Jessica graciously hosted me as a guest on her Workology podcast recently. As a companion to that discussion, I thought it would be useful to describe in more detail workplace policies that have proved invaluable for my company over the past several months.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was just breaking out in the US in early March, Kintone was very quick to recommend all team members work from home. Overnight, (on March 5th in the case of our US offices) we became a bustling network of people scattered across the United States, joining our colleagues in Japan, and other parts of the world working remotely but all with the same capacity and productivity as before. One day—that’s all it took for us.
What were and are the success factors that enabled such a smooth transition? We were fortunate as we already had a series of policies, a culture, and tools to support flexible work-styles generally, and remote work specifically. Nevertheless, my experience has been that any company can achieve this, provided they plan along those three critical axes.
Policies, tools, and culture
The first step is to assess whether your company’s policies, culture, and digital workplace technology stack are conducive to change. I suspect that even companies that consider themselves tech-savvy and agile might agree with one or two of these statements:
- – Some of our policies seem out of step with work from home (WFH)
- – We may have some old and inefficient processes that get in the way of WFH
- – We recently introduced collaboration tools that we have yet to really master
- – We’ve been relying on IT to identify and introduce new technologies that support remote work
- – We aren’t confident that people are really “working” productively from home
Once you identify the obstacles, you know where to start.
Policies that cultivate WFH flexibility
The fastest way to align your company with today’s WFH reality is to update your policies so they support and foster a WFH modality, and by addressing the core obstacles your company is facing. Here are nine policies that we defined and that can easily be adapted to your workplace.
- Encourage WFH team members to define a work schedule. Some people struggle to properly delineate where their personal lives begin and their work lives end. Are they suddenly at the office the moment they wake up, just because they can reach their laptop from bed? When do they go offline if Slack is always open? These are serious considerations because they impact your employees’ mental health and ability to perform. If a person feels ‘always on,’ when will they have time to recharge and relax? It’s important to start encouraging team members to define sign-on / sign-off times.
- Understand that office and home office really are different. It’s almost impossible to recreate the office environment at home. Instead, let individuals design an optimal work situation for themselves. It might be an office space where their toddler is at their feet, or it might be the balcony of their apartment. Let them figure it out and support their individual needs so they can do their best work.
- Flex hours are a must. Parents, especially, face a mountain of new challenges when working from home. They will need to define a work schedule that fits with their family and home-school schedule. You won’t make your team better by giving them more rules to stress about.
- Make sure someone records meeting minutes. Whether your team is working from home or at an office, some people will miss meetings now and then. Make it easy for them to get caught up and avoid data silos by creating a policy around capturing easily accessible meeting minutes for each project.
- Update each other on your work week. You’ll often hear people say that WFH is a blur: “What day is it, anyway?” is a recurring phrase! The antidote here is to encourage more open communication and sharing of what people have been working on. What client call did they sit in on? Which webinar did they attend? Where have they been struggling or need help? It’s important to give people space to share these experiences.
- Create policies that emphasize human connections. 93% of communication is non-verbal, and 55% of that is body language. That means your extroverts are suffering right now. And it means we are all struggling to communicate in a high-stress situation. Address this problem by fostering camera-on policies and exploring new ways for people to interact with one another. For example, since our team went fully remote, we’ve been hosting virtual happy hours, game nights, lunch meet-ups and workout sessions to nurture interpersonal connections in a more casual setting.
- Document your conversations and organize your data. If your company is now operating with new tools, all your data and conversations are likely being re-routed to new channels. It’s important to preserve all this data and conversations. Start finding ways to document and save everything your team is doing so you don’t lose anything.
- To that end, start creating data policies around your tools. It’s important to think about how your data will be shared, accessed, and discussed. Help your team get used to organizing and storing data in an accessible and secure location. Encourage the sharing of data and conversations to eliminate data silos—this is especially important for online collaboration.
- Finally, give grace. We are all struggling through this together. So remember, patience is a virtue that deserves extra consideration right now!
Your workplace tech shapes your workplace culture
Here’s a really important point that many of us overlook in the rush to implement the latest collaboration tech: if you want to trust your employees to do their best work from home, you need a culture that encourages transparency and accountability. How policies and tools intersect is crucial to fostering an environment that is conducive to openness and sharing.
For example, if your employees are using tools that make it hard for them to see and share data and information, how can they understand what their teammates are working on and demonstrate that they are contributing to common objectives? Without access to their team’s conversations, how can they know their voice is being heard and take ownership of critical projects? Watch out for communications silos and instead strive for technology that integrates projects, assets, and conversations.
COVID-19 will (eventually) be in our rearview mirrors
The workplace landscape may look pretty bleak right now, but one day COVID-19 will not completely dominate how our teams interact. If we make some smart decisions today that foster an effective WFH environment, we will define our workforce resilience for the long haul.