COVID-19 hit suddenly, and companies had to react and respond quickly. For many workers, the shift from the office to home occurred almost overnight. Companies scrambled to move their in-person processes to a virtual environment quickly.
Helping your workforce adapt requires an in-depth look into your old work processes — and developing new ones.
“There’s been no deliberate look at how this situation is impacting our work,” says Lindsay Satterfield, productivity enthusiast, trainer and coach at Satterfield and Company. “This is an opportunity to clean up the poor productivity processes we’ve had in the past.”
Here’s how you can support worker productivity and success in a distributed work environment.
Make Your Workflows Visual and Visible
In the office setting, workflow cues were often implicit. For example, running into a colleague might jog your memory regarding a question or suggestion you had. Moving to remote work gives you an opportunity to codify those implicit processes. “Make your workflows visual and visible,” Satterfield says. “Have a digital tool someone can log into and see their processes.”
Provide the right tools to support productivity. This should go beyond Zoom. Invest in tools that help your team members prioritize their daily tasks. Some popular task management tools are Trello, Basecamp or Asana.
But managing a remote workforce means finding the right balance between freedom and support. Your workers shouldn’t feel micromanaged. But breaking their weekly goals down into specific daily tasks allows them to manage their time more effectively and identify questions or additional support they might need.
“If we made our current workflows visual and visible, we’d see where the bottlenecks are,” Satterfield says. “This will take it out of the meeting space.” Meetings that aren’t directed are a huge drain on productivity. As you design new, visual workflows, keep your specific goals in mind. Workflows designed to control risk, for example, will look very different from workflows designed to increase collaboration.
Visibility should extend beyond workflows to individuals members of your team. “Get people working in different groups,” Satterfield suggests. Set up virtual work sessions so that even remote workers have the chance to work together.
Identify and Optimize Individual Work Processes
Each member of your workforce will adapt to remote work differently. They could have factors that could affect optimal productivity, such as caregiving responsibilities. Have direct managers check in regularly to ask team members how they’re acclimating or how you can support them, Satterfield suggests.
Personality and individual work habits also affect success in a distributed work environment. Learn who your workforce is, how they like to work and how they work best. “We all come with different personality traits and work styles,” says Hambley, whose organization predicts optimal work flows based on personality. “When you put all of this into remote work, you need to examine the different elements of the person.”
Historically, workflows have been one-size-fits-all. But success in a remote work environment depends heavily on the individual and the team. “Don’t guess,” Hambley says. “Have conversations with your people.”
Assign specific tasks to specific people, but be willing to reassign tasks to people who can fulfill them better. Don’t rely on bad processes just because it's how you’ve always done it. “Manage people by outcomes and goals rather than presenteeism and hours,” Hambley says. “Tracking time is one metric, but time doesn’t always translate to productivity.”
Facilitate Team Workflows and Standards
Survey your workforce to find out what they need to be successful in a remote work environment. Then, outline the feedback you received from your workforce and use it to inform new workflows and processes to optimize remote productivity.
Set shared standards for workflows and processes. Invite team members to collaborate and develop rules for communication, such as preferred contact methods or standard response times. “How many meetings do we have? What are the expected outcomes?” Hambley asks.
Create a distributed team charter outlining rules for processes and procedures within each remote team. Check back in frequently with team members to see if rules need to change.
With an agreed set of standards in place, direct managers will be empowered to lead their teams to success. “Strong leaders are critical in a remote work environment,” Hambley points out. Develop your leaders and direct managers to listen to their people and lead deliberately and intentionally.