What can we learn from long-term remote working?

Michelle Gibbings talks about what remote working has taught us

Work may be back in full swing or still experiencing the COVID-19 impact, but whatever the scenario, the recent experience of mandatory working from home has left its mark, highlighting the positives and opportunities that exist. For leaders who thought that working from home doesn’t work, they were proved wrong. It works, but with some caveats and imperatives that could help it work better.

Leadership needs to step up

Leadership is imperative no matter the working environment—be it the office or home. The best leaders stepped up to the challenge, reaching out to their team members to understand what support they needed. They recognised that while there are universal human reactions to change and uncertainty, people have different needs.

Leaders learnt through this process that working from home meant they needed to pay more, not less, attention to the team’s dynamics. People want to feel they matter and to know they are valued. Leaders need to continue to set regular times to check in with their team and colleagues, using these connection points as an opportunity for support and engagement, as well as motivation.

Structure matters

Getting things done and making progress isn’t an accident, having a structure and routine helps. This approach may include having specific start and finish times for pieces of work, along with scheduled breaks. Research shows working in 30–60 minute time blocks is most effective as it’s the optimal length in which your brain can focus.

During this period, new habits and routines have been created, so consider which ones have worked effectively and can be continued. Talk to your team and colleagues to determine how to blend the best old and new ways of working.

People want progress

Research shows that making progress is a huge factor in keeping us motivated. Motivation levels will likely have waxed and waned over this period because of the emotional uncertainty that existed.

As work starts to adjust to a new normal, look for ways to bolster productivity. It can be as simple as making your’s and the team’s progress visible by writing down the key tasks and when done, crossing them out. This simple approach helps maintain motivation as the brain’s natural reward chemical—dopamine—kicks in.

Technology is crucial

Technology is changing how we live and work, and technology made work from home possible for many. For organisations that struggled with technology capacity and having the right tools, they had to adapt and find work-arounds quickly. Now the genie is out of the bottle, and it will be hard to put it back in, so identify and address any technology gaps or process inefficiencies. Working from home is on the agenda, and it will stay there.

Make the environment work

The aesthetics of the work environment matter as they impact productivity. So, just as people may have set up their home office to be a place that was nice to work, now is the time to consider the options that exist to make the office workspace more aesthetically supportive.

There may be limitations to what you can do to change your work environment; with your boss not taking too kindly to you repainting walls, shifting furniture, or changing the lightbulbs. However, there is always something you can do, big or small, to make your space work better for you.

Not everything translates to virtual

Sitting down and participating in online meetings all day is exhausting. This sentiment has been a constant source of commentary and feedback from many sources. Looking at screens and being on the phone all day isn’t how we are used to working.

So, while working from home is great, not everything can be done remotely (or done as effectively remotely). Consider where face-to-face sessions are more productive and effective, and those where remote will work just as well.

People need connection

Humans are tribal creatures who are hard-wired for connection. Part of the joy and happiness that people experience at work comes from the banter and chats they have with colleagues. Nothing can replace the casual corridor conversation or chat in the tea-room.

Working from home is here to stay, but connection and time with our team and colleagues will always be necessary.

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, working with global leaders to build workplaces where leaders and employees thrive and great things happen. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’, ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’ and the new book ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’.  www.michellegibbings.com.