Covid-19 is testing the resiliency and adaptability of virtually every company across the country. While Ambit has supported virtual, teleworking teams on federal projects for the past two years, and shifted most of our employees to telework during last year’s federal shutdown, it’s taken a national emergency to compel us to shift to a 100% virtual workforce, virtually overnight.
While we never would have elected to embrace telework under these circumstances, we are proud of the way our teams have adapted to telework and we’ve gathered feedback from a number of staffers that has revealed some important lessons that can help us manage more effectively, and work more productively.Telework Tips Horizontal-v1
Fortunately, Ambit took steps nearly two years ago to futureproof our workplace and our workforce by integrating technologies and training that empowered our adaptive and increasing mobile workforce. We adopted a unified communications platform – Ring Central – that connects every Ambit employee with a cloud-based phone service, team messaging and collaboration tools, file sharing, and HD video conferencing – on every device they possess, from mobile phones to desktops. While not everyone used the entire breadth of Ring Central’s communications tools before the Covid-19 emergency, it was fortuitous that they were in place from the first day of imposed telework since they provided the essential communications platform that every Ambit employee now relies on.
Coordinate As A Team
Working remotely unavoidably changes your team’s dynamic. Managers can no longer manage by walking around, teams used to social interaction and in-person collaboration now work in isolation, and employees who struggle with self-discipline can easily lose productivity without the physical presence of their supervisor.
That’s why it’s critical that managers communicate clear cut and unambiguous expectations and establish communications protocols that ensure that team members remain connected and engaged. When you can’t turn to the person next to you, communication becomes much more intentional – and sometimes – more complicated. Having technology enabling communication is essential – from instant messaging platforms like Ring Central to smart whiteboards – for team collaboration.
We also learned that it’s important to test your communications platform with your team before it absolutely, positively has to work flawlessly. We replicated all of our teams virtually on the Ring Central platform so they could all communicate instantly. They also learned to check their team’s channel frequently – not only for important broadcast notices, but for social interaction and engagement during the day.
Moreover, we tested the more complex and challenging components – like videoconferencing – just to run the application through its paces and learn how to use its essential features. We didn’t want to wait until a critical online client meeting to test how to launch screen sharing and use the markup tools – we scheduled non-critical tests of the advanced features and made sure that every participant was comfortable using the communications platform.
When queried about their biggest concerns with teleworkers, surveyed executives responded that their biggest concerns revolved around lack of accountability and productivity. It’s easy to understand their concerns. Within the confines of a physical office, it’s easy to walk around and gauge who’s working and who’s not. Who’s spending too much time around the lunchroom’s Keurig or frequently missing on smoke breaks. But when you can’t actually see your employees, it’s natural to think that they’re not engaged, not working, and not producing.
However, we’ve learned that if team leaders define precise, measurable goals and objectives for each team member and remain in regular communication with each person then their teams operate as smoothly, predictably, and productively as those working together in an office.
Every study of effective telework has determined that the most successful teleworkers establish a strict routine and schedule, and then stick to it. They set up a dedicated workspace that offers privacy and an escape from household distractions. They have set office hours and treat their work hours exactly as they would their hours in their office – including getting dressed for work instead of sitting down in yoga pants and a sweatshirt.
Setting a schedule also helps ensure that teleworking employees don’t get overwhelmed and burned out. Remote workers frequently work more hours than on-site workers and it’s easy to see why. When you work form home, you’re never more than a few steps away from your office. You can always do just a little more. Just one more quick review of tomorrow’s presentation. A quick read and a few edits to the proposal. One more review of the budget numbers, just to be sure. It’s easy to work more hours from home than from the office, so it’s important for team leaders to track when work is being performed or submitted so they can prevent overwork.
Our team members typically all check in when they sit down in the morning to let everyone know they’ve begun their day and are available for consult or collaboration as they start their work. It’s reassuring to know that your other teammates are also online, engaged, and available. As individuals leave their desk during the day, they post a brief “stepping away” notice on their team’s channel to let everyone know their status. It’s important to maintain this transparency, not because others are tracking your every movement, but as a courtesy so your teammates know if you’re available, or if they need to schedule a later time to collaborate.
While we use Ring Central as our central communications platform, there are many others that offer the same type of instant messaging and collaboration tools, including Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. When combined with email and shared calendars, it’s possible to protect your personal privacy while also being transparent with your team members about your availability.
Establishing telework rules, processes, and procedures that meshed with our clients’ needs and expectations seemed overwhelming the first few days, but we’ve seen our staff step up and embrace telework while maintaining their productivity and exploring new ways to replace the social connections that they’ve lost. We’re seeing people post photos and videos of their home offices and their office sharing pets, some teams are planning virtual happy hours, and others exchange funny memes through the day. While we may not be in the same office, we’re always together.