By Eric Johnson
Further into the future as the pandemic has waned for some time, idea of flex work as a normal aspect of business operations may become permanent as organizations grow accustomed to the cost savings and flexibility offered to workers. With several considerations, organizations can plan around the culture shift and assist employees by creating purposeful guidelines and norms for the future.
Currently many individuals in offices may have their own conference number that they can use to create conference calls through their own setup. As we move into the stable future, we expect individuals to have a personal video call conference number or click-link as well. Organizations should develop training around the technical / advanced use of video conferencing, etiquette, safety, and other elements to ensure that employees have appropriate understanding of how to efficiently use video at a higher frequency, and that there is a clear set of expectations from the organization.
This may be permissible through the current conferencing tools within the organization, as a feature increase, or may require a brand-new vendor to meet the needs of the organization.
Home Environments and Setup
Everyone understands that working from home comes with a certain level of distraction, significantly correlated with the increase in number of household members. Consider providing employees with training on how to handle these distractions and offer forums for people to share best practices. The risk may decrease somewhat as children are consistently back in school, however if a spouse is working from home as well, boundaries will need to be created to develop a consistent environment that supports the work needed to be completed.
Additionally, IT may want to develop a set of guidelines from a home networking perspective to give employees guidance on bandwidth needs, security needs, and other technical components to perform their work. For example if an employee has a low bandwidth IT service, they may need to increase their plan in order to achieve the bandwidth necessary to provide video, or if their internet is spotty and frequently disconnects, they may need to change carriers. There may be situations even where wired Internet is not available, and the employee solely relies on satellite or even cellular Wi-Fi hotspots. Organizations will need to consider these home limitations and may potentially partner up with a carrier to offer discounted services if possible.
Work Environments and Required Attendance
While more employees work from home, there will always be a need for a work location. management needs to identify the times or situations where employees will need to be in the office. Doing this now will provide the opportunities to understand what those situations are and to have discussions with employees to get their feedback and provide input. Management should also consider the possibility of satellite office locations such as WeWork or Regis that could possibly give employees an office environment with reduced travel times if the concentration of employees is high enough to warrant the business decision to do so.
As the country has been thrust into a sudden work from home situation, many of the ways in which working from home has evolved has been a function of individual approaches thus far. Moving into a fully post pandemic world, organizations can use this time too shape what that future will look like so that they are able to hit the ground running once it arrives.
Read more about Flex Work:
Returning to a Safe and Healthy Office Work Environment Blog Series - Blog 5: Remote and Flex Work Options
By Brie DeLisi
Many organizations are in the process of considering if and how to bring their employees back to the workplace. There are potential risks involved in bringing employees back, especially at full capacity in the office. In the call center example, employers are facing this consideration with a fairly large workforce in a shared work environment with close quarters.
Average cubicle or workstation recommendations are around 100 square feet per employee (a 10 x 10 ft workspace) and if employees were to stay isolated in their 100 sq. foot ‘bubble’ that might work, however there is a decent amount of movement throughout the day and the likelihood of maintaining proper social distancing is unlikely. With this consideration, annual base office rental rates per sq. ft is around $10-14 per year, depending on the space. It can then be determined that each employee workstation space alone will cost about $1,000-1,400 per year, not including annual operating expenses, furniture, electrical, etc.
Organizations are likely looking at the costs of leasing what has been largely empty space for the last couple months and wondering what to do next. When considering the options for the future, fortunately, there are a number of options to consider for the work environment structure, with pros and cons to each for consideration:
Full return to the workplace – this is a situation in which all employees return to the office, there will likely be changes in the day-to-day operations to limit interactions.
Partial return to the workplace for the entire workforce, Situation A – in this situation, perhaps half the employees return to the office for half the week while the other half work from home, and swap for the latter half of the week.
Partial return to the workplace for the entire workforce, Situation B – in this dynamic, half the workforce returns to the office while half work remotely in a permanent situation
Fully remote workforce – in which the office environment is largely liquidated, and all employees work remotely
At Propulo, we’d be happy to discuss the options and considerations for the future of your call center workforce!
Future blogs in this series
Read more from this blog series:
BLOG 1: THE NEW NORMAL
BLOG 2: OFFICE ENVIRONMENT SETUP
BLOG 3: SAFE WORKING PROCEDURES AND PPE
BLOG 4: PREPARATION FOR RETURN - EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATIONS
BLOG 6: CONTINGENCY PLAN DEVELOPMENT
Read more about Flex Work:
By Madison Hanscom, Ph.D.
Whether you have already been working in a remote environment or you are new to world of virtual meetings as a result of COVID-19, it is always a good idea to check in to reflect on the effectiveness of meetings. At Propulo, we have been holding virtual meetings long before the pandemic, and here are some ideas from our desk to yours:
At Propulo, our focus has always been on safety culture and operational excellence. Please visit our website (Propulo Consulting) for more business insights and leadership resources.
Design Thinking with a Remote Workforce: How to Drive Process and Customer Experience Improvements During Coronavirus
By Dale Lawrence
Even during massive business disruptions, job losses and a shift in your customer’s attention, your business is still moving forward. This is not the time to stop innovating. This is not the time to give up on your customers. Many of your workers are feeling isolated and struggling to be productive and likely have far more discretionary time than ever before. It was been shown that a remote workforce starts their day earlier, can have less distractions during the workday and tends to work later than the traditional office worker.
However, in a recent meeting with leaders from different industries, I noted that each company was struggling with their team’s focus and productivity. The leaders kept stating that as more of their critical resources were working-from-home, many of these workers did not have experience with extended remote work and their company had not built the processes, procedures and policies to ensure productivity. During the rush to shift the business within the sudden shelter-in-place guidance, many companies didn’t have time to prepare.
The fact still remains that your customers need your best. Process effectiveness decreased when your workforce moved to their home and these inefficiencies are adding to lost productivity. You need to start thinking about how to adjust the work your team provides and how it delivers for your customers.
Remote Employees can be Productive and Effective in Design Thinking Workshops
What is a Design Thinking Workshop?
The Design Thinking approach and the often-used workshop environment provides a way to effectively use the power of your people to collaborate and overcome a collective barrier to doing work. Using empathy (to put yourself in the shoes of the impacted workforce), innovation (to find creative ways to solve a problem) and experimentation (to try, fast fail and try something else until you overcome the barrier), an experienced facilitator team brings the participants through a journey to:
• Rethink what each procedure does or even if it brings value,
• Resequence the order that the steps occur,
• Reconfigure the activities and the value they bring,
• Reassign who does what,
• Relocate where the work is done,
• Retool the systems and tools used,
• Reduce what doesn’t bring value.
The participants typically are issued a challenge statement (goal), uncover issues in the current work, then map out the process using post-it notes while they creatively look for new ways to do the work. When addressing customer experience needs, the team really looks to drastically improve the service offering by reducing non value-added work (therefore reducing cost and barriers) while giving the customers more of what they want. The Design Thinking approach is very effective to build a Service Design solution.
Traditionally most Design Thinking workshops are done in-person however that is a challenge as businesses navigate through the current pandemic (Black Swan Event).
There is good news!
Technology has provided the means to achieve most of the objectives for a great Design Thinking workshop. Leveraging many of the tools and approaches that we have used for some time, the objectives for an effective experience are still met. These include:
•Interviews with stakeholders conducted remotely using toll free bridges and video sharing tools
•Collaborative environments where your employees and our consultants collect information to be used for the workshop
•Focus Groups are conducted using video group sharing systems
•Workshops are conducted using online tools (e.g. Miro) that provide collaborative whiteboard, video, process mapping, and electronic post-it etc.
Propulo brings expert facilitators with extensive process excellence and human performance experience. We can work in one-to-one or one-to many environments to ensure your teams are fully involved while being safe in these challenging times of Coronavirus.
By Martin Royal
While taking care of our health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis is the priority, many will find themselves working remotely for the first time and might face other potential threats: cybersecurity threats.
Cybersecurity threats aren't breaking news to those of you who are used to work remotely, on-the-road and in public areas. However, the firm McAfee has already identified and reviewed multiple reports that suggest the COVID-19 crisis is being used as a bait with criminal intent, whether it is through phishing, email scams, misleading web domains, malware, etc. For cybercriminals, this crisis can be an opportunity to tap into a large number of individuals who find themselves working remotely on potentially unsecured devices and who may not be familiar with safe cybersecurity practices.
McAfee - Staying Safe while Working Remotely
What can you do to prevent cybersecurity frauds?
The US Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has highlighted simple precautions for individuals to follow:
• Exercise caution in handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink.
• Be mindful of social media pleas, texts, or calls related to COVID-19.
• Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments.
• Use trusted sources—such as legitimate, government websites—for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19.
• Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information.
• Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations.
CISA - Defending against COVID-19 Cyber Scams
What does this mean if you're a business leader?
While you may have an IT policy and provide guidance on cybersecurity and privacy within your organization, your employees may be unaware of the expectations for working remotely. Here are simple steps to get you started:
• If you haven't done so yet, raise the awareness of cybersecurity threats with your employees who are now working remotely.
• Identify a couple of cybersecurity themes (start with the above precautions mentioned) and use them as discussion topics in some of your daily huddles.
• Create a cybersecurity guidance policy to highlight the cybersecurity risks your remote employees are exposed to and the different strategies they can implement to mitigate those risks.
• Review your organization's cybersecurity practices and systems for remote working to ensure they meet acceptable standards for your particular cybersecurity needs.
The SANS Institute provides lots of advice and information to help organizations understand their cybersecurity risks and best practices. You can access their Security Awareness Work-from-Home Deployment Kit to help you quickly put together a cybersecurity guidance policy.
SANS Security Awareness Work-from-Home Deployment Kit
By Stephanie Monge-Sherman
Are you working remotely and finding it hard to focus on work tasks? While frustrating, this lack of focus is completely normal. The reason for your wandering attention is because our brains have a limited conscious capacity. Translation: we can only focus on a small number of things at once.
When you work in an office environment, there are of course distractions, but the distractions in an office are usually (mostly) work-related. At home, your two worlds are colliding, and the diversions are multiplied. You may be feeling overwhelmed with task switching between work and home/life demands--and you’re not alone. However, companies now more than ever need their employees to step up and take action. There needs to be a desire for everyone to be committed to limiting distractions and to contribute their effort to go above and beyond, because of the critical nature of this crisis.
The Time-Cost of Switching Tasks
According to a University of California Irvine study, “It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task”. This finding explains how distractions can threaten your output. Think of the amount of time and productivity you could be losing every time you allow a distraction to steal your focus; potentially hours per day. Limiting these “lost time” moments, can make a positive impact on your business.
Like many who are new to working remotely, you may have created a makeshift office, possibly at the kitchen table, living room coffee table or even working from your bed. Depending on where you are in your home, you could find your productivity greatly decreased thanks to the new set-up. You may also have new “collogues” (your family members/pets/roommates) who are disrupting you.
In addition to a new workspace and new colleagues, you are also likely faced with numerous other distractions: your physical and mental health, concern for the economy, finances, food/medication, social media/technology and toilet paper (I wish I was kidding).
Don’t give up and resign yourself to a remote work-life of constant frustration. Here are 8 suggestions for how to manage distractions while working remotely.
How to Manage Distractions While Working Remotely
1) Develop a schedule--and stick to it. Make sure to set work hours, stick to your plan and if possible, post your schedule. Set specific break times where you can switch your focus from work to home life (chores, social media, news, etc.). Allow time for ergonomic breaks and give yourself space now and then to indulge in unapologetic, wanton distraction. It has a place--just not when you should be getting work done.
2) Workspace. If possible, create a specific location to work that is away from the noise of televisions and the high-traffic spaces in your home: ideally, a spot where it is quiet, where you are not straining your body being in an uncomfortable position for extended periods of time, and where you don’t have to constantly move your office things at the end of the workday (computer, monitors, work documents).
3) Set ground rules. If you have other people at home with you, make sure to set boundaries with your new “coworkers” so they respect that you are working. Let them know specific times in the day when they can disrupt you (ideally on breaks, unless there is an emergency).
Tip: Inspired by the Brazilian Steakhouse restaurant, make a sign and put a green circle on one side and a red circle on the other. If the red side is showing, you are NOT open to being interrupted, and if the green side is showing, you ARE open to being interrupted.
4) Avoid social media & turn off notifications. Drawing on the powerful principle of “out of sight out of mind”, if you do not have to have your cell phone visible, move it away from you. If you do, put it on silent and turn off notifications. Avoid checking social media and non-work messenger apps until scheduled break times.
Tip: There are apps available for download as well as settings in most smartphones that can assist with limiting social media use. E.g. iPhone/iPad: Settings->Screen Time->App Limits->Add Limits->Social Networking-> Add.
5) Don’t click the adds. Avoid getting lured into the online shopping world. If possible, use a pop-up blocker, or increase the size of your screen so you can block advertisements from view.
6) Turn off the TV/radio. The television and media are saturated with information that will capture your attention. If others are in your home watching television, make sure you are far enough away that it will not be a distraction for you. If you must share the space, have your back to the TV and be sure to wear headphones playing non-distracting music, like classical or white noise or ocean/forest sounds to drown out distracting sounds.
7) Get ready before work. As tempting as it is to roll out of bed and start working. Taking time before you start your workday to get cleaned up and dressed. You may not dress in work clothes, but even slipping into a pair of jeans and a clean shirt can help switch your mind from lounge mode to work mode. In addition to helping you feel more focussed, getting work-ready before you start your day can limit the desire to stop working and go clean up and dress in the middle of the workday.
8) Set goals & share. Set and share weekly and daily goals for what you have to accomplish, as these objectives will keep you motivated, accountable and more focussed.
When you’re working from home, distractions will happen. This fact is unavoidable, even in a home without children or roommates or pets or spouses, the mere reality of being in your living space means your work life and home life will collide. While this can be exasperating, especially at first, these tips will help you keep the distractions to a minimum and your productivity at prime. Remember that now more than ever, your company needs every team member to be committed to limiting distractions and to contribute their every effort to go above and beyond.
https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf Accessed March 24, 2020.
By Martin Royal
As many organizations prepare to encourage their workforce to work remotely, the change of work environment has the potential to impact employee's perception of the organization, of the leaders and of each other. It can be tricky to maintain a level of communication and trust when new remote workers are finding themselves working with other remote colleagues in multiple locations and time zones. One factor that could determine how well your team will work remotely together is that of trust, or the lack of it.
How do you maintain trust in a remote environment during a crisis?
Encourage your team to Intentionally connect with each other
Working remotely means your employees won't bump into each other in the hall or near the water cooler. These spurious interactions need to be created within the team so that everyone can get to know each other.
You could make use of virtual meeting spaces using Slack, Yammer or other social collaboration applications. People could also be paired up on weekly calls or videoconference with someone randomly chosen throughout the company. Some teams will host lunches over videoconference for everyone to share their experiences in an informal way.
It's easy for team members to feel out-of-touch from their co-workers, leaders and the organization when working remotely. Showing openness and transparency around projects, management updates, important and mundane decisions can have important benefits, such as:
• Improved relationships through increased trust between leaders and employees
• Better alignment as employees understand the company vision and how they can contribute to it
• Better solutions since employees are able to understand the company challenges and brainstorm ideas
• Better engagement overall as employees feel there is a greater connection to the organization as a whole.
By Stephanie Monge-Sherman
Coaching as a management skill has been a hot topic for years with thousands of blogs, books, and courses offered on the topic. To add to this complexity is the equally challenging task of managing a remote workforce, which by necessity or choice, more and more companies are deciding to do. It’s understandable that many leaders who are new to this likewise relatively novel practice may need some clear and concise suggestions to help them navigate their way through coaching a remote workforce.
In coaching, effective communication is a requirement and is arguably the most important tool a leader can possess. That’s why Part One of this two-part series is going to focus solely on tips to facilitate better communication. In part two, we’ll broaden our focus and dive into more generalized, but equally important remote coaching strategies.
6 Tips for Impactful Coaching Communication With Your Remote Workforce
1. Simple and Clear. With the abundant amount of information people are receiving at this time, make sure your message/ask/ information is clear, to the point and uses simple language. It is beneficial to highlight action items or tasks needing to be accomplished.
2. Frequent. No longer are you able to physically observe your team and where they are from a productivity standpoint, and, importantly, from a psychological safety perspective. Frequent communication and check-ins are highly recommended. At a minimum, aim for one, one-on-one call with your team per week, and additionally, one to three team huddle conference calls weekly. The duration of these meetings or check-ins should be quick but not rushed, and everyone should contribute and have a voice.
3. Honest. You are your employees’ connection to everything happening with the company, so make sure you share what you can and help to foster an environment of transparency. You don’t have to sugarcoat the messages: be informative, truthful and concise.
4. Use visual chat tools. Make sure to have one-on-ones via video (where possible) to connect and provide virtual face-to-face contact, as it allows you to get non-verbal cues from your team members. If not possible, phone calls should be chosen over emails or instant messaging, and allow for an adequate amount of time to complete the call. An ideal amount of time is one hour per team member/week, minimum.
5. Listen. Your team will be more motivated to share and open up if they feel heard. Listen to what your team is saying to you and to each other. Leverage three-way communication to ensure you are truly understanding what they are saying. This tactic assists with understanding your team members’ feelings and intentions. How do you know if you are really tuning in to your team’s concerns and opinions? During each communication, you should be listening more then you are speaking.
6. Be Present. Give your team the attention they deserve and be available for them to contact you. Don’t multitask while you are having conversations with your team and ensure there are no distractions taking your attention away from the conversation.
Although these six tips may not be revolutionary ideas, they do act as great reminders for how we can better coach our team and communicate as leaders with our remote workforce.
See Part Two
By Stephanie Monge-Sherman
While your leadership team may be in crisis mode and navigating the best decisions for your people and the business, management is pivoting their teams and adapting leadership styles to a remote workforce. As noted in Part One of this blog series, effective communication is crucial to coaching employees--but remote coaching strategies do not end there. A truly successful approach to remotely coaching a workforce also involves bolstering the mental vitality of your team for better productivity and overall happiness.
6 More Tips for Impactful Coaching Communication With Your Remote Workforce
See Part One
With this aim in mind, here are six additional suggestions for effectively coaching your workforce remotely:
7. Highlight what’s going well. It sometimes feels easier for us to focus on what is NOT going well; to dwell on things not getting accomplished as people adapt to a new workspace, processes, and technology. As a coach, it is imperative to recognize what IS going well, focus on sharing achievements and strive to provide kind and helpful feedback to your team members. This is an opportunity for you to motivate your team by offering frequent praise and encouragement. Tip: The more specific and detailed the feedback is, the more helpful it will be.
8. Be genuine. Share how you are being impacted by changes and COVID-19. Voice your concerns and allow yourself to be vulnerable--but still professional--with your team. This situation is unsettling and disruptive to be sure, but it is also an opportunity for you to be open and deepen the connection/rapport with your team.
9. Encourage self-development. This time may be slow in regards to workload with many barriers to work demands. Coach your team by encouraging them to further their professional development by reading, watch educational resources, taking self-development courses online and focusing on improving or building a new skill. There are a plethora of online resources that are now being offered at no cost. (E.g. Libby, Lynda.com, and TEDx programs.)
10. Be supportive. If your team is experiencing firsthand effects of this pandemic (family members being sick or losing their jobs) make sure to check in with them, letting them know you are there for them. We have all experienced someone reaching out to us with concern or doing something thoughtful during a difficult time. Remember how that made you feel. Showing compassion and caring for your team will help them feel secure and cared for. These nurturing, supportive feelings may even have a positive impact on their performance as a result.
11. Establish trust while being flexible. Working remotely provides work-life balance and flexibility but it can be a struggle for managing your team as leaders have less insight into their teams’ day-to-day tasks and workload. It’s easy to feel a loss of oversight while people work remotely. To help make this transition as seamless as possible, set expectations (as a team) about the cadence of communication, work hours, deadlines, and response times. However, be flexible to make exceptions and adjustments as needed. You need to trust your employees as professionals to get their work done.
12. Establish goals and deadlines. It is easy for your team to be distracted and to lose focus due to everything going on outside of work. To help keep your team remain focussed, hold them accountable. As mentioned above, it is important to establish goals. The goals should be set by employees where possible (increase their accountability), and should also follow S.M.A.R.T protocol: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. At the very least, the goals should be specific and deadline aware.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is temporary, that doesn’t mean that the solutions you put in place to manage your remote workforce should be undeveloped. A solid plan built on proven strategies is your best course of action to maintain a happy and productive team and a healthy business
By Julia Borges
Virtual Work and COVID-19
If our world wasn’t already virtual, it sure is now. Amidst the Novel COVID-19 pandemic that has completely changed the way the world works, businesses are faced with the challenge of staying connected in a virtual world. Many businesses may already be comfortable with working virtually as this is has become increasingly popular over the years, but for some businesses, this way of working is uncharted territory.
With an increase in virtual work comes a lot of change. This change can include the way your people communicate, execute their work, and stay connected with their teams. Staying connected is one of the biggest challenges of working virtually and if not managed properly, can cause miscommunication, decreased productivity, and misalignment. For those who are used to working in an office environment where their team members are just down the hall, working from home might present challenges that hinder this essential connection. When team members are no longer an earshot away, organizations must adopt new strategies to stay connected to ensure business continues.
Tips for staying connected:
• Set up routine one-on-one touch-points with team members. Having consistent touch-points with team members are essential to staying connected. This is a great time to discuss any individual questions, concerns, or thoughts. This can be done with phone calls, chat platforms, email, video chat, etc.
• Have consistent team meetings. In addition to connecting in a one-on-one setting, it is essential that the whole team connects consistently to ensure everyone is aligned and feeling connected. These team meetings are a great place to discuss team goals, progress, and challenges. This can also be done with phone calls, daily huddles, wiki-type collaboration tools, chat platforms, email, video chat, etc.
• Facilitate virtual training sessions. When we think of meetings, we generally think of touch-points to discuss or work through projects and tasks. We don’t tend to think of facilitated training as something that can be done virtually, but nothing could be further from the truth! With use of your video chat platform of choice, create a training session that could be done in person and facilitate as you normally would. You would have to adapt a few things such as group discussion, flip charting, activities etc., to accommodate for the virtual environment, but the face-to-face interaction is what is key. If you don’t have a video platform to use, this can also be done with the use of a conference call and emailing a PowerPoint deck to your participants. Just walk through the material as you normally would in a training, allowing opportunities for participant engagement.
• Take advantage of technology. With today’s technology, there are so many ways to stay connected. In addition to traditional phone calls and emails, there are also platforms that offer group video chats, virtual training sessions, and collaboration tools. There are many programs and tools out there, so it is important to find what fits best in your business and culture.