Leading a Virtual Office During Lockdown

sridhar iyengar

The work-from-home business model has become the preferred way of working for millions of employees during the COVID-19 crisis. Business teams have been working hard to implement new procedures and technology to enable employees to work from home securely while following social distancing guidelines. Most office-based businesses have had all, or most, staff working from home since March, and every worker has had their own struggles when adapting to this ‘new normal.’ Balancing a personal and professional life under the same roof has been no easy task, finding ways of replicating the office, virtually, has been essential to business buoyancy during this incredibly difficult time.

With anxieties high and job security precarious, there has never been a more crucial time for strong leadership. But managing and inspiring remote teams that have been through a big change are difficult to do from afar without the proper planning and infrastructure in place. When it comes to virtual management techniques, it is important to think about individual employees and understand that everyone works in their own ways and have their own problems to deal with in this unprecedented time. Many leaders must understand that disruption on this scale affects different people operationally in different ways.

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It is important that company culture does not change for the worse, or lose momentum just because employees are now remote – and there are certainly ways in which business leaders, as well as employees, can maintain a healthy working environment without forgetting the core values.

Communication

Employees must be provided with at least some level of autonomy regardless of their environment. This means managers and decision-makers need not be suspicious of their employees, and if they set up extensive reporting processes, this will only hinder workplace efficiency. Remote working creates an opportunity for business owners and managers to build confidence in their team members by showing them the trust and appreciation that they have worked hard for. Boosting employee morale currently can be as simple as sending an encouraging email, and business leaders should reward positive work. Also, anxiety levels within the workforce will already be high due to a constant feed from the news on top of any personal issues facing remote workers during this time. Fortunately, collaboration and communication technologies mean colleagues can stay in contact and up to date very easily, and the best way of preserving company culture is by opening support networks for employees who require it, and ensuring that positivity and optimism

Connection

The hardest part of maintaining digital company culture is replicating human contact and day-to-day communication. It can be extremely easy to fall into an unhealthy routine, where contact is primarily maintained in a professional capacity via email. This can be damaging to productivity and extremely concerning for mental health.

Again, it’s worth remembering that not all employees are the same – some will be flourishing in this new remote environment and with limited day-to-day contact, and others may be in desperate need of constant contact for the sake of their own health and productivity.

Therefore, leaders should actively implement an open door policy (if they haven’t already), making sure all employees have the opportunity to set up one-to-one calls to discuss tasks or personal qualms if necessary. The use of video communication must also be consistent and sustained beyond coronavirus lockdown. A weekly or daily team update should offer enough social stimuli to motivate extroverted workers.

Using the right tech

Organizations must be using these tools in the most responsible way so that business owners and managers can inspire confidence and trust in their workforce for optimal productivity and success in the long run. Companies that react well by supporting workers will do best during this crisis, and incentive schemes or other ways to show appreciation for staff could make a huge difference.

Culture is a mindset and company values that have been previously identified within an organization is not limited to the office. The values that businesses have invested in do not all of a sudden go out of the window when your team starts to work remotely: creating a sense of community and belonging is especially important during times of crisis, and technology is a pivotal part of maintaining this transition. When working remotely, collaboration tools are relied upon heavily to keep the business afloat. Rather than endless email chains with people working at their own desk unable to see what others are doing, it is vital to choose the right tools which offer great visibility, lets employees work just as well as they do in the office, and prevent any duplication of work.

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Keep it social

It is important to remember as we make our way through these new unchartered times, we are all human beings.

Because of this, a key part of great team collaboration and motivation is to keep work fun at times. Some companies have also been looking at ways in which they can have weekly staff quizzes and even leaving do’s, which can take place via video group chats. It is important to mark occasions and continue to say goodbye to colleagues even though the traditional meetup drinks are no longer an option.

The COVID-19 situation has created many business challenges. Still, business leaders must remain confident they will come out of it on the other side in good shape and have learned that many of the ways of working via video conferencing and online tools will remain in place in the future too as they have shown hundreds of people a new way of working well together.