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COVID-19: Learning to Love Telecommuting

Learning to Love Telecommuting

There’s a lot to hate about COVID-19 and how it is hurting people and organizations.

However, the pandemic could also lead to something we come to love: telecommuting as never before.

Many companies are responding to the global Coronavirus outbreak by asking as many employees as possible to work from home. Not surprisingly, many of the best examples of organizations taking the lead on “social distancing” at this time are Great Place to Work-Certified™ organizations in USA—companies including technology provider Citrix, financial services company Capital One and job site Indeed.

These companies are showing they are serious about not only caring for their own employees, but also protecting the broader community, given the public health imperative to “flatten the curve” when it comes to the spread of the virus.

It’s not as easy as saying “just stay home and work.”

Good-faith efforts to safeguard people by having employees work remotely pose challenges:

  • Organizations that haven’t enabled or promoted telework in the past are suddenly in unfamiliar situations with no existing norms to lean on.
  • Teams may not know how to collaborate well when colleagues are no longer across the table.
  • Leaders may not know how to check in on their people effectively when those employees are scattered throughout a region.
  • Technology departments may not have outfitted employees with systems for remote, secure work and collaboration.
  • Executives and everyone else may be missing the camaraderie and community of a busy office—just when people are hungrier than ever for connection and reassurance.

Any one of these can make productive telecommuting difficult.

Fortunately, there are some best practices for telecommuting that you can learn from during these unprecedented days:

Tap smart collaboration tools — especially videoconferencing

Even though employees may be isolated in their homes, that doesn’t mean collaboration and communication have to grind to a halt.

Today, there are many cloud-based technologies that make remote work as efficient and effective as working in a traditional office.

Teleconferencing tools in particular are powerful for restoring social connection and offering much richer communication than emails, intranets or phone calls alone. Seeing a familiar face or faces on the screen, being able to read gestures and body language, and the ability to share documents “live” goes a long way.

According to Harvard Business Review, teams that use videoconferencing experience higher levels of collaboration on decisions reached by videoconference compared to decisions made through a phone call or email.

Some of the tools available today are Zoom and Cisco WebEx.

Communicate frequently — and not just about work

Remote work arrangements can leave people feeling lonely, isolated and adrift.

The solution is to communicate plenty. This means clear guidance from leaders as well as opportunities for employees to pose questions and offer ideas.

The exchanges shouldn’t just be about work, though. Especially if companies are going to have people working remotely for weeks or months on end, there ought to be an “intentional remote culture.” That’s a term used by Kai Andrews, a consultant with advisory firm Point B.

“Don’t abandon the tenets that make your company culture unique. Hold regular virtual non-work-related meetings with your employees to talk about more casual topics,” Kai wrote in a recent article.

“Identify ‘water-cooler topic’ leaders who can form virtual discussion groups around topics such as sports, movies, cooking and much more. Employees can self-select into groups and new connections will form while old connections are maintained,” Kai suggests.

Plan and set clear policies—even if you’ve already sent people home

Other sound suggestions from Point B regarding remote employees include:

  • Establishing expectations around work hours
  • Providing guidance for teleconferencing etiquette (for example, on-camera eating is usually a no-no)
  • Expand support resources so employees don’t get frustrated about failed log-ins and other snafus
  • Telework and trust
  • COVID-19 gives organizations an opportunity to deepen trust — by trusting people when it comes to telecommuting.
  • Roughly 50 percent of U.S. employees work remotely at least once a week, according to research from collaboration technology firm Owl Labs. But about 80% of American employees believe remote work would make them feel happier less stressed and more trusted.
  • The study also shows employees reciprocate when given telecommute options: remote workers are more inclined to recommend their employer to a friend and less likely to leave their company than office-bound colleagues.

COVID-19 is clearly awful, and the months ahead are likely to be dark in many respects. Forced remote working arrangements are proving challenging for many people—think about all the employees juggling work at home with childcare now that schools are closed. But there may be an upside to this pandemic related to telework.

Many employees and organizations will get to test out telecommuting. And when it is safe to work together again, we will have learned how to work remotely in ways that are better for business, better for people and better for our communities.

We might just learn to love telecommuting.

Discover what the employee experience is like at your company

Whether your team consists of no telecommuters, 100% telecommuters or somewhere in between, the first step to creating the best possible workplace for them is learning how they feel about the current work environment.

The Best Workplaces all use employee surveys to evaluate and improve their company cultures. To find out what the employee experience is really like at your organization, learn more about running employee surveys.

 – Ed Frauenheim

Senior Director of Content at Great Place to Work®

Build a High-Trust, High-Performance CulturesTM