Given the COVID-19 pandemic, letting employees stay away from the office is the right thing to do—but working remotely is easier said than done. Follow these steps to set your organization up for success

In his monthly column for BCBusiness, Richmond-based employee engagement and internal brand communications expert Ben Baker shares his insights into how to communicate value effectively, so people want to listen and engage. In the end, it’s about creating influence through trust.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the share of people who worked from home regularly in the U.S. was 3.9 million, or 2.9 percent. That number has doubled since 2005, and the proportion in Canada is probably similar.

The statistics tell a compelling story: every year, more people want to work from home. However, doing so isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

Yes, technology has made it easier to work away from the office. Faster Internet, more-robust networks, unlimited cellphone plans, and a myriad of software and hardware options can all help streamline the task, but only if you plan strategically.

Companies large and small must understand that sending teams home is not as simple as mandating it. Leaders must set their teams up for success, or chaos may ensue.   

First, determine if it’s even possible to have people work from home effectively. Here are some key questions you should ask.

  • Do staff have the necessary quiet space at home, or will they be sharing an area with their partner, children or both, so it’s impossible to work effectively?
  • Do they have a proper desk and chair?
  • Do they have proper lighting?
  • Do they have stable, high-speed Internet?
  • Do they have a home phone, or will they be reliant on their cellphone?
  • Do they have a printer with a scanner and copier function, if needed?
  • Do they have a computer that can be tied into your network, or can they take their computer home?
  • Do they need a dongle to access a virtual private network (VPN)?
  • Can the VPN handle the additional outside connections effectively, or will it slow the system down to a point where people can’t work?
  • Do staff have the letterhead, envelopes, courier packages and other materials they need to work from home?
  • Can they legally bring files home without compromising insurance or business protocols?

Physical considerations are only half of the challenge. Leaders also need to make sure that staff are psychologically prepared to work from home and that processes are in place to prevent them from feeling isolated, disengaged and even depressed.

Leaders need to think about how people who have never worked from home long-term will fare when they are away from the office. For starters, they no longer have the same face-to-face interactions, coffee breaks and lunches with fellow workers. Developing communication channels for check-ins and collaboration is vital to team success.

Several times a day, team members should check in with each other, and leaders should check in with their teams. Some relevant questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Do you need help?
  • What challenges are you facing being out of the office?
  • What can I/we do to make things easier for you at home?
  • Do you need anything sent from the office?
  • More than ever, leaders and managers must make sure that the team, and the individuals within it, are working effectively and don’t feel ignored, isolated and unheard.

Setting up Zoom chats so team members can work together via shared screens will help.  It doesn’t have to be Zoom, but I’d suggest going with a stable software system that allows for video chats and shared screens. I prefer Zoom because when everyone is online, it lets people have sideline discussions about the challenges they’re facing before you bring them back to the bigger group.

Being available and accessible is essential.

Those two things are not the same. Available means that you can leave a message and someone will get back to you when it’s convenient for them. Accessible means that you can be reached when needed—a crucial factor for dispersed teams when they have to make a quick decision.

Working from home when you aren’t used to it, and when you don’t have the right tools, technology and support, can be difficult and disheartening. With that in mind, I’ve created a nine-minute video that explains how to be more successful in leading remote teams.

Stay well, and good luck!

Ben Baker wants to help you engage, retain, and grow your most valuable asset…your employees. He provides workshops and consulting to enable staff to understand, codify and communicate their value effectively internally and externally and Retain Employees Through Leadership. The author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and the host of the iHeart Radio syndicated YourLIVINGBrand.live show, he writes extensively on brand and communication strategy. 

Ben's complimentary online course, Know – Like – Trust: How to Develop Your Personal Brand, is now available. Click here to access the course.