Government organisations are navigating through having to remote work a large share of their workforce within weeks – some alongside other seasoned remote workers, others for the first time. For many, this is uncharted territory and requires highly effective leadership.
Keeping these organisations ‘open for business’ is critical. Many are experiencing unprecedented workloads and simultaneously adapting to remote work, making it even more important to ensure teams feel valued.
Focusing on setting teams up for success and to work well remotely, will make the workforce be more efficient, more together and more adaptable when – or if – they return to the office.
Under normal circumstances, we find six elements crucial to making remote working work, while the current realities add a seventh factor.
1. Keep your teams and organisation safe
With your teams working remotely, there is no visibility of their working conditions and possible risks. The lucky few will work in an established, secure home office, but many will be working from the kitchen table or the bedroom, bringing new challenges and stiff necks. It is important to help your team think through how to reduce obvious risks, as well as identifying and addressing other unexpected risks.
One less obvious risk is how remote working can affect one’s mental health. Ensure supervisors prioritise calling individuals to check how they are coping. Create informal team forums (for example on WhatsApp) to help maintain a sense of community – whether swapping jokes or asking for help with a problem. Remind teams that Employee Assistance Programs exist and encourage staff to access them when needed.
Revisit safety programs and risk frameworks to ensure they cover the challenges of working remotely. This may mean developing new protocols for how to manage essential and classified work that must be done in secure sites.
Develop updated protocols for remote work such as training on cyber security and safeguarding personal identifiable information. Provide technology as needed to ensure cyber and information security as well as employee safety. Confirm every person working remotely completes a risk assessment to appropriate mitigation plans.
2. Be explicit about what is required – what, when and whom
Remote working at its worst generates inefficiencies, duplicates effort, fosters uncertainty and delays, and causes low morale. At its best, employees are more productive, connected and appreciative of the flexibility home working provides. To avoid pitfalls and drive best practice, it is important to set clear expectations:
- Agree priority deliverables and actions and clearly communicate work requirements, accountability and deadlines
- Recognise that teams may have lulls in workload; create rapid load-balancing measures and set expectations for residual ‘down time’ (completing mandatory training, professional development, special projects)
- Over invest in transparency and visibility of comms to celebrate success, ensure stakeholders are in the loop, eliminate duplication of efforts and to share best practice/key learnings
- Document key processes and protocols to evolve the home working environment and make them available to all who need them
- Over invest in time chatting to your people and checking they are OK, physically and mentally.
We consistently apply this to achieve clear accountability with supporting targets, cascading through the organisation, to enable all members of a highly dispersed workforce to pull in the same direction.
3. Understand your remote, home-based team (including your own preferences)
Everyone works differently in the office and that is accentuated when working remotely, where an individual’s personal situation may complicate remote work further. Recognise individuals will have different working styles and challenges and take the time to listen, care and understand what they are going through.
Assume positive intentions and encourage others to do so – ask questions to understand underlying circumstances and motivations to help uncover and mitigate potential issues before they escalate.
Through it all, do not underestimate the importance of self-care. Irrespective of your seniority, some form of down-time and distraction is critical. Chances are this is a marathon, not a sprint, so taking care of yourself and leading by example is vital.
4. Leverage digital platforms
Email will only get you so far. Digital platforms offer far more potential than most organisations currently use. Ensure employees have the technology needed to perform outside the office. Further, understand that working remotely introduces additional challenges around data and security, so it is important to engage IT and your cyber team early in the process of finding an appropriate, sustainable solution.
Once the basics are securely in place, there is a vast array of online platforms available to enable communication (Skype, WhatsApp), information sharing and collaboration (Google Docs, Miro, Microsoft Teams) and project management (Trello, Monday.com, BaseCamp), as well as governance (Diligent, Boardvantage). This is an ideal opportunity to see how they will work within your organisation (subject to security limitations).
An effective dashboard means the team can track key metrics, status and actions in one place
If this is the first time using these platforms, ensure people are adequately trained. Remember, there is no one size fits all – experiment to find the right solution set for your team. With practice, these platforms will become a part of your organisation’s toolkit and culture, enabling greater coordination and contribution.
5. Set your remote team norms
Freshly remote teams need to set up and embed explicit norms early – this should include regular live ‘catch ups’ to share progress, solve problems and communicate on specific topics. Set your remote team norms to maintain optimal collaboration and connection by locking in frequent communication to ensure alignment and reinforce best practice. Exploit tools available (video call, screenshare, virtual group chat), keep it casual and minimise adaptation required (exploit tools already in use).
6. Chat more often
Real-time, side-by-side coaching is challenging in the remote environment but still achievable with a different approach. Do not rely on emails – successful remote working managers hold daily calls – by phone, Skype Video, FaceTime or WhatsApp – with teams and individuals to check in.
Note that as a leader, you are likely to communicate more than you normally do for a while, and it is critical you maintain enough energy to facilitate your role.
7. Support your constituents, colleagues, contacts and suppliers who are dealing with the same challenges
Every organisation is dealing with their own challenges and some will shift more rapidly to remote work than others. Encourage your agency to show empathy where possible – you can support others by being understanding and, if opportunity allows, sharing your experience of what has worked and what has not.
How do we know this works? We have operated through a largely global remote office for more than 20 years. By applying these tips and tricks, we have built an effective and happy remote team which both performs and values individuals. We hope they provide some useful pointers to help your organisation, as we all navigate the challenge of operating remotely.
About the authors
Aldous Mitchell leads Partners in Performance’s Public Sector Practice
Malcolm Allen leads Partners in Performance’s Back Office Transformation Practice
Frans Lombard leads Partners in Performance’s Defence and Intelligence Practice
Tim Morse leads Partners in Performance’s Call Centre Practice