People and Change Consulting

Learning how to work and lead remotely

Imelda Rey
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Conversations about the return to the office, adopting hybrid, or going fully remote are currently being held in every organisation around the world. But what I don’t hear so much chat about, is how we need to upskill employees at every level to help them navigate this new world of work.

In the rush last year to send workers home with a laptop at rapid pace as the pandemic took hold, upskilling was the last thing on peoples’ minds. And then we all just got on with it, and one month became a quarter, and before we knew it we became remote workers and somehow made it work. But that doesn’t mean that we have done it as effectively as possible, and now new habits have set-in, and not all of those are healthy.

Helping staff and leaders to develop the skills needed to be effective in a new context is now required, in some cases to introduce new approaches, and in other cases to break bad habits. Think of it like a refresher driving course; you’ve had your licence for some time but we would all likely benefit from a refresher to point out bad habits that have crept in. If you were to do your driving test tomorrow, would you pass? Working remotely for the past 18 months doesn’t mean that we are doing it as well as we could be. That’s why, in addition to the many benefits, there are also some negative factors that could be corrected with a little instruction.

Firstly, looking at personal effectiveness, what routines help you to start and end your working day well? Do you just drift from the breakfast table to your desk and let outlook direct your day, or is it blocked out in advance, with focus time set aside for priority projects. When you are doing focus work (reading, writing, thinking), do you unplug from all distractions? If not, your productivity will definitely suffer, as your brain switches back and forth from focus to distraction, to focus again. Each shift takes longer for your brain to get back into the groove from where you left off. As much as we like to think we are brilliant multi-taskers, our brains are not wired that way. We are far better off setting a timer, disconnecting, and focussing on the task at hand for a good block of time. Try it, and see how it works for you.

For collaboration with others, are you choosing the best medium for each type of discussion? Just because we can have a Zoom meeting with cameras on, doesn’t mean we have to! If a phone call will do, then choose that. All this staring at ourselves on screen is also contributing to our fatigue. Notice what your default settings are now, and question yourself and others about habits that are forming.

Finally, how are leaders being supported to lead teams in a new context? What we know from companies that have embraced remote working for many years, is that leaders must also develop new habits for their remote teams. Less time together means that leaders must be intentional about connecting and communicating with their team, both in one-to-one and team settings. Distance means that there is more opportunity for confusion, so clarity of expectation is even more important. Checking-in, not checking-up, is a good habit for leaders to develop.

By investing in upskilling and talking about working practices, organisations will reap the benefits of ensuring that whatever choices they make for the new world of work, their people have the skills to succeed.