Quick tips to make the most of your suddenly-remote workforce

Thursday 19th March 2020 Justin Cleveland

Amantha ImberEven before the global push for social isolation to limit the spread of coronavirus, there was a move toward enabling a remote workforce. We’ve learned quickly just how many jobs can be easily transitioned to work from home. Is this going to be the new way of working for knowledge workers and non-customer facing staff in the future?

Finance and financial services have traditionally been a face-to-face, handshake business. For many of us, this is the first time we’ve had to manage a remote workforce. While it may be a stressful time, organisational psychologist Dr Amantha Imber says this can be a chance to help our teams be more productive while removing the stresses of splitting our attention between work and home.

Dr Imber founded Inventium, a consultancy that helps companies innovate using psychology-tested methods. Her clients include Google, Apple, Disney, CBA, and Virgin Australia.

“The first thing you need to do is get away from thinking about hours worked and think about output,” said Dr Imber. “You need to set clear expectations, and as long as the output is being produced, it doesn’t matter how much you are working.”

The KPIs and objectives won’t change, but the timelines may shift. If a project needs to be completed and submitted by 5pm, that needs to be made clear for everyone involved.

Communicate more often, not less

One benefit of having your staff in the office is the constant stream of communication that come from casual conversations. While you may be tempted to cut back on communicating, keeping in touch with your team can be good for their productivity and mental health. “It’s hard to overcommunicate,” said Dr Imber. “A lot of people are not used to this, feeling socially disconnected. Hearing from your manager more often is surely a good thing right now.” And, it doesn’t have to just be work chat. Talking about family concerns, how much you miss the NRL, what happened on MAFS can be a good way to keep up.

Find the right tools for your team

There are plenty of tools available that make it easier to collaborate, like Slack or Google Docs. Helping people get up-to-speed on using them quickly is where the challenge is. Dr Imber says it’s all about creating new habits, like asking people to default to video calls. “It’s as simple as including a Google Hangouts link, and it just needs a decent internet connection.” She says that the more often you do it, the more meaningful the social connections.

The lines between work and home life will be blurred

Innovation will truly be required for those dealing with the entire family at home together. “It’s important to see this as a team effort,” said Dr Imber. “We need to communicate with partners, work in sprints, and figure out who is the primary caregiver at any given time.” It might work out that, for 90 minutes, dad’s in charge while mum focuses on work, and then swap. “Paediatricians are saying we may need to relax screen-time limits to navigate this reality.”

Is this the new norm?

As we work our way through this economic and social crisis, some are left to wonder if remote work is going to be a bigger part of our new reality. Many larger organisations have already moved to enable staff to be able to work from anywhere.

Ultimately, Dr Imber says that it will depend on a few things. Companies will need to invest in resources that help people thrive, rather than just survive a temporary situation. Additionally, people will need to develop new habits to be able to work optimally in this new environment, to be able to become more productive while retaining connections to the rest of your team.

If the output is suitable for your customers, clients, or partners – and is beneficial to the organisation – then it should be something worth considering as a long-term business change.

Getting started

Making an organisational change is going to take some time and planning. Organisations like Dr Imber’s Inventium are a good place to brainstorm. Chatting to your peers who have implemented a remote workforce policy, successful or not, will likely have plenty to say about their experiences.

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