It’s been a little more than a full year since the Coronavirus hit our shores, causing one of the largest ripple effects ever seen in the last 100 years of American history. After a slow start, seemingly overnight the majority of the country shifted to remote, virtual, or hybrid variations for work, learning and social interactions.
A lot of slowly moving changes, like cord-cutting, gig-economy based freelancing, and food delivery services saw a rapid uptick. Companies like Zoom, Netflix and
Postmates UberEats suddenly moved from minor integration to the norm. And while things have wavered over the past 11 months, they’re now far more ubiquitous. And odds are, even once we get back to the “new normal,” they will be embedded in our society. I mean, we’re not even using the term new normal anymore.
State of the Union
A survey by Gartner conducted late last year concluded that by this time next year, almost three-fourths of United States companies will have permanently shifted at least 5% of their formerly full-time, on-site employees to remote. And by 2023, five times as many companies will be utilizing direct cloud connectivity for critical business applications and communication. And if we just isolate communications – 75% will operate off cloud-based systems by 2024.
Surprisingly, the most used app is one that is still struggling to properly monetize – weather reports. More than two-thirds of homebound citizens check on the weather online at least once a day, if not multiple times. While several productivity and connection apps were downloaded in March and April of 2020, only a few maintained growth – Zoom continued to surge, while Google Hangouts slowed severely. In social media, Tik Tok continued to expand, despite White House threats, while Houseparty is all but forgotten.
Some unexpected shifts popped up as well. Marketers for years preached sending out business emails on Tuesdays and Thursdays for better engagement. In 2020, engagement numbers dropped for those days, increasing significantly on Fridays, and to a lesser extent Wednesdays. Meanwhile, average open rates leveled out, after a spike in the early days of the pandemic reaction.
Shortly after most of us were sent home, I went into detail on how to cope with being remote – on a business level, a management level and an employee level. But we were all thrown into this situation with very little warning. A lot of the information is still good – tips, tools and techniques. But there’ll be a lot more wool gathering from home to come. At least until we reach “herd immunity“…or can even fully define what that means.
And clearly, the numbers show that our ongoing situation is going to more heavily influence whatever comes next even more than we planned. So how do you manage – your employees and yourself – going forward?
For starters, remember, while working and managing remotely may be new to you, it isn’t new in concept. In the last 15 years prior to COVID-19, remote work – whether from home or a coworking space – had increased almost 150%. Of course, the companies that most embraced remote work situations were almost invariably tech companies. They can set up their own networks, intranets, VPN’s and firewalls to protect their valuable information.
Slack, one of the top tools for remote work – is itself spread out across the country, most employees working independently. Mozilla (Firefox), Automattic (WordPress), and Crowdcast are also fully distributed.
Trust in the Time of Cholera
One of the biggest challenges on both sides of working remotely is trust. There’s an subconscious belief that the flexibility of working from home means flexibility to not work. Managers sometimes suspect it. Remote workers sometimes bend over backwards to prove it’s not true. They work more, take fewer breaks – if at all – and end up resenting it. And if a remote worker does take time out for doctor’s appointments or to deal with kids or whatever else happens in real life, sometimes they feel the need to assuage their guilt by doing more, for longer.
The first step is to have a defined company culture and hire people who fit it. I have a friend who works for Netflix. They have a very clearly defined culture they refer to as hiring a “Dream Team.” Not several high performing or adequate teams – but ONE dream team – that is expected to be accountable, responsible, and committed to the vision.
Netflix encourages open disagreement – if you have a problem with someone or their idea, address it to them, face to face. They don’t embrace the concept of ‘asshole geniuses;’ supervisors have a primary assignment to teach and set context – don’t do it cause I told you to, but here’s why this decision was reached. The most amazing thing for most employees – they have no defined vacation or sick time. If you are sick, stay home. If you need a break, take one – leave early, take a week, a month off. And 99% of the staff doesn’t abuse it.
You have to be willing to trust that your remote employees are getting their work done. And they need to know it – so they feel comfortable doing the work and not feel guilty if they need to go to the dentist, take a long lunch, or help their kids with homework.
What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate
Make sure you’re
communicating conversing with your team. Communication can’t be one way, it needs to be a dialogue. You need to hear their issues and questions just as much as you need to convey your needs and expectations.
Establish office hours – let your people know when they can always contact you. Even if you don’t pick up, they know you’ll get back to them in a timely manner. You can have them do the same thing – knowing there’s mutual trust, so assignments don’t slip through the cracks or get needlessly delayed. If you’re in different time zones, make sure everyone’s hours overlap to some extent.
Oh, and be patient – over Zoom, some nonverbal clues are not evident. So be understanding of misunderstandings and check in with people to make sure they’re okay.
By the same token, don’t communicate too much. Again, embrace office hours.
Schedule clearly timed and defined meetings. You can’t just pop into Bob’s office cubby to see how he’s doing – and you can’t just expect people to respond instantly to a text or phone call. Nobody wants to answer the phone in the bathroom.
It’s also okay to take a few minutes for small talk in scheduled meetings. Yes, business is important and that’s why we’re having a meeting, but remote workers still need the socialization they got at the office. The conversations that used to take place when you got to the meeting early or by the water cooler are still essential, so make a little time for them. Your employees will thank you.
So while managing remotely can be a challenge, it is by no means impossible. If you were one of the many small businesses that suddenly found themselves spread out by the COVID-19 shutdowns – a year ago or even more recently, after the holiday surge – take time now. Do what you need to do to set yourself up for ongoing success and be willing to admit if things started in a rough way.
If you need any help – or have any topics you’d like us to cover here, please reach out. We built our business helping entrepreneurs and small businesses build theirs. Let’s Grow the Dream together!