We didn’t plan for a large-scale shift to remote work, but it’s paid off in unexpected ways. While engaging in remote work, workforce productivity has jumped up 47%, and employee engagement is steadily climbing. We’ve been forced to think about how we work — and how we can work better moving forward.
“When you’re forced into innovation, you have to trust the process,” says Amber Hurdle, CEO at Amber Hurdle Consulting, a talent optimization firm. “It empowers organizations to look at things differently.”
As states lift social distancing measures, companies are returning to in-person operations. But that doesn’t mean you have to return to your old-fashioned work processes. Instead, take a page from your remote work strategies.
Success in a remote work environment is driven by developing more intentional workflows and processes. Compare traditional work processes with those you adopted for remote work. Those same principles governing workflows, communication and productivity can be used to improve in-person work, too. Here’s how.
Use Project Management Principles
For decades, in-person work processes have relied on informal cues and expectations. “Poor management hides in plain sight in an in-person environment, but gets exposed in remote work,” says Rebecca Achurch, technology consultant and digital transformation thought leader at Achurch Consulting. In remote work, your management has to be more focused and intentional. When you return to the office, try cascading your big picture outcomes into focused daily goals like you did during the quarantine.
Employ digital dashboards or kanban boards outlining where each project stands. Measure your original objectives against your key results to ensure an alignment of your goals across the organization.
Borrowing from agile methodology, consider holding daily stand-ups so that everyone knows exactly where each project stands. “Ask, ‘What did you accomplish yesterday, what are your goals today, and what obstacles do I need to remove?’” Achurch says.
Directed meetings like standups support accountability and move projects forward, Hurdle says. “Previously organizations that weren’t deadline-driven haven’t respected the cadence of daily standups,” she continues. “But now they do.” In remote work, these intentional and deliberate processes are necessary for meeting expected outcomes — and they can be just as useful when we get back to the office.
Establish Expectations for Communication
Managing workloads and productivity based on project management principles streamlines and formalizes other areas of work, too — specifically one that’s traditionally been left to chance: communication. In an in-person environment, the most important communications are often informal. But project management principles formalize the informal.
“In a brick-and-mortar environment, people fall back on familiar and comfortable communication habits,” Achurch says. “These include walking down the hall and emails.” But these communication habits are rarely effective and can actually lead to silos and cliques within the office. “Replace water cooler gossip with core relationship building over the shared outcome you’re trying to deliver,” Achurch suggests.
In remote work, communication has to be more consistent, directed and transparent. But this method of communication will greatly improve your in-person operations, too. For example, most in-person check-ins occur when something goes wrong or a manager needs something from a team member. But that leads to a purely transactional relationship instead of a collaborative relationship based on achieving shared goals.
Instead, borrow from your remote work practices and move informal communication to formal channels using tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Schedule intentional daily check-ins for managers and individual team members to go over workloads and prioritize day-to-day activities and increase transparency with daily stand-ups for the whole team. Empower your team members to be transparent and build relationships with their direct managers.
Use Outcomes to Measure Performance
Remote work empowers your workforce to manage their own energy levels and work when they’re more productive and focused, instead of fitting everyone into the 9-5 box. But this can be replicated in an in-person work environment by shifting towards managing outcomes instead of managing time. “What gets measured gets done,” Hurdle says.
“When you manage outcomes, you ensure alignment,” Achurch points out. Outcomes give both managers and team members a starting point for opening performance conversations, while flexibility supports actually achieving those outcomes. Focus on what needs to be done — not when it’s done.
Giving employees flexibility leads to increased productivity and engagement. “What are you trying to accomplish, and how can you leverage your team members the way they work best?” Hurdle asks. In the past we’ve assumed that working long hours in the office increases productivity and performance, but that isn't always true. In fact, it may actually be hurting your bottom line.
Taking a holistic approach to performance also supports your employees’ work-life balance. “People are having to be seen as human,” Hurdle says. “We need to translate that to the workplace.” Understand that what ultimately motivates your team members doesn’t just come from work: It comes from their lives and their families. Your team is highly motivated to succeed, but you need to put processes and structures in place that support them as whole people.