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Topic: Culture

Remote work practices

Five ways to inoculate your corporate culture against COVID-19

Illustration of a woman sitting cross-legged meditating on a table with her laptop and a cup of coffee

The quarantine response to the coronavirus means millions of full-time employees are now clocking in from the kitchen table—some more easily and productively than others. So what can you and your company do to help your people thrive outside the office?

1. Make sure they have the tools they need. And make sure the tools work.

One of the biggest dings on almost every employee satisfaction survey is inadequate equipment. Fortunately, if you suffer equipment problems, you’re not alone. But much less fortunately, those 7-year-old laptops, slow connections, or glitchy virtual private networks can take a huge toll on morale and productivity. In fact, few things are more frustrating for employees (or costly for the company) than being unequipped or underequipped to do a job. So work with IT to ensure everyone has everything to work from home.

Start by asking people what tools they need. But also let them know what all is available to them. And occasionally, employees may just need a little training to optimize the resources they already have.

2. Set expectations.

If the practice of working at home is new to your people, be specific about how it works. Leaders should make and communicate policies even if they’re tentative. For example, will the team keep the same hours? Will there be any regular calls or video conferences? How often should people check in, or expect their leader to check in on them?

Nearly every employee wants to contribute, especially when the stakes are high. But it’s hard for them to play—much less score—if they don’t know the rules.

3. Communicate frequently.

In the absence of communication, people naturally make assumptions. Under stressful circumstances, like say, a global pandemic, imaginations are prone to run amok to places that are often inaccurate and rarely positive.

Even if it seems excessive at first, a daily company-wide email or a weekly townhall-style video conference can ensure everyone stays and feels connected to the mothership. Done well, it’s a great way to calm nerves, provide timely updates, and minimize rumors. As long as every communication is 100% truthful and never sugarcoated, you can’t go wrong.

4. Maintain 1:1s.

Just like love, trust can fade. Few leaders can afford to let their relationships starve until everyone returns to the office.

One-to-ones don’t have to take place in person to be effective. Zoom, Skype, Webex, or any video conferencing service that provides an exchange of actual voices and facial expressions is more than sufficient for the task. The key, as always, is making the experience meaningful to the employee. So remind leaders to ask questions like What’s your stress level? and How’s this remote situation working for you? Don’t let distance stop people from getting personal.

5. Recognize good work and show appreciation.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t only motivate people. It binds them to each other and their company in ways that are essential for any healthy workplace culture. And thankfully, the impacts are measurable.

Topical case in point: a survey of healthcare workers during the first stages of the COVID-19 outbreak found acts of recognition increased engagement by 67%, reduced fear in their workplace by 59%, and increased trust in leaders by nearly 48%.

In remote environments, the results of recognition and appreciation are equally, if not more, acute. Bottom line: When your leaders and employees recognize and appreciate each other for accomplishments or efforts of any size, your company has a greater likelihood of thriving. No matter what the external circumstances.

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