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Here's the simple truth: the "new normal" is no longer new. It's just normal. According to a recent report from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, the US economy is now truly a work-from-home economy. More than 60 percent of US economic activity now comes from residents of residence.
And while the best of managers and business leaders have managed to keep the wheels on the bus and maintain productivity levels in today's craziness, maintaining the health of corporate culture in the workplace has not always been so successful. In all honesty, in some cases it can be easier to accidentally damage corporate culture than to promote it when you're dealing with a workforce with so many kids, pets, and myriad other household distractions juggling their jobs.
What are the fastest ways to kill workforce morale and damage corporate culture when you are a remote manager? To learn from the mistakes of others, here are some of the most common pitfalls to avoid.
1. Have everyone turn off their webcam during meetings
When it comes to team meetings, do you ever notice that over time, more and more of your coworkers turn off the video? Set a good example by enabling your example – whenever possible. And encourage the rest of your team, with a few exceptions, to follow suit.
Sure, turning the video off when you go to the first (or last) Zoom meeting of the day can be very tempting. After all, nobody really needs to see your dirty ponytail or messy living room, do they? And why not do a little e-mail while colleagues keep roaring? Resist the urge. Face time – albeit via video – is more critical these days than ever.
Related: The future of leadership is empathy – and companies are better for it
2. Be too straightforward when checking in with individuals and their teams
Do you remember the days when you stopped by a coworker's office to say hello and casually check the progress of a project? Or the friendly banter in the hallway or in the dining room when you learned that an employee at home was dealing with a stressful family situation or even a customer matter that could affect their job? Yes, those days are over and the 30 seconds of chit chat at the start of a Zoom meeting won't be enough.
Because of this, it's even more important for remote managers to establish a regular routine that includes daily check-ins with team members. An early morning email and a summary at the end of the day may seem like an exaggeration, but they go a long way in reducing isolation and promoting open communication.
Communication should of course be two-way. Be sure to remind team members to share updates on their work and encourage them to seek help with any obstacles. Set up one-on-one meetings to go deeper with specific people. Not everyone communicates best via email or wants the formality of video chat. It is your responsibility to find and implement the best channel.
Related: What The Work-From-Home Boom Means For Your Future
3. Get out of patience with “home conditions” and challenges and don't accept flexibility in the long run
As early as March, when schools and offices closed for the first time, most managers and company leaders showed a high level of compassion and empathy for their work-from-home employees who – like them – suddenly deal with the many stressors of the world and budgetary responsibilities. In some cases, however, patience has waned. Do not let it happen.
We may all have become more used to juggling home schooling, childcare, meal preparation, lack of personal work space, and endless hours of daily screen time than we could ever have imagined. But that doesn't mean it will necessarily get easier. And if anything, it's time to adjust your expectations that this is a temporary situation only.
Flexibility is the alternative. Some employers already rely on agile working: “A way of working in which an organization enables its employees to work where, when and how they decide – with maximum flexibility and minimal restrictions – in order to optimize their performance and their best work This is possibly the best way to be able to check-in and hold meetings regularly if necessary to really support the company culture over the long term.
Related Topics: How To Use Emotional Intelligence To Improve Your Empathy
4. No additional opportunities for collaboration between team members and employees were created
There are some obvious benefits to the new work-from-home lifestyle, especially for those who prefer to simply lower their heads and go to work without being distracted by boardroom meetings and employee birthday celebrations. However, the “work as an island” concept can cost your business the benefit of everyone who remains focused on the common purpose of projects and the bigger picture of your entire organization.
Because of this, it is up to remote managers to proactively create projects that require collaboration between team members. With access to all of the online work and collaboration sharing tools (Dropbox, Google Docs, Zoom), there is no excuse for different levels and departments not to share knowledge, brainstorm and take on different parts of a larger project. Additionally, it's a great way to strengthen relationships, build empathy, and improve channels of communication. It is your job to find these opportunities (or create them if necessary).
Related: Survey Reveals 4 Transformative Remote Working Trends
5. Focus inward instead of practicing active empathy
It is more important than ever to practice empathy. That's easier said than done. First, you are experiencing drastic professional and personal disruptions yourself. It can be difficult to get much attention to your direct reports when dealing with work and domestic stress. Second, each person experiences the "new normal" differently, which means you have to meet them where they are. For example, you may have some employees who feel that the business and personal restrictions imposed by the health crisis are not necessary. Or others who feel like it's not enough. It is important to try to understand these perspectives and to address each employee based on these perspectives.
That is hard. All of it. There are no magic solutions to keeping remote workers engaged, productive, and visible. However, if you do your best to stay connected, stay flexible, and stay empathetic, you can at least make sure that the new normal isn't always a bad normal.