Telework and the health crisis: pitfalls to avoid and recommendations to follow

In a few days, like me, you saw your LinkedIn or Twitter news wall covered with Tech announcements on the coronavirus. To believe that everyone was working for years on solutions to help get out of a health crisis … At the bridgehead, telework. The sector of collaboration and communication platforms (of which I am a part) naturally plays an important role in supporting businesses on these subjects. One would think that with these solutions companies will be able to approach this crisis with a certain serenity. Teleworkers also see it as an opportunity to create a sustainable movement: ”  companies will have to trust their employees” .

I have been teleworking for 10 years, practically part-time. Putting people to telework simply by giving them digital tools, especially in the current context, is more than confidence. It’s a bit like blowing them off a plane with a parachute, hoping they’ll find a way to open it. Telework is a solution but it is difficult to implement, both for employees and for companies. Most of those who highly recommend it do not practice it themselves intensively or work in structures that are not representative of the vast majority of French companies.

Because to give as an example technological companies, which operate 100% in teleworking, it is to induce a considerable bias. Between often experienced employees, passionate about a digital profession (addictive for developers), who have chosen to build their lives around telework, and parachuted employees working remotely in a crisis situation, there is a mountain.

Telecommuting is indeed a great opportunity for businesses to cope with a crisis of this magnitude. Beyond that, it makes it possible to considerably reduce the stress due to transport, to unclog urban centers by facilitating alternative lifestyles. But why is teleworking so difficult?

Have a “compatible” environment

To stay in the home office, it is essential to have a separate space where you can settle down to work, and from which you can get out to stop working. It sounds strange, but it is very important. Otherwise there is no longer a border between private and professional life. In this space you need a table, a chair on which you can sit for a day (forget the kitchen chair that breaks your back after an hour). When you are a couple telecommuting in a small apartment, it is often a first challenge.

Managing your children

For parents who have to manage their children at home, the availability of a person, nanny, grandparents to take care of them does not solve all the difficulties. Especially if the children are between 2 and 8 years old. The fact that Dad or Mum is at home but that in fact they are “not there for them” during significant time slots is very difficult to grasp at this age. This generates a high level of frustration, anger and crying, which is usually overwhelming when you have this famous important web conference with your client. There is a great temptation to walk out to care for your children. And this is how a shift can take place. Personal life and professional life intertwine, without a clear border. Result: stress, mental exhaustion,

Fight against “hyper-synchronism”

Collaborators and managers meet remotely, equipped with a Microsoft Teams, a Slack or other, without the possibility of seeing each other physically. The natural reflex is to use synchronous communication intensively. Chat, notifications, responses to notifications. The manager shows that he is there, that he supports, the collaborator shows that he is at the job, that we can trust him. Result: nobody advances. We will come back to this, we must alternate synchronous work sequences with “deep” work sequences where we are not interrupted.

Maintain motivation and a sense of belonging

A collaboration tool allows you to work with others. But it does not guarantee that the employee remains motivated over time. In a context of crisis, his need to understand the meaning of his work, to break isolation, to feel a reassuring feeling of belonging to an entity is increased tenfold. It is not a tool that addresses the subject. It is an adapted, top-down and bottom-up, editorialized, synchronous and asynchronous, visual, interactive communication approach that addresses it. We will come back to it.

Keep alignment

Even if the employee remains motivated, telework risks losing their alignment. Why ? Many companies live in a world of “vague” objectives. These are informal discussions, heard in the open space, at the coffee machine that allow a reframing of the work carried out. What was not well understood (or what was poorly stated) is adjusted on the basis of these almost fortuitous and yet essential exchanges. When they disappear, everyone digs at the mine, but not necessarily in the right direction. Lost energy, demotivation that arises because you have to do it again. When, in addition, the company is faced with a difficult context imposing rapid turns, the risk of losing the alignment of employees is high.

Manage onboardings

In this context, managing the arrival of new employees is a real challenge. Many companies rely on more or less formal onboarding processes. Managing the increase in skills, but also the transmission of culture, values, strategy, in telework and in a context of crisis is extremely difficult.

Here are some recommendations for managers, which I deliver here with all the necessary warnings. This is just one view among many, from my personal experience and from what we put in place in our business. It does not pretend to answer all the difficulties or all the contexts.

1 – Offer each employee to set up a dedicated workspace in their accommodation

As we have seen, it is essential to maintain a pro / personal border. At Sociabble, just before the teleworking of all employees, we offered to take their second screen. Chairs are often more complicated, even if it can make sense.

2 – Impose video for all synchronous communications

The difference between video and audio communication is huge. In video, you can more easily perceive the emotions of the other, the multitude of weak signals that allow you to adjust your message as you do in real life. But imposing the video also means giving each employee a reason to wash, to dress, to be presentable. An essential aid not to end up in pajamas all day. For employees who do not want their company to discover their accommodation, it is possible on most unified communication software to blur the background or set a virtual background.

3 – Start the day with a quick team meeting

15-20 minutes are enough to do the equivalent of the “stand-up meeting”. Everyone quickly tells what he will devote his day to, his successes of the day before, his difficulties. This meeting can lead to individual meetings if necessary, the object is not to have a river meeting but to start the day. It is also giving the employee the opportunity to get up and keep an hourly rhythm. More generally, it is essential to set up weekly routines, synchronous and asynchronous, which bring stability to the employee. An almost military rigor in habits is important.

4 – Preserve for each of the “deep work” ranges

The use of chat and nuisance synchronous messages should be regulated, to allow people to work on substantive subjects without being interrupted constantly. We will favor regular “check-in” times, allowing all pending questions to be lowered.

5 – Trust does not exclude visibility

Everyone must provide fairly clear reporting of their activity. This can be done for example in the form of an activity report shared with the rest of the team in a channel of the collaboration platform provided for this purpose, which allows everyone to learn very quickly what has happened. past. In our company, we put it on a weekly basis, it is mandatory for all employees including managers, and this since the first day of the company. It is even more useful in this telework configuration.

6 – Giving meaning, promoting alignment and the feeling of belonging by relying on synchronous and asynchronous communication

I have always been convinced that collaboration and corporate communication should be separated. Communication, whether top down or bottom up, is editorialized. The order of the elements counts. The content must be visual, impactful. Photo, video, audio. Not drowned in project messages / notifications. The important news concerning the situation, the strategic choices of the company must be immediately visible, pinned in the newsfeed, accessible also by mobile notifications which stand out. You have to be able to take the pulse with surveys, check that the messages are well passed with quizzes. Part of this communication must be done through live streaming with live response to questions, but a good part must be managed asynchronously, edited by the communication teams. Lively, fascinating. Asynchronous communication also makes it possible to manage the complexity of multiple time zones.

It’s hard work for top management and communication teams in normal times. It is all the more so in a crisis situation. It is however essential. Because the worst is to leave people in uncertainty. As in wartime, doubt should not be allowed to arise.

7 – Clarify, subdivide and quantify the objectives

Distance does not allow blurring of objectives. Whether it is at the level of the company, the department, the team, the individuals, clear objectives are needed, otherwise people will go in the wrong direction. Without switching to micro-management, these objectives must be subdivided to make them even more readable. Give up the powerpoint to give instructions, and favor the written text – Jeff Bezos mode – so that every evening is clear. The deadlines, too, must be clearer than ever.

8 – Limit private conversations in the collaborative platform

The misalignment is fueled by conversations that are not accessible to the greatest number. The more we ban private chats in favor of conversations in public channels accessible to the team or even to the company, the more we encourage desilotage and continuous improvement.

9 – Work onboarding processes

Onboarding in telework and in crisis is, as we have said, a perilous exercise. This is an opportunity to review the associated processes, to document them, and to rely more than ever on an e-learning platform. A big job, not easy to grasp in an emergency, but which facilitates the scalability of the company, and the resumption of post-crisis activity.

10 – Check the efficiency of your digital workplace for teleworking

The implementation of these systems requires a solid digital workplace. With regard to what we have listed, the critical components are:

  • A repository of shared documents, editable in collaborative mode via a “cloud office” suite, with offline editing and resynchronization possibilities, plus versioning and secure backup.
  • A collaboration tool for working on projects and documents.
  • A top-down and bottom-up communication solution to disseminate important information, strategy, values, take feedback from the field (polls and quizzes), humanize messages through photo and video in particular. For mobile as for desktop.
  • A unified communication solution to be able to make audio and especially video calls.
  • A “simplified” task management / planning tool
  • An e-learning platform

11 – Do not forget the fun, even in difficult times

The situation is serious, but employees need hope, something positive. Being organized, structured, managing things with rigor does not mean that we should not give way to relaxing slots, sharing funny moments, in particular through the communication platform, surveys, content user-created photo / video.

This crisis situation, the duration of which is unknown, is terrible. But like any challenge it is an opportunity for the company to progress. Collaboration and communication are not always very good in the office, often compensated by proximity, the coffee machine, etc. This widespread teleworking requires progress, asking the right questions. Once the crisis is over, we will all have learned and grown.

Frank Meyer

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