It’s easy to know where you’re reading this blog: at home. In fact, you haven’t been to an office in many weeks now because the COVID-19 crisis launched the largest volume ever of workers into the world of remote work and virtual collaboration.
An Option Becomes a Necessity
The advent of remote working technologies 20 years ago didn’t have a widespread effect on how most people work. From Fortune 500 companies to digital natives, it has been common to find remote work happening in only one isolated part of the business or not at all. In fact, remember when Yahoo! famously banned remote work? Or IBM? So, it was not a surprise at the outset of the COVID crisis to see waves of announcements about “testing the technology”.
That “test”, of course, is still ongoing. It is only now in this unprecedented moment that a deep and unavoidable business need and the existing technology have come together. Suddenly, what was once largely implemented as a lifestyle choice for most companies is a universal necessity. From companies extending work from home policies through the end of the year to Twitter’s recent announcement that it’s employees will be allowed to work from home forever, it’s looking likely that our working lives may never be the same again.
The Technical Foundation is in Place
Whether or not we’re individually skilled at remote work, collectively most corporations are dominated by those who have relatively little experience navigating the new world into which they have been unwillingly thrust. This is evidenced by the many articles about the perils of back-to-back video conferencing on Zoom.
As a result, every employer now realizes that their workforce needs both proper equipment and real skills to work effectively remotely and that they, as a culture, had better get good at remote collaboration or they will be outpaced by those companies that already can.
Core Skills for Remote Working
This moment offers the opportunity to take a hard look at how you might best equip your workforce for a future way of working that is arriving precipitously fast. How might you begin preparations now to be able to dominate your competition in this brave new world?
There are well-known needs for skills around goal setting and time management for each individual when working from home. However, as many people are now discovering, working remotely with distributed teams requires new application of existing skills; and also, some skills which might be entirely new. At Prophet, we’ve identified three core skills for remote teamwork that need support and reinforcement:
- Clear Communication: Working in offices offers the opportunity for what architects and workspace designers call “unprogrammed interactions”, by which they mean casual run-ins in the kitchen, rest room or on an open plan floor. It’s not until you’re remote full-time that you realize how often you depend on bumping into someone in the office pantry and using it as an opportunity to quickly clarify your intentions, needs and objectives. Working remotely requires colleagues to communicate more clearly on the first go, often using new tools. Knowing when it’s best to use messaging (e.g., Text, Teams, Slack) versus video chat or email is important, as is being able to articulate your information and expectations clearly in that format.
- Virtual Meeting Design and Facilitation: Working remotely, most of your meeting participants are going to be easily distracted, whether by virtue of the fact that their meeting attendance tool is also their tool for messaging and email; or because a partner, child, or dog demands their attention. We probably do not spend nearly enough time on meeting design in the normal course of events. Working virtually, however, makes ‘magic meetings’ with little or no design even more problematic. Knowing how to design virtual meetings, meaning how long a conversation or other activity should take, how to orchestrate different types of productive conversation and which specific tools will keep participants focused are all critical for making a virtual meeting successful. Equally important is knowing how to facilitate across the distance—which sometimes means separating the process role of facilitation from being in a participant role.
- Remote Relationship Building: Anyone who has been on a great team knows that success is not just driven solely through processes and roles, but that team culture is part of the secret sauce that distinguishes exceptional output from the merely mediocre. With a pandemic that has separated us all physically, it’s more critical than before to be able to lean into soft skills and drive connection across the gap. Team leaders must be able to create a safe space where individuals can freely share ideas, get advice and balance workload in a way that respects their personal lives. This is how creative solutions to pressing challenges will be found and how teams will come through the crisis intact.
A trained eye observing a successful virtual team will see all three of these skills in action. Individuals will interact with clarity and purpose. Meetings will have a clear structure and focused, engaged participants. And teams will bond in the ways great teams do – each person connected to one another’s passions, talents and needs – enabling effective working harmony.
Embedding Skills for the Future
We’re still at a moment of change that necessitates rapid upskilling simply to achieve parity to the kinds of working methods we’d once enjoyed. But we’re now keenly aware that the skills our teams will need tomorrow will resemble none of the ones we’d prepared for today. Companies that are going to succeed through COVID and in a post-COVID world are those that will be preparing their workforce to work and collaborate in fundamentally different ways.
Interested to learn more about how to keep your employees inspired and engaged during challenging times? Get in touch.