Everyone understands the need to undergo digital transformation projects and many companies now have the technology and software to support their employees from working outside of the traditional office environment and without impeding productivity. After all, Forbes suggests that 70% of companies have a digital transformation strategy or are working towards one.
However, often companies underestimate the time that is needed to embed a digital transformation strategy and ensure effective adoption. It isn’t the technology that is often overlooked but the human-aspect of that process.
This becomes all the more pertinent when companies are suddenly forced to implement remote working strategies. For example, the response to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has forced companies to create contingency plans and prepare for their employees to work from home and to manage working remotely as a team. In some areas such as Italy, Spain, France and Vietnam, it is a necessity as schools have closed and people are advised to stay at home.
This, of course, has huge implications on regional and global economies and companies cannot simply shutdown until the virus blows over.
At Learnlight we don’t just support clients with their digital transformation, including the human aspect, we live it in our workplace too.
Out of around 300 employees, Learnlight has around one-third of employees that work remotely all of the time, including members of the leadership team. Does this mean they are less productive than the employees in an office? On the contrary, skipping a lengthy commute to work and avoiding office gossip, research suggests that employees that work remotely put in more hours (6-7 a week according to Forbes) and are less likely to be absent from work.
However, one thing that companies really need to address is the human aspect of remote working. Spending a day a week working at home is not the same as spending week after week working remotely when someone is used to being in a sociable office environment. It can take months to find the right communication and daily structure to optimise productivity. As mentioned in HR Review’s article on home offices and mental health, feelings of isolation, paranoia and needing to prove that you are online and not slacking off work are usual with employees. This is on top of the challenge HR managers already face in ensuring good mental health in the workplace.
Therefore, how can companies manage in situations when home working is suddenly thrust upon us?
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Effective Communication is key to ensuring productive remote working:
Technology and processes are important but effective communication is essential. Here are some elements to consider:
- Ensure everyone knows the key objectives of the quarter and they are visualised and apparent, even if everyone is working from home.
- Build trust with your employees before they start working from home: make it clear that you already trust them to work in the same way as if they were in an office
- Ensure managers engage with their direct-line reports regularly
- Use social software to keep conversations flowing
- Encourage structured social gatherings online
- Ensure you have rules around document access and storage
Clear goals to give clarity and focus
Whilst it is easy to assume that company goals are clear, it is a good chance to remind people what the objectives are for the current period. It is especially important to share a clear and demonstrable plan when unexpected events happen. Keep those goals clear and visible, don’t assume an email or one phone call will be enough to keep people on target so people can work effectively from home.
Build Trust from the start
Trust is so important for both the employer and the employee when working from home. Whilst employers do need to trust that their employees will work when at home, this should be an assumed state of play. However, that trust still needs to be demonstrated by the line-manager to the employee.
- Make sure people understand that it is okay not to be continuously active on company chat platforms, in the same way that in the office, you might need to go and find quiet space to get on with a task.
- Make it clear that people don’t need to respond immediately to emails to prove they are online – if they are email-watching, they are possibly not being the most productive.
Use collaborative tools and software, so it is easy to ease progress on tasks
Ensure Managers engage with their direct-line reports regularly
Whilst Managers may also need to adjust to remote working, the old adage that, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, can negatively affect an employee’s mental well-being and productivity.
‘Learnlight has been built to be a virtual cloud-based business from day 1, using the systems, work practices and performance measures that allow our team to work from any location worldwide’ (Rupert Hillier, COO, Learnlight).
Companies often spend vast swathes of time trying to stop teams becoming siloed in their nature and work more collaboratively across the organisation. A risk when switching to remote working is that it is easy to recreate those silos as people become isolated in their own spaces. Having frequent check-ins, not only helps keep things on track, but also ensures the employee continues to feel valued and that their input matters. It is much easier to feel disengaged when working remotely, so leadership and line-managers should encourage social interactions.
Everyone uses social platforms, so having a corporate one can help keep people in touch with each other, whether for project work or to maintain a sense of community. Making employees use social boards or forums to share news and check-in on the latest information from leadership, helps create more engagement than a formal email. If your company doesn’t have one yet, it might take too long to get employees onboard with using it. Perhaps consider platforms that employees already use in their personal lives and set up a channel there.
It is important that employees are encouraged to interact with their colleagues. Even when working in the same office, employees often communicate by email rather than speaking face to face. When working from home, emails can be even easier to take out of context.
- Encourage quick (virtual) check-ins on projects, more frequently. They don’t need to be long meetings, but keep project teams together
- Organise a structured social gathering online
As Rupert Hillier, COO of Learnlight attests, ‘We introduced a virtual monthly tea-time for all employees. This is a chance to take an hour out of work and have a cup of tea together whilst sharing experiences. This makes our employees feel connected, engaged and valued’.
Learnlight usually creates a guided approach to virtual tea-times so that there is meaning to the sessions. For example, a given team spends some time talking about themselves, their team members, projects they are working on.
Ensure you have rules around document storage
Ensuring that your employees are clear about how they should work with online documents is really important. In order to eliminate frustrations, ensure that documents don’t get lost and that everyone is working on the same document, it is key to have guidance in place.
- Rules around version control
- Rules around not storing documents that need to be shared on local computer drives
- Guidance around naming of documents
- Navigation guides around what to store and where
Having those systems and process in place is essential and although it can take years to perfect, clear structure, guidance and systems mean that technological adoption can be expedited. The human element can be trickier.
And as mentioned, employees working from home can be more productive. Rupert Hillier, COO of Learnlight, agrees: ‘As we’ve refined our approach, we’ve found our home-based staff often demonstrate higher engagement, motivation and productivity, that has led to an increasingly flexible approach to where people work’.
Learnlight helps many of its clients on its digital transformation journey. This is especially important when considering the digital transformation of learning and development as ensuring optimal technology, software and appropriate pedagogy are often overlooked. As is clear from the article, supporting the human aspect of digital transformation and creating a structure to optimise remote working is often neglected.
Learnlight offers specialised training in managing such situations, such as managing virtual teams, managing stress, dealing with change and global virtual working, aimed at managers and employees.
If you are a company currently looking for advice on how to migrate your corporate learning to online, contact us.