The Coronavirus lockdown has forced many us to transform the way our businesses operate, and in record time too. For some of us the initial transition was fairly painless (where flexible/home working has been the norm), for others it’s been a tougher ride. Either way for most businesses this is the new norm, for now anyway.
Wherever you are in the world the chances are that you have now got over the initial issues of setting your teams up at home. The real challenge now moves away from the purely functional tasks to the more nuanced ones of effective communication, engagement and performance. This article should help you navigate the various challenges, possible solutions and the tools that are on hand to make things easier.
1. Transitioning during COVID-19
Some companies will be more familiar with remote working than others; some further along the path of implementing the systems, tools, policies and practices that can help deliver effective remote working. But either way here are a few general steps we can all take to improve things going forward:
1.1. Tap into existing experience
At Learn Amp we’ve worked flexibly from the start. The UK-based team work at home about half the time, and half in the office. Most of our development team work on a remote basis closer to 90 per cent of the time. We’ve learned as we’ve gone along.
But many of the team come with great experiences from other companies and we’ve borrowed wherever we can. Gabby, our Head of Operations, was previously at a company that worked entirely on a remote basis, only ever meeting her boss the day she left!
So first up, find out who has experience from elsewhere. Pull them together and find out what worked and what didn’t. Diversity of thinking here is the key and ensuring representation from the leadership team to those on the front line is crucial.
1.2. Suggested next steps
- Create a COVID task force to look at the potential impact on various workstreams and verticals, and assign individuals who are responsible for finding solutions
- Ensure someone from the leadership team (if not the CEO) heads up this task force
- Have daily check-ins for top management to understand impact on business across functions and align on goals and targets for next days and weeks, review weekly
- Ensure you have clear daily and weekly ‘flash reports’ that provide a take on the business at any one time
- Survey employees to determine how they see potential problems, ensure solutions are found for these fast to show you are listening and acting
- Nominate those with experience of working remotely to act as coaches to others
- Create a clear set of “rules to live by” that have buy-in across the company
SeedLegals have provided a free online tool to Create your custom Coronavirus Work From Home Policy: https://seedlegals.com/resources/coronavirus-work-from-home-policy/.
2. Culture and communication
When the employee experience is no longer shaped by the physical premises then the need for a clear reminder of the vision, mission and values becomes all the more important.
With the inevitable distractions from family and flatmates all being at home together and no direct face time with colleagues, people need to be reminded why you exist as a business and what values should be driving their day-to-day decisions because trust and autonomy have been turned up a dial!
2.1. Pull together a Culture Deck
If you don’t have one already what better time than to have someone pull together a Culture Deck. Let’s face it, the legal ease of the staff handbook is not up to the job. It’s there for the rare time someone steps out of line.
With your team all remote you are forced to trust more but that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for a clear reminder of how and why you do things the way you do. The Culture Deck is a positive curation of your company’s DNA.
2.2. Set clear expectations
Whilst trust and autonomy are not the default cultural position for all businesses, home working relies heavily on both. Those who work from home report that ‘unplugging’ (22%) and switching off at the end of the day is a much bigger problem than motivation (8%)[i] so even if you have your doubts you may be pleasantly surprised by how well things can work.
That said here’s a few things to consider, decide upon and ensure are understood:
- What work hours/availability do you need for each person and how much flexibility is manageable?
- Can you work asynchronously (allowing people to set their own hours/work different hours from one another) or do you need people to be able to communicate instantly/answer customer requests within particular times slots?
- Establish responsiveness expectations: how quickly do people have to respond to customers, colleagues and other stakeholders?
- What media/applications should be people use for what communication?
2.3. Regular team communication
Two of the biggest drawbacks reported by regular home workers are loneliness (19%) and difficulties in collaboration (17%)[ii]. So communication between and within teams is more important than ever.
Here are some of the things we see the best companies do to ensure key messages hit the mark:
- Make sure leadership communicate regularly and consistently ideally in video, otherwise audio (and in writing only if needs be), people like and expect to see the face of leadership not just diktats from on high. They want to feel the human touch
- For online meetings match the best ‘tool for the job’
- All-Hands presentation: to update goals and priorities, cover key news, and include agenda items crowdsourced from the company in advance
- Town Hall Q&A sessions where feedback suggest things are unclear or confused
- Stand-Ups should be quick and for immediate teams often on a daily basis
- Digital check-ins ideally on a weekly basis should be a quick and effective way of structuring feedback between employees and their line manager
- Coaching sessions can be regular or on demand
- Decide what your primary medium is and what’s your backup (e.g. Zoom, and Slack)
- Online channels – make it clear where people can expect to find information. Aim to funnel communication into as few places as possible to reduce silos and fragmentation
- Ideally use a tool like Learn Amp that helps manage the invitation process for the right people to the right online events, and record sessions so that you can see who attended and who engaged later
- Features like self-record can make it very easy to send out recorded video /audio to different teams or the whole business
2.4. Individual communication
Just as setting the tone and direction is key to get the balance between structure and autonomy so too are guidelines on how best to communicate when working remotely. Just as communication from leadership needs to be clear and consistent so do interactions between managers and employees.
Some good practice:
- Track workday availability on a team board so you know who’s about when
- Decide whether you have group periods of ‘door always open’ or the reverse ‘quiet time’
- Communicate context when you’re not in the same room – explain how long you are switching off chat and how to interrupt if critical
- Agree which channels to use for what: email versus chat for example
- Transparency is the key to avoid people reaching (wrong) assumptions
2.5. How Learn Amp can help
Learn Amp is designed to help deliver an improved Employee Experience and becomes even more impactful when everyone is working remotely. Here’s a few ways Learn Amp helps support culture and deliver better communications:
- The self-record makes it fast and easy to record video and audio updates and share to specific teams or company wide
- Our meetings and events management system makes it easy to setup any type of meeting
- Our Zoom integration means you can schedule and save CEO updates or Town Hall meetings
2.6 Covid-19 considerations
As the situation continually changes, it’s more important than ever that employees understand what that means for them. Who’s responsible for keeping employees and managers updated with relevant information, what channels do you use to communicate any changes to employees, and how do you make sure they know how to find the information they need?
Think about how you can keep furloughed or unwell employees in the loop with any changes to the business (without expecting either to work). Remember furloughed employees are permitted to take part in learning and skills development. Consider using platforms like Learn Amp to deliver personalised learning pathways.
3. Engagement and well-being
The good news is, working from home can be a powerful motivator for many people, and it’s one of the fastest growing workplace trends according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends. So if you didn’t have home working before the crisis you may find keeping it after a real advantage to morale, to attracting and retaining talent.
However, it’s not for everyone, and of course holds its own challenges. 85% of remote workers, for example, say they’d like to feel closer to their colleagues[iii]. It’s key then to ensure that time is mapped out to include time for social interaction.
3.1 Social interaction
Some things you might try that have worked for other companies include:
- A #pictureoftheday channel on Trello or Slack
- A drop-in video call over lunch
- Check ins or virtual coffee breaks
- Water cooler channel on Trello or Slack for non-work chat
- Cross team ‘waves’ – short video call with a colleague from a different team for a general (work and personal) catch-up
- Show and tell: for individuals to share learnings, new technologies or resources they’ve heard about, side projects etc
- Happy hour: video get together with optional drinks for as many of the team as want to join
- You could also hold an online pub quiz between teams
- Guest webinars and online Q&A sessions
3.2. Regular feedback and pulse surveys
Regular polls to get feedback on particular issues or challenges is good practice. Regular quickfire surveys to check the pulse of how individuals and teams are feeling can flag up concerns early allowing managers or colleagues to step in and support those needing it.
Ideally the data from these surveys will be in the same platform that’s used to manage regular digital check-ins around performance.
3.3 Mental health and well being
Working from home can lead to unhealthy working practices: poor work stations causing back or neck problems, a lack of exercise and getting out and about, a sense of stagnation from being in the same place, or never being able to switch off from work as a result.
There are some very simple steps that can help to maintain wellness for employees working at home. Perhaps the most obvious is to insist people diarise regular breaks throughout the day. The evidence indicates it leads to greater productivity too so everyone’s a winner![iv] Encourage a change of scenery, fresh air, natural light and exercise, by allowing time away from the (home) office to go out for a walk or run.
Calm offers over a hundred of guided meditations to choose from, plus soundtracks to help you sleep, video lessons, meditation masterclasses and nature scenes. Headspace has courses, workshops and masterclasses for maintaining mindfulness.
Yourmind.co: connects you to a trained professional to organise a therapy session via Skype.
Aura offers personalised life coaching, stories, music and meditation guides, Happify helps reduces stress with science-based exercises and games designed on the basis of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Other steps we can take to improve overall health and wellbeing are:
- Give guidelines/advice about setting up a workstation with a proper desk and chair, setting device switch off times to prevent 24/7 working and burnout. Encourage people to have no-work spaces where they can just relax
- Can you have stand up meetings or even standing desks?
- Check that all employees have all the physical equipment they need to carry out their job, e.g. a desk/chair, laptop, monitors, phone, internet connection etc. Who is responsible for buying equipment and getting it delivered?
3.4. How Learn Amp can help
Learn Amp can make it easy to schedule social events through Zoom and easy to set up feedback polls and surveys.
It can also help automate reminders and reports are all pulled together at exactly the right frequency avoiding the need for anyone manually to chase up and organise.
3.5 Covid-19 considerations
You’re far more likely to have employees who are off sick or who are caring for unwell relatives. Do you have a system for checking in on how people are?
People are also likely to be under much greater stress so looking after mental health is more important than ever. What support, flexibility, or help can you offer people who are struggling? Can you set up a buddy system so nobody falls between the cracks?
4. Performance and motivation
For many businesses not used to remote working there can often be a fear over productivity and people’s performance. In truth, this is usually a red herring. Remote workers tend to put in more hours and work more productively than office-based workers[v].
4.1 Getting the components for performance right
Effective performance does however depend on a few key ingredients:
- Clarity in direction and what’s expected of each person
- The ability to measure activity and outcomes
- The means to provide effective coaching and support; and
- Above all trust
Individuals can be unproductive if they aren’t clear in what they are doing but that’s not their fault. The same drivers apply for remote working as they do for office-based workers: setting achievable goals, and measuring output not input.
One of the things so many of us underestimate is the importance of alignment between individual and business.
With well known thought leaders like Simon Sinek and reams of research suggesting the importance to Millennials of purpose in their work it’s amazing how many businesses don’t check in and ensure that the motivational drivers, and the preferred direction of an employee are in line with those of the organisation.
Without alignment it’s hard to get effective engagement and performance. We suggest you frame a regular (every six months) discussion around degree (or not) of alignment.
Is the role one they enjoy still, are they happy with expected role for the next six to 12 months? If not, what can be done to help retain them, and keep them happy and motivated? If nothing how can their probable departure be planned for?
Done properly, with the right questions put in the right way it should be far easier to manage leavers and skills requirements.
4.3 Goal setting
When working remotely, people can feel that they need to be constantly ‘visible’ in their digital workspace to show they’re working, e.g. immediately answering emails or responding to notifications. But just as presenteeism in the office doesn’t prove productivity, neither does visibility online. The key is to focus on output and deliverables, not input or time spent.
If people understand what their goals and deadlines are, and they work accordingly, with regular status updates, then they know they won’t be considered to be slacking and will be more productive overall.
Set targets and objectives based on the business’s KPIs – the 3 or 4 elements that are essential to your business. Individual targets can then feed into these. Goal-setting systems like OKRs – popular at tech start-ups and companies like Google - set ambitious goals over a set period of time and connect overall objectives and measurable key results at all levels of the business.
The key is to define objectives with employees (rather than imposing them) to hopefully sculpt a role that means they remain motivated and engaged. Using systems to track performance across every department can enable managers to drive improvement at every stage, identify skills gaps, and assess employees fairly.
4.4 Assessment and feedback loops
The days of an annual performance review are numbered. Evidence from global research is consistent that these do more harm than good and often trigger an exodus of talent. Anyone under 40 has come through an education system built around scoring and assessment. Younger employees expect regular objective feedback at work and an annual review is not going to hit the mark in normal times. Now, with a remote team, regular feedback is even more critical!
The other problem with annual review cycles is that they are hugely time consuming. It’s far better to break up review cycles into more regular and manageable chunks. And it doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel every time.
In normal times where we are largely in the office with regular ‘face time’ we’d recommend a review cycle along the lines of:
- Weekly digital check-in – between manager and reports to identify progress, challenges etc
- Monthly 1:1s – face time to check things going well and to talk issues and successes
- Quarterly reviews – of performance and development needs
When everyone is working remotely cycles may need to tweaked to be more frequent and include more ‘face time’.
4.5 How Learn Amp can help
Learn Amp make it easy to set up and automate these check-ins and review processes with reminders, follow up actions and reporting on individual and teams alike all made easy.
4.6 Covid-19 considerations
The potential feeling of isolation means it’s worth ensuring that online face time is greater between managers and their teams and between individuals and coaches.
The nature and scope of goals may need to change as might the frequency of sprints or other cycles of operation. With the situation changing so fast checking that what’s been targeted stays relevant is vitally important.
It may, for example, be that we need to redefine target customers or the current offering, how it's positioned through sales and marketing and so on.
Alongside the rapidity of change at work will be the fact that many will have other responsibilities or challenges in their private lives (children or relatives to care for, illness, etc) to contend with as well. Performance and motivation must be viewed with these things in mind.
5. Learning and skills development
Much of the best of what we learn, we learn from others, in the workplace and ‘on the job’. The ability to ask quick questions of your boss or peers is effective, especially in the early stages of a new role. Rapidly switching to remote working disrupts these natural habits. It’s also impossible to deliver traditional, face to face style training.
The good news, however, is that online training and development has never been better or more engaging and effective.
5.1. Learning pathways
There are certain journeys that most people will go through as they progress through their journey with a company (e.g. induction and onboarding) or through their career more broadly (e.g. becoming a manager for the first time). The ability to set these up on a platform like Learn Amp provides consistency and clarity in delivery as well as the ability to track automatically who has completed what by when and who needs nudges.
Other pathways may be linked to particular, functional roles like customer service or marketing. The ability to quickly update content and courses from both internal and externals sources should make it easy to keep learning assets up-to-date and engaging.
5.2 Self-directed learning
The best talent will want to drive their own development and may seek out skills to develop that aren’t even related to their current role. A key driver to employee retention is the ability for our employees to easily find and complete skills development either in the flow of everyday work (e.g. how to set up pivot tables in Excel) or develop a new area of learning by completing a course on say data science.
The key is ensuring you have a platform that is equally geared to setting up the training you need employees to take as it is to allowing employees to personalise their own learning experience.
5.3 Social learning
Social learning, or integrating communications tools with training, helps to support and reinforce learning communities. Make it easy for people to set up group discussions through Zoom, for example, that can be saved and revisited or found by those afterwards who were unable to make the original time slot.
A platform that allows group discussion around learning themes and integrates with other chat tools like Slack and MS Teams makes it easy for people to share insights, preferences and to feedback on what works well and what doesn’t driving a culture of continual improvement.
5.4. Knowledge management
One of the challenges for most businesses is how we save and make accessible the most important elements of how we do things, the business ‘know-how’ which makes what we do work so well.
Having a system that includes a visual interface, is easily searchable, can easily be made visible to the right people at the right time and tracks who is accessing what and allows a feedback or rating system can also help drive a culture of continual improvement.
Ideally, we’d recommend nominating curators who have domain expertise to oversee different areas ensuring content is kept relevant and uptodate. Having permission over who can and can’t amend content is critical. Curators should be able to manage Q&A for that area and ideally develop a great FAQ summary. Over time this will drive ever greater refinement.
5.5 Coaching and mentoring
When working remotely the importance of coaching and mentoring becomes even more vital. In the absence of informal ‘on the job training’ we need to ensure everyone has access to one or more people who are in a supportive role outside of their line manager.
Up to 10,000 non-verbal cues can be exchanged in one minute of face-to-face interaction, so video interaction is essential for effective training and communication. Because of this, we’d recommend wherever possible that constructive feedback is always given over a video call. It makes it much easier to pick up on signals that something has or hasn’t been understood as intended.
5.6 Integrating L&D with performance management
There are large numbers of learning platforms out there, variously described as learning management systems (mostly legacy systems build with the business in mind and not the user) or newer learning experience platforms more with the learner in mind.
We’d recommend you look for one that aligns equally with the needs of both the employee and business. This will drive far greater engagement and alignment.
We also recommend looking for a platform that integrates any learning and development with performance review processes as one would feed the other. Operating each in a silo just won’t work as well. If you want to measure ROI of any investment in L&D you want to know whether it drove better performance in their role not whether they passed an online quiz or how often they were on the platform.
5.7 How Learn Amp can help
Learn Amp combines Learning Experience Platform (LXP) functionality (we have been named best LXP for two consecutive years by lead analyst Craig Weiss) with best of breed Learning Management System (LMS) functionality. In practice that means we are well placed to deliver hep manage directed and self-directed learning.
Our coaching and social learning features make it easy to manage insight and know-how effectively and track who has access to what and when. Time to set up and ease of administration are a USP.
5.8 COVID-19 considerations
Rapidly changing workplaces, and perhaps changing roles and responsibilities mean learning and development becomes even more important. Ensuring your teams have access to the right kind of training at the right time is essential for minimising disruption and maximising performance.
We are trusting our teams to work more autonomously. They need to trust we’ll support them with the right tools to succeed.
6. Compliance and risk management
When employees work remotely there are additional risks to consider. Equally, it can be harder to make compliance checks when people are working on their own.
6.1 Cyber security
Here are some of our suggestions and considerations:
- Write and communicate security policies and guidelines (e.g. where can people work, what can be stored/downloaded, rules around secure wifi networks; client and company confidentiality policies)
- Ensure these are set up in an online platform alongside other policy documents where you can track and see who has signed off that they have read, understood and will comply with those policies
- Ensure everyone has the equipment and software (updated) that they need to stay secure online. Can you use a VPN? Are employees permitted to use their own devices for work, or do they need to be provided with laptops?
- With more potential targets, criminals will be carrying out more phishing and other scams than ever. 70% of hacks gain access via social engineering (e.g. phishing attacks), so educating individuals and alerting them to scams is crucial. Who is responsible for this, and how do they communicate this?
6.2 Other risk management
What are the other implications of being out of the workplace premises? Does lack of attendance on site breach insurance requirements? The biggest risk is usually lack of thoughts and review by those who make assumptions that could prove very costly.
We’d recommend a task force specifically assigned to identify all possible risk areas and to ensure all contracts, policies and commitments are reviewed and understood.
6.3 How Learn Amp can help
We make it easy to load up e-learning and compliance training modules as ell as set and monitor tests and feedback responses. Reminders, exception reports and full tracking mean you can keep in step with regulations and trade standards and can easily evidence compliance.
6.4 COVID-19 considerations
It’s possible to manage compliance training face to face when not working remotely. Now may be a good time to set up compliance training through an online system which is far easier to track and manage going forward anyway.
For many of us we’ve had to adapt really fast as a result of COVID-19. For some of us it’s been very challenging. On a positive note, whatever the new norm ends up being we can try to make the most of the circumstances we find thrust upon us.
Is now a good time to review how we work together, what systems and processes we use that can streamline and make how we work together work better?
One of the deepest frustrations we find is that too many of the things that should work together work in silos. We believe that if you want to get the best from talent, you need to better manage the employee experience whether that’s in the workplace or remotely.
To do that we need systems that can help us manage the employee journey to best effect. For us that means that the core elements around engagement, learning and development, and performance management need to be in one platform, not siloed in different applications. One feeds the other and needs to be part of the same review cycles to be fully effective.
We are doing our best to develop software for the workplace of tomorrow. That’s why our mission is about MAKING WORK LIFE, WORK BETTER.
Thanks for reading! We hope you found these tips useful.
As remote work becomes the new normal, how do you deliver the best overall Employee Experience? With Learn Amp, your employees have a clear destination. Employees can access everything they need — in one tool.
If you're interested in incorporating excellent learning practices into your business to help your employees develop and grow, then please do visit our website.
Alternatively, feel free to request a free demo to see how our learning platform offers the perfect blend of self-directed learning, expertly curated content, and insightful data analytics to help your employees success.
We hope to hear from you soon!