I’ve given a lot of thought to this in the last few weeks. Many of my customers are in finance, tech, healthcare, defence and emergency services. We’re not going to have the luxury of stopping working. Many may be consigned to remote working, and the rest will want to avoid contact with non-urgent personnel and do all paperwork remotely.
On the one hand, remote working is something that some neurominorities prefer – we can focus better than in busy offices and hyperfocus on our work unimpeded. So for some of us, this situation could be a chance to show employers how productive we are remotely.
On the other hand, many of us thrive on the energy of teams and find communication via electronic media a drain on our cognitive skills. In addition, evidence suggests that in general, remote workers suffer with increased anxiety (let alone in times of stress). Without regular informal communication our teamwork could suffer and relationships may strain. Additionally disability support needs to be factored in to the cognitive load of changing the rules of communication, and the ongoing need for accommodations and adjustments.
So as part of your business continuity planning, here’s my six top tips for managing remote working during this crisis.
Today In: Diversity & Inclusion
Tip One: Acknowledge
Take some time to acknowledge the difficulties. Communicate your plan. Explain that you don’t expect to hold conference calls and get the same level of engagement as you might in a face-to-face. Your team will benefit from knowing that it’s okay to find this hard, that they are allowed to talk about it. For those of us prone to missing social signals, using text / email / phone only is littered with opportunities to misinterpret; we might get more things wrong than normal and need support to avoid conflict. Let everyone know that you are prioritising good relationships and comms.
Video conferencing will be an easier cognitive load on the brain than phone calls. Failing that, provide some basic visuals for people to look at while you are talking, even if they are simple bullet points on a word document. Take breaks during long calls or conferences. We sometimes break into sets of 2-way phone calls for detailed work and then come back to the whole group to de-brief.
Please also be super mindful of people with sight or hearing loss – this could be devastating without the tools they rely on day to day. Reach out directly to ask how to accommodate – there are a bunch of awesome tech enhancements for these employees, and now is the time to use them.
Tip Three: Make Time For Emotional Check Ins
There are a bunch of ways to build this in. You can start your meetings by checking in with everyone first rather than diving into business. A good question is “what’s on top for everyone?” If people are talking about personal things, let them digress and give more leeway that you might normally; they are going to need it if they are isolated. You can also ask “for this meeting to be ideal, it will be like what?” Spending time clarifying meeting goals and purpose might be pedestrian but when we’re all a bit discombobulated it can be really grounding.
You can also make specific time for social webinars. A morning / lunch / evening check in, or a 15 min virtual coffee break with everyone who is remote will help hold the isolation at bay and give forum for the informal chit chat that we rely on during normal office based interaction, which could be really bonding and helpful.
Tip Four: Don’t Defer Disability Support
People who are receiving coaching, or preparing for accommodation/adjustment assessment still need to be progressed. This can be done remotely and, though it may not be as comprehensive, my research has shown that remote services can still accommodate at least 50% of what is needed. For employees who may be feeling stressed and alienated without support, the current situation is not going to help. We want everyone working at their best and for that we should maintain their support packages. For front line workers, maintaining the coaching support that has been in progress might be critical factor to performing at their best in this peak period. Just as you would permit time out of the working day for this under normal circumstances, you still need to do so during the disruption.
Tip Five: Organise Online Wellbeing Workshops
If this situation is prolonged, or if you are running an organisation involved in front line work, organising facilitated wellbeing workshops might help with the emotional labor. A workplace wellbeing psychologist, for example, can host webinar small group meetings or one-to-ones where people have an opportunity to download and decompress, with a positive focus on exercising the control we do have over our situation. Getting ahead of this before people become fatigued or overwhelmed will be key.