The Remote Workplace: Communicating in an Offsite World

Mar 23, 2020

To prevent more cases of COVID-19, many companies this week were told that their employees could no longer come into the office. Everyone who could work from home had to quickly prepare to do so.

Are the millions of office workers who have suddenly become remote employees ready for the change? “Companies are sending workers home with laptops and a prayer…,” management expert Alison Green writes in Slate. “Employers will need to adjust their expectations of how much can truly get done in these circumstances.”

Realistically, all you need for a connection are a computer, a phone, and an internet connection—so at first glance it doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, overnight, many of us had to:

  • Quickly learn to use Skype for Business

  • Go from several large monitors to a small laptop at home

  • Switch from a PC to a Mac, or vice versa

  • Deal with a slower computer or internet

You don’t always know what you need to know, or the equipment you’ll need, until you start working in the new setting. It can be more than a little frustrating. But business experts say to maintain normalcy as best you can, though, and part of that includes staying in communication with your team.

Best practices for remote workplace connection

AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center reached out to Patricia Quiddington, a professional certified coach at Blue Arbor International LLC and an AMA instructor, about staying in touch when you work from home. In an email exchange, Quiddington offered tips for employees on coping with the suddenly remote workplace:

Ensure communication is flowing. This is key, Quiddington writes, as it will give employees clarity around the ground rules of how the team will operate and what everyone’s role is. You may be asked to take on extra duties if the company has laid off some people, and your supervisor may ask you for regular progress reports.

Make sure you have appropriate technology. You’ll need this for communication and to get your job done, Quiddington points out. Stay in touch with the help desk.

Maintain a two-way flow of trust. It can be challenging in a remote work environment for a supervisor and employees to trust each other, but it’s vital. “Trust building is integral to the success of any team,” Quiddington writes. “The collective trust within each team—and between employees—enables companies to thrive and sustain themselves over the long run.”

She notes that this can only occur when leaders have a clear, strategic vision and hold themselves accountable: “The leader needs to challenge themselves to provide a style of leadership that builds effective communication, collaboration, and mutual support.”

Seek more autonomy. “Certain studies have proven that employees with higher degrees of autonomy and flexibility achieve higher productivity,” Quiddington states. Working from home is a good place to find that. Furthermore, there are inherent benefits to achieving a better work-life balance and being on top of family responsibilities and obligations. This has the potential to bring greater gender equity in the workplace.

Communicate your value and add to it. If your company had to lay people off or reduce some hours, you may feel scared or angry. Push beyond those feelings and use every opportunity to improve your skills, Quiddington says. “Any initiative that an employee can take—either with the support of their company or through self-funding—to increase their value will make them more attractive to existing or prospective employers,” she advises.

​For the remote team manager, Quiddington suggests:

  • Setting up “progress check points” and keeping abreast of everyone’s workload so projects don’t fall behind.

  • Remaining sensitive to cross-cultural differences to not erode the trust you’ve worked to build.

  • Sharing communication duties—have team members take on moderating the virtual meetings at times.

  • Working on establishing a stronger team identity while you are apart. In a time of crisis people tend to bond together anyway.

In her Slate article, Green adds that team leaders should be patient while their staff adjusts to the new style of working. Some employees’ home workspaces may not be ideal. They may be sharing their place with others—or with their kids, now that schools have closed. “Expecting a workforce to become remote almost instantly means that some efficiency will probably be lost,” she writes.

By Jan Arzooman