and development plan to address your biggest gaps.
Everyone’s experience with remote work will be different—even within your organization. Because of this, you may see disparate opinions about what your biggest challenges are—managers may think productivity is the primary concern, while your human resources team might view internal communication as the most critical gap. A needs assessment will provide stakeholders from across your organization the opportunity to discuss organizational challenges and is the first step to aligning on the best plan of action.
⚡ Schedule an appointment with one of our Learning Consultants to discuss our needs assessment process.
3. Upskilling managers in remote leadership.
All leaders, whether they plan to continue to work remotely or not, will need to learn how to manage remote team members. If you have one remote team member, you have a remote team. Empowering your leaders will have a lasting impact on their success and a ripple effect on the success of their direct reports.
⚡ Enroll your managers in Leadplaceless, which is specifically designed for leaders of distributed teams. It’s critical for managers to be able to adapt their leadership approach specifically to virtual environments. This is more than just video chatting with employees, but rather learning the skills needed to transition from managing performance based on physical cues to motivating performance with a foundation of trusted and aligned metrics.
4. Optimizing your tools.
As you are adapting your processes, you may discover that new tools are needed to expressly address the needs of a remote setting. For example, when shifting to more asynchronous modes of collaboration, it's worth discontinuing the practice of sending multiple versions of the same file via email, and instead relying on a tool such as Google Docs or Box. For remote visual collaboration, use a digital workspace like MURAL to ideate, clarify, and work together toward a shared understanding.
"Remote work has never been more vital for companies to stay alive. This unexpected global event has made clear to everyone that remote work is not only a cool work perk, it’s a key business capability."
—Mariano Suarez-Battan, CEO & Co-founder, MURAL
5. Adopting remote best practices.
If you’re part of a team that has tried to maintain the “feel” of the office by spending all your time on video conferences—stop now. You’re wasting valuable energy and resources by spending all your time in meetings and focusing on recreating the office experience in a virtual setting. To truly leverage the benefits of remote work, you need to begin adopting and then maximizing your capability of collaborating asynchronously.
⚡ Learn about remote best practices with Workplaceless’s webinar, Introduction to Effective Remote Work: From Sudden to Sustainable. Schedule a meeting with a learning consultant today to learn how to bring this webinar to your organization.
Later (in the coming months / year)
When you start setting definitive dates for re-opening your offices, that doesn’t mean your remote experience is over. Your workplace and workflow are forever changed, and you need to determine how this will impact your future. While many people will be eager to go back to the office, there may be new constraints regarding the number of people in a space. Be prepared for increased interest in expanding your regular remote work policy: more employees will want continued flexibility, and stakeholders will want to continue to leverage remote work to support ongoing business continuity.
1. Capturing learnings from this remote work experience.
A remote work policy is never perfect the first time around—the best remote teams prioritize iterating and learning from their mistakes over instituting static rules and procedures. Use this experience as an opportunity to capture mistakes, tips, and challenges from employees to inform improvements to the next version of your remote work policy.
⚡ Use these sample questions to build your survey.
2. Adjusting your hiring strategy.
If you’re able to hire during the crisis, you’ll need to adapt your practices to accommodate hiring of remote employees as soon as possible. If you intend to wait on hiring until a more stable economic period, you’ll need to plan ahead to update your recruiting and hiring processes to attract and onboard exceptional remote talent.
⚡ Start with the Remote Hiring Guide from We Work Remotely.
"When hiring, there are countless considerations to be made that are unique to being remote. Creating a hiring plan sheds light on how the hiring process and new hires will affect your business operations, team workload, and organizational structure. Taking the time to carve out your expectations and put them into a plan helps you get clarity, keeps all stakeholders on the same page, and creates a dynamic document that you can continue to finesse and refine during times of change and improve on every time you hire."
—Justine Shu, Marketing & Community Manager, We Work Remotely.
⚡ Have your HR team and hiring managers take the Hireplaceless workshop on developing a stellar remote hiring practice.
3. Supporting your people teams.
Human resources and learning and development functions often go hand in hand, because they support other people’s success in the organization. Because of their focus on others, these team members are often left feeling like they don’t have a support system for their own needs.
4. Strengthening your remote-compatible culture.
A strong, aligned, consistent, and transparent culture is key to remote team success. And it’s not enough just to talk about your culture—
"As a leader, if you have to explain to people that you have a great culture, then you probably don’t. Culture is really a state that other people observe, rather than you point out.”
—John Riordan, Shopify
5. Aligning mindset and expectations.
Long-term remote sustainability and success depend on how well an organization is able to set clear expectations and be consistent in living up to those expectations. Learning and development play a critical part in the alignment of mindset and expectations.
⚡ Shared, consistent learning experiences are an efficient way to ensure that team members and leaders are using the same language and interpreting expectations in the same way. Get your team on the same page by providing Workplaceless Remote Work Certification to employees and Leadplaceless to prepare future managers.
6. Supporting long-term sustainability.
Integrate remote-specific career support into your employee development and succession plans. Now that remote employees are a part of your growth plan, invest in the resources needed to retain and upskill them.
⚡ Provide Growplaceless, our remote career development course, to all team members.
1. Create a temporary to permanent remote work policy.
◻ Use a learning program like Goplaceless.
◻ Hire experts from Distribute Consulting.
2. Create a L&D plan to address gaps.
◻ Chat with a dedicated Learning Consultant.
3. Upskill managers in remote leadership.
◻ Enroll managers in Leadplaceless.
4. Optimize your tools.
5. Adopt remote best practices.
◻ Chat with an expert to learn about the Introduction to Effective Remote Work Webinar for Teams.
1. Capture learnings from this remote work experience.
2. Adjust your hiring strategy.
◻ Start with WWR's Remote Hiring Guide.
◻ Take the Hireplaceless workshop.
3. Support your people teams.
4. Strengthen your remote-compatible culture.
◻ Develop a team Culture Canvas in the Joinplaceless workshop.
5. Align mindset and expectations.
6. Support long-term sustainability.
◻ Provide remote career development via Growplaceless.