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August 2020 Newsletter
In This Issue
  • Thanks for Joining Us!
  • Setting Expectations
  • Communicate for Success
  • Trust Your Team
  • Company Culture: Status Quo vs Evolving
  • Quick Reference: Goal Setting for Remote Employees
  • Quick Reference: Don't Forget to Follow-Up and Provide Feedback
  • Quick Reference: Give Your Team Flexibility
  • Coach's Corner: Warning Signs & Red Flags
August 2020
Volume 7, Number 8

Thanks for Joining Us!

It's August already! And while it's not the summer any of us had ever envisioned, all of us at Wendy Ellen Inc. hope you have been able to enjoy some down time with your family and loved ones. 

Coronavirus has drastically changed the business landscape world over, but thanks to advanced technologies, this paradigm shift has gone relatively smoothly for many organizations. That being said, every company has had to deal with rough patches. Employee productivity is one of the major challenges in remote working faced by leaders everywhere and managers are always exploring better ways to collaborate and connect with the employees for a better outcome. From keeping the communications open to engaging in non-work interactions, employers are finding better ways to maintain the productivity of their remote teams.

This month we are focusing on ways to ensure productivity while your team works from home.  Keep reading for more learning!


Setting Expectations

To ensure employee productivity in a remote working environment, it is essential to set guidelines and expectations in advance to avoid clashes and misunderstandings.

As a leader, it's up to you to determine what the priorities are, and discuss how tasks will get done. When we are in physical proximity, we understand each others’ nature and working patterns, but all these intangible clues are missing in remote working.

This should be an ongoing conversation. Remember, going fully remote is a new experience for many companies and their workers. Be honest about what isn't working or can't get done in these circumstances. More overall communication is going to be necessary.  Critical questions that need resolving include: How are teams going to track projects they're working on? How will they meet to discuss this? Will you all be connecting on Slack, Teams. Zoom or email? Will there be standing meetings at a certain time to get everyone coordinated?

Set clear expectations for:
  • Work hours
  • Time tracking
  • Availability
  • Communication policy and system
  • Timely meetings
  • Key projects and deadlines
  • Scheduled meetings
  • Response to email

Communicate for Success

Communication is a big part of any organizational success. And in the current remote work situation, it is even more necessary to help lower the chances of misunderstandings.

The technological and productivity tools provided to remote employees are vital for maintaining regular check-ins.  Determine the platforms you will use, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, as well as instant messaging apps beyond regular email.

Then establish a schedule for contact such as daily check-ins via video-chat, phone call, or instant messages with the full team, smaller units or individuals as necessary. This daily connection creates a sense of belonging and normalcy among all the employees. It also ensures that priorities are in place each day.

Set virtual office hours and be available on instant messaging apps throughout the day to help employees who need instant contact. 

And finally, to avoid costly mistakes in case of emergencies, ensure you all have each others’ personal phone numbers as well to quickly respond while working from home.

Trust Your Team

The old saying 'faith can move mountains‘  is true for almost anything in this world. This is especially true for your employees. Faith and trust in your employees goes a long way to ensuring productivity.

In a work-from-home scenario, it is even more necessary to trust your employees to take care of their duties so that they perform to the best of their abilities. Trust is always built by your behavior, your communication skills, and your management skills.

However, it's reasonable for leaders to be concerned about productivity; work must be completed accurately and on schedule for an organization to succeed. Some companies have gone beyond daily reports and check-ins, and are taking the steps of installing monitoring software and even cameras to ensure their employees are actually working when they are supposed to.

This rather draconian step can be deeply uncomfortable and offensive to staff members. It can in fact backfire.  As Dr. Reed Blackman wrote in an article for the Harvard Business Review, “Surveillance threatens to erode trust between employers and employees…  Employees who are now subject to new levels of surveillance report being both “incredibly stressed out” by the constant monitoring and also afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which — ironically — decrease productivity. “

All of these decisions about how to handle workforce issues should be based on trust as all signs, including the recent announcement by Google that its workforce can be remote until July of 2021, point to remote working becoming more common. Trust is a highly valued principle by all workers, and especially the next generation of workers. And how companies handle their monitoring of remote employees could very well be a determinant as to how they are able to both attract and retain employees.  

Although communicating with your team members is a must to ensure that you two are on the same page, it shouldn’t feel like you’re breathing down their necks or that they are constantly under scrutiny. Here is where leadership skills must combine with a fair and humane side to ensure trust between everyone.  When you work with a team you can trust, you’ll find that concerns about their productivity will disappear. 

Company Culture: Status Quo Versus Evolving

Many companies in the corporate world are famous for their culture and vibes, which employees remember for ages. Your organization doesn't have to compete with the entire world, but the overall vibe and culture of a company can make or break an employee’s experience, which results in them being productive or unproductive. So, it is essential to maintain a positive vibe for all employees for better work experience.

Just like you’d have lunch, chat by the watercooler, or go out for special team-building activities in an office, all of these things can be replicated in a digital space. Getting your team comfortable with virtual socializing is one of the most important things you can do to help your remote team be successful. We all need connection, and your team will look to you for permission and inspiration here.

Ask your team to come up with ideas of what they’d like to do or talk about, so they’re invested in the events. Consider setting aside a program budget to purchase games like Jackbox or books for a book club.  Create a Zoom or conferencing call to share weekend activities.  Even organize virtual happy hours if that is appropriate for your company's culture. You can also get started with fast team-building activities for video meetings. The most important thing is that people enjoy it and want to show up. 

You’ll know your team is thriving because  they’ll interact with each other easily on social calls, and suggest ideas for games or activities. Group chatter will be a healthy mix of work talk, Youtube links, memes, and shared photos of weekend activities. And encourage team members to speak up if they think of new or different activities.
Quick Reference: Goal Setting for Remote Employees
Goal setting is a great way to achieve work targets and boost employee productivity. Set long-term and short-term goals with each of your employees and establish regular check-ins with them on their progress.

Make sure that they are reporting to you about their work progress and any roadblocks in achieving their goals to you. Encourage them to achieve their goals by helping them resolve their issues on an immediate basis.

Establish a daily reporting process, such as via emails. These updates can range from detailed reports for more complicated projects to a simple “I have completed X and I have y left to do until reaching my goal of Z.” or “Today planning this and will do X tomorrow.”
Quick Reference: Don't Forget to Follow-Up and Provide Feedback
Providing feedback is one of the best ways to boost employee productivity and increased retention rates of the employees.

Encourage your remote employees by regularly providing feedback on their performance, whether positive or negative.  Feedback from their employers automatically conveys that they are being valued for their contribution and employers are making sure employees perform better to grow more in their career. Some ideas to provide good feedback include:

* Company email threads to appreciate good work.

* Sharing messages in public chat rooms. One specific idea is a “High Five” channel in the Slack application, where anyone can give someone else a remote high five—an emoji, GIF, or written comment—for something great or noteworthy that they did.

* Having a dedicated written space for recognition or gratitude.

*Use software services similar to performance review software for ongoing, positive praise.

*Create regular time for celebrating ‘wins’ in team or all-hands meetings.

Quick Reference: Give Your Team Flexibility
Giving your employees flexibility extends beyond just allowing them to work from home; it means that you trust them with completing their targets on time in their desired work hours outside of standard 9-5 office routine.

When possible, allow remote team members to work hours outside of the standard office shift, especially if this allows for better integration with their work and home lives. As long as your remote employees are productive and getting their work done at the appropriate pace, it can be beneficial to allow for greater flexibility.

By focusing your mindset on achieving the targets, instead of time spent on each day, it will automatically build trust and productivity levels will drastically improve. Your team will be performing tasks in their productive hours when they are in the correct head space to do it.

Coach's Corner: Warning Signs & Red Flags

For the first month of working from home, many employees were in a state of semi-shock; so much energy was focused on just figuring out the logistics of working remotely that there wasn’t time to grapple with the emotional aspects.  

But as people have settled into a routine, as the panic over remote working logistics have decreased, we can now see troubling signs of the emotional pressures facing employees working from home.

How can you tell if your team is cracking under the stress of working from home? Here are three warning signs:

Warning Sign #1: Decreased Resilience
In the past few weeks, more than 5,000 people have taken free online resiliency tests that tests how you handle adversity and react to failure, criticism, stress, etc. And we’ve discovered that fewer than a quarter of people have high resilience at present.

Given that resilience is our ability to handle adversity, it’s a good barometer of how well employees are feeling about, and managing, the current pressures. You can have your employees take a resiliency test for themselves to accurately gauge your team’s current resilience. Mind Tools offer one here

Warning Sign #2: Your Employees Are Making Mistakes 
One sure sign that people are starting to burn out working remotely is when they make more mistakes and miss more deadlines than normal. People don’t typically perform as well in highly-stressed states as they do in a more relaxed frame of mind. And that stress often manifests in sloppy, inaccurate or late work.

Before you start seeing incorrect work, you might also see a general distractedness or spaciness amongst employees. This might show up as people zoning-out during a videoconference, or it could appear as forgetfulness. Have you seen any of your employees forget little things, like sending follow-ups or logging a customer contact or even omitting a signature line in an email? Those might seem like minor issues, but they often represent early warning signs that the pressure is getting to your team.

Warning Sign #3: Your Employees’ Language Is Becoming More Negative And Emotional 
When people feel stressed, it’s common for their language (whether in email, phone calls or face-to-face) to evidence more negativity and emotionality.

For example, in non-stressed situations, an employee might say, “this project is going to be hard.” But in a highly-stressed environment, they might say “this project is impossible,” or “I’ll never finish in time.” Most situations in life are subtle shades of grey, not black-and-white. Yes, this project may be difficult, but is there truly no way, in any universe, that it could somehow be accomplished? The more someone engages in black-and-white thinking, the less likely they are to see hidden opportunities or possibilities. And that can lead directly to feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Experts who have studied remote workforces for years knew that the adrenaline rush of making an emergency shift would wear off at some point. And now they are starting to see the signs of employees struggling psychologically with remoteness.

Your goal, as we move into this next phase of working remotely, is to be aware of the warning signs that your employees are struggling. Once you know the signs, you can then start to assess your team and intervene as appropriate. And if you know what to look for, you’ll be far ahead of the vast majority of leaders and your employees will have a great chance of weathering this storm.

Source: Mark Murphy,
Available in ebook and soft cover at Wendy Ellen Inc.

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About Wendy Ellen Inc.
Wendy Ellen Inc. specializes in providing human resource and benefits management skills to small to mid-sized companies on an as-needed basis. From recruitment, Human Resource policy development and legislative compliance, employee retention and engagement, individual advisor/coaching, succession planning to employee development and performance, Wendy Ellen Inc. will help you protect your most valuable resource, your people.
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