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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
I’ve worked remotely for many years, long before the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve led teams, collaborated, and communicated with worldwide clients, successfully, in a remote capacity. I’ve been a vocal proponent for the idea that most every job, with some exceptions, can be done in this manner. Yet, companies have been slow in their adoption of this notion. The technology is there and there is no doubt that for businesses that don’t require street traffic or in-house visits there is an immense amount of cost savings – from desks and laptops to office space. For those that do visit clients or vendors, it would be more cost-efficient to send the key employees for a visit than to rent a space.
However, when you have an intentional remote business, the most important thing that matters is how you hire. This is what I mean: In a brick-and-mortar office, all that matters is the skillset of the employee. In a remote business that is important, but of equal or of even more importance is your potential candidate’s ability to manage their time and to stay focused with all of the potential distractions that can happen when working from home – and there are many. Not every employee will be a good candidate to work remotely, even if they have years of experience to complete the job. Working from home is hard and it’s a mindset.
So, you may guess why, during the time of a Covid-19 pandemic, the challenge is not whether remote is possible but whether it is possible with your current workforce.
Hiring a remote workforce
Rewind back to March. Most every business, no matter what they do, sent employees to work from home. Therefore, the idea that it can’t be done is now out of the window. But where is the real challenge? The employees that these businesses have were not screened for their ability to successfully work in a remote manner or for their desire to work from home, which is equally important. Many have never worked from home. Many don’t want to work from home. And, in all honesty, many may not be able to multi-task as well as they thought they could.
Therefore, what can be done when a new business concept forms, the best human capital may not be in place for the situation (to no fault of their own), and yet work has to go on, without missing a beat? Here are three suggestions:
1. Understand the lay of the land
When your employees took the job, expecting to drive into work each day, they didn’t plan on their kids being home, their spouses being home, or even having their television in the next room. Then add to the wound that it’s even difficult to go to a coffee shop for a little quiet, as many places still aren’t open. Therefore, every manager should be scheduling a frank conversation with all employees, ASAP. The goal is not to pry into their personal life, but to find out where the employee sees their challenges and help them overcome them, in any way possible. You are a team, but as in any business situation, you can’t change what you don’t know. So, ask. If there was ever a time to invest in your people, it is now. Do everything you can to make their new work landscape comfortable. Not only will it help with their level of happiness, but it will also create loyalty when a sense of “normal” returns.
2. Re-evaluate what “time” really means
As employees face more challenges at home, I ask you to re-think the idea of time. Here’s what I mean: In an office, and I’ve worked in many of them, there is what I call “pretending to work.” This sounds harsh or like I’m suggesting something unethical. But I know many are nodding as they read this. When you are required to work for a specific amount of time, rather than being focused on simply completing necessary tasks, it becomes an unnecessary chore and burden, especially during times like these. The reality is that sometimes a day doesn’t take eight hours. It only takes four. Why punish an employee if they finish their work? They can sit at their desk and “pretend” to work, but why?
What I suggest is to meet with all employees. Set out a 3-month plan of what needs to be done. And “work” is not the answer. It must be quantifiable and specific. Give the employee a specific goal they must deliver, when it must be delivered, and any team members that they may need to coordinate with. What this will do is free up the stress that they must help their son with their remote third-grade class. Trust me, they are doing that – but under the current plan, they just aren’t telling you. Change the narrative and make it acceptable. If you move to a structure of deliverables, everybody will be clear, business will still get done, and they will have less stress in their new working environment. It’s not about the amount of time that is spent, it is merely getting done what needs to be done. Some days it may be fast. Some days it may take more time. It equals out. Trust me.
3. Have fun
Your employees, if they didn’t intend on working from home, are stressed out. I guarantee it. They are tired of it all. They are worried for what is to come. They are socially depleted. It is now your job to become the fun coordinator. Set up daily 15-minute required breaks to socially connect with the new remote teams. No work allowed. Share nothing but GIFs, companywide. Offer a gift card for a coffee for the best captions. Share music. Get creative. The required breaks can help to bond teams, get the brains working again, and give a sense of connection in a time when they may feel very disconnected.
These are tough times. You didn’t plan on this and neither did your employees. The rapid evolution of this new business landscape is a blur, at best. But how you handle it and the agility you display will inevitably form how well your business will fare as we go down this road. Be willing to think of things in a new way. Be sensitive to the situations at hand, without judgment. Be a place they welcome within their home. The challenges are real but fast forward…this could be the change you never knew your business needed.