• Engaging From a Remote Workplace

    Time Magazine, one of the world’s primary 20th century news oracles, recently made this 21st century pronouncement: “The Coronavirus Outbreak has become the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.’’

    Across the nation and the world, stunned workers and employers are seeking to heed officials’ calls for “social distancing’’ and self-quarantines by allowing more and more people to work from home, as the coronavirus has turned from a scare into a full-blown pandemic.

    Ramping up and creating remote teams immediately

    Turning a mostly office-based workforce into a productive remote team is typically not done overnight – but all that has changed in recent days and weeks as America’s cultural and economic foundations have been jolted to the core.

    An array of digital tools exist to bring employees together electronically, including Microsoft (MS) Teams, Zoom and Slack, and increase engagement and collaboration among a work force that cannot share an office location.

    Experts say communicating, encouraging participation and appreciating remote workers are keys to success

    Workplace experts have expressed some common guidelines for smoothing the transition and keeping remote workers engaged, productive and appreciated.

    BambooHR, a provider of digital tools to enhance human resources at small- to medium-sized businesses, cites engagement as the key to a loyal, productive workforce. It cites three key elements toward creation of win-win remote working situations: “Communication, Participation and Appreciation.’’

    Company executives and managers need to be clear about expectations, says the ITA Group, a company that provides “integrated engagement solutions’’ to enhance coordination among employee, partners and customers.

    Clear direction is essential

    “Without clear direction, a remote employee can feel like they’re stranded on an island,’’ according to an ITA writer, who recommends guidance be provided on what an out-of-office employee needs to do next after given an assignment and who they can turn to for assistance.

    Participation from remote employees – particularly during team conference calls – is essential to making these workers feel a part of the team and stay engaged, say experts.

    Recommendations include ensuring employees on the phone get meeting materials ahead of the call and are encouraged to provide feedback.

    Directly engage remote workers during team conference calls

    Gitlab, which bills itself as the world’s largest all-remote workforce with staff in 65 far-flung countries, suggests building “playful elements into meetings to create a shared vibe’’ between off-site and on-site staff.

    This, says Gitlab, could take the form of asking each staff member at the end of the conference call to provide an ‘aha’ moment, offer an apology to overreacting to something said or appreciating a suggestion. Such a requirement keeps those on the call more alert and engaged.

    Office small talk is one of the things remote employees miss by being away from an office setting, where banter and chitchat during breaks can help foster camaraderie and ultimately productivity.

    Encourage remote employees to share ‘virtual coffee breaks’

    Gitlab says it “encourages its remote teams to take virtual coffee breaks’’ to create conversations similar to those many in-office colleagues have on walks to nearby coffee shops.

    Virtual coffee breaks can take place via established forums, for example like Google Hangout that are always open.

    The ITA Group suggests managers drop their remote employees occasional off-topic emails or texts, or even a humorous GIF, meme or emoji.

    LinkedIn weighs in with a list of tips for short-term transitions to a remote workforce that include creation of a remote leadership team, creation of an easily accessible handbook to document key changes in office procedures and setting up formal and informal communications’ plans.

    To Gallup.com, individualization of remote-work setups for employees is essential, allowing employers to “tailor conditions to what hits an employee’s strength.’’

    It recommends an XYZ format: “X is the work you should do. Y is the quality standard. Z is the deadline.’’

    Working from home is part of the new normal

    Forbes has recognized the reality.

    “Remote work is saying working remotely is no longer a privilege,’’ says the magazine. “It’s become the standard operating mode for at least 50 percent of the U.S. population.’’

    Now, amid coronavirus, that number is seeing staggering increases.