The COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a global crisis of unprecedented scale disrupting the world of work. Companies are already facing the challenge of transitioning their offices to a remote workplace. In this new world of remote work, collaboration channels and video chats, are organisations prepared to embrace this big change and adapt to disruptions? Will company culture, communication, trust and productivity dissipate when the physical space transitions into a virtual workplace? Or, will the virtual workplace become the modern style of office culture? Let’s find out.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost all spheres of life, including our workplace. Although workplaces have been evolving from time-to-time, the impact of the pandemic on the enterprise has been completely unanticipated. But now that every organisation is promoting work from home for their employees, here is a food for thought – From “social” beings, are we now turning into “virtual” beings?
With all the arrangements made for a virtual workplace for an indefinite period of time, I wonder – Are we really ready to embrace this big change? In this article, let’s look at both sides of the coin.
Human Energy is Irreplaceable
Technology might rule the world now but there is a reason why it cannot replace the human race. Humans are made of nothing but energy so when you indulge in face-to-face interaction, the energy transmission from one person to another is bound to happen. That is what draws the line between “social” and “virtual”. Humans might make “smart” phones but under no circumstances can these phones or technology surpass humans’ extraordinary power of connection.
When your employees are working from home, there will be no face-to-face connection, which might make the employees feel isolated. So, if a virtual workplace is to become the new normal, leaders must strive to form deep human connections through the screens.
That being said, it is not impossible to make work from home as effective as a physical workplace, or even more, once the ideas employ proper implementation.
To keep the energy transmission intact, even in a virtual workplace setup, leaders can call for face-to-face meetings, maybe once a week or once a fortnight, depending on the requirement. This is important to keep the energy flowing between one team member to another. Otherwise, it might be next to impossible to replace that power of energy.
Being “Yourself” While Working from Home
When people are working from the office, one thing that contributes the most in evaluating their productivity is – face value. If a person is at his/her workstation all the time and not taking any breaks, he seems to be working hard. However, if there is someone who is not “pretending” to work but still achieves all the tasks on time with adequate quality, he might seem frivolous. Coming a few months down the line during a performance review, you realize the former is an under-performer, whereas the latter is one of the top-performing employees. Do you see what I am urging you to reflect here?
People who are working “on the face of it” seem to be more productive than the ones who take more breaks. Productivity is often seen in relation to the number of hours spent in front of the screen. But when we are working from home, this element will take a back seat, while other more important factors will start coming on the surface. When you are working from home, you can actually “be yourself” in the real sense. There will be less pretence and more authenticity in evaluating people’s productivity.
Structuring and Communicating Our Way
Let’s discuss the two most important ways to make this transition as smooth as possible – Structure and communication.
Since everyone is separated, it is of utmost importance to throw light on individual contributions. There must be a more organized way to delegate everyday tasks. Any ambiguity in the work structure might be detrimental to the productivity of the team, as a whole.
Another related aspect, communication, is the key to building trust and collaboration with the team. This can only happen if you ensure regular interaction with them. It is crucial to set up frequent virtual meetings with the team.
Structure and communication go hand in hand. Once the structure is defined, you, as a business leader, must pass it on to your team. You can prepare every day or weekly task sheets and distribute them around. Individual members must hone the deadlines and take full responsibility for their work. You must encourage your team to reach out to you in case they get stuck, to avoid any miscommunication.
Now when I say communication must be strong, I mean both verbal and non-verbal communication. When it comes to the virtual workplace, picking up non-verbal cues can stir up a hornet’s nest. But here are a few examples of how you can really “read” your team through their non-word gestures.
Firstly, try arranging for video calls at least once a week. That way, you can meticulously observe every team member and their engagement in the team.
Read between the lines when they are communicating through online channels like emails or text messages. But be careful not to delve too deep. There is a thin line between analysing and falsely assuming. If there is any doubt, you must clarify with the concerned team member.
Notice the tone of your team members. Is it in alignment with their purpose or your common objectives?
Trust is a MUST!
In the previous section, I emphasized the importance of communication. But the burning question is, why is communication that important? Well, let’s just put it this way – When you are communicating with your team, you are building the foundation of trust. The clearer the communication, the better the connection and the stronger the trust.
There has to be mutual trust and understanding among the team members. When you are putting yourself out there to make your team trust you, you must trust them too. It, indeed, is a two-way channel. How to build this trust?
While communication is the seed that reaps the fruits of trust, there are some other ways as well to develop a sense of understanding with the team.
- Don’t Tell, SHOW: Recognize the difference between managing and micromanaging. Stay updated with the team’s work but do not keep doubting by contacting them incessantly.
- The BIGGER Picture: Instead of focusing on the 9-5 routine, try finding out if the employees are achieving their targets or not. It is time to set realistic expectations and monitor whether your team is reaching them or facing any issues.
- Find a SUSTAINABLE Way: Find the balance between the quality and quantity of the work. Some people might have this urge to exert themselves more while working from home to “prove” a point but it might not last forever. It is essential to find a sustainable way of working.
- Get to Know the Team BETTER: As discussed in the beginning, human connection is the thread that binds the team together but now that it is not possible to indulge in physical interactions, try to get to know the team better through virtual setups.
The Core Team
If we want to run our virtual workplaces in an effective manner, we must learn that it is extremely important to educate the core team, especially in large-scale organisations were dealing with each person individually is out of the question. This is where the core team comes into play.
The CEO or the business leader might not be able to interact with the whole organisation but training the core team for the same is equally viable as just how the teachers had monitors in schools, the core team represents the CEOs at the organisational level.
Once the leader starts implementing the above-discussed principles with the core team, he can encourage this practice at a larger level. What the leader practises, the core team follows. So, the leader must transfer his “awareness” or “knowing” onto the next set of leaders (core team members). Therefore, the core team must be trained in dealing with their departments during this shift in the workplace norms.
Role of Culture
When we talk about workplace culture, it does not dissipate when the physical space transitions into a virtual workplace. In fact, it only becomes more important because the culture is not a physical entity, rather it is a “feeling” or a “perception”. That is when you can see the true picture of every organisation’s culture. Here are a few questions you must think about while practising virtual workplace norms.
Are you able to engage your employees by developing a sense of connection and belonging even while working apart? For example, are you indulging in any team-building activities or ice-breaking sessions with the new employees?
How open are you to employee feedback now that there is no regular physical interaction? Suppose one of the employees is facing a challenge working from home, how approachable are you? Do you have a proper platform to address these issues?
Are you redefining your company’s values in alignment with the new shift? With work from home in effect in almost every organisation, many leaders must focus on redefining their company values according to the current trend. While most values remain the same, there are certain virtues whose addition won’t harm anyone.
While working from home has its share of challenges, it has many benefits too. From saving fuel to spending more time with family, it comes with its own perks. We are living in an era of technology where every day we are experiencing new changes. The norm of virtual workplaces might be a hard nut to crack at first but will go a long way if run productively.