How to create a successful remote work strategy
Ara Arakelian, HR Manager for Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Kaspersky on strengthening teams and bringing people together during a global pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic is changing every aspect of our lives. We are having to adapt to the new norms of self-isolation, remote working, and staying as productive as we were before the pandemic began. However, it is important to understand that the situation we are all in is part of the VUCA environment (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) we have been working at for a long time – is a crisis situation and we have to adapt quickly and make innovative and strategic decisions that will significantly influence our lives and businesses.
Implementing remote working is one of the most challenging processes that organizations face today, from both a technical and human standpoint. But with the right strategy in place, the process can be made less painful and more effective.
With every company moving its employees to remote working as fast as possible, it might feel like we are all participating in some kind of global experiment to test how well prepared we are for such a situation. If it really was an experiment, no one would have ever agreed, but as this is not a test we have to adapt fast. For some companies, like IT ones, the process might be easier, but despite this we are all facing some form of technical issues that have only come to light due to the magnitude and mass nature of the challenge. For example, does everyone has a laptop? Are all security settings for remote work in place on these laptops? Do we need to change our information security policies to enable everyone to work efficiently from home?
Another important thing to consider is the adaptation of employees to remote working, with some people needing additional help and support in using some apps to carry out their roles and communicate with others. No matter what your specific challenges are, to make everything work and ensure a smooth and comfortable transition, a united team and approach is needed.
Leading teams during a crisis
Working from home can present a big change in the working day, as many employees are not alone but with their whole family. In addition to doing their job, they have to take care of their kids, parents or other elderly relatives.
In these circumstances, psychological and emotional stress is the biggest challenge for people, especially the company’s management team. In addition to the stress of re-organizing our lives, we’re constantly bombarded with information about COVID-19 but no one can say when everything will get back to normal. This makes people even more worried about their families, jobs and financial stability, which in turn can lead to burnout and additional stress.
We help our employees manage information overload and the feeling of being overwhelmed at this uncertain time. Information from trusted sources is hugely valuable so to ensure that our employees can make sense of the sheer amount of media articles and different kinds of information about COVID-19, we keep them informed of the facts and current situation by organizing podcasts with doctors and useful webinars on how to stay safe and healthy at home.
This situation demands more flexibility from the company’s leadership team, as it needs to provide the right support for people, to help them combat their fears and mobilize them for action. Emotional intelligence is becoming a key skill in managing organizations and teams in the face of remote working, and the success of companies will depend on the quality of communication with employees.
As well as senior management support, we work with team leaders across the company to guide them on how to support their teams and organize work. Indeed, working in teams is one of the key principles of our company and it is critical for us to stay connected and productive no matter what. For some team leaders, the fact that they cannot see their team and are trying to manage it remotely can become a serious issue. In this situation our main recommendation is to communicate more with your team, put trust in your people, and be a results-driven manager. We all need to go through a transition period and the ability to support and motivate a team, united in their efforts to reach a common goal will be a defining point for an authentic leaders today.
However, we also recognize that different teams need different levels of support: our R&D, Anti-Malware Research, Global Research and Analysis teams, for example, are used to communicating online, so today we mostly support them from a practical point of view, helping them to better organize their workspace at home. We are also seeing a different dynamic in teams including sales, marketing, communications and even HR, because people working in these departments are used to meeting people and building key relationships as part of their role, so face to face communication is crucial. We understand that the adaptation process for them can be more difficult, and in order to specifically support this group of employees we’re organizing webinars on how to stay productive and efficient, and how to keep the team atmosphere and culture thriving via various online communications channels.
Of course, we’re encouraging everyone to be physically active as well, as it is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and help people concentrate better. To do this, we’re working on organizing online fitness classes and launching some fitness challenges across our Middle East, Turkey and Africa offices. We also believe in healthy living and we’re planning to send employees a fruit basket to encourage healthier eating.
The future of work
Although there have been many discussions about remote working in the industry over recent years, the percentage of people working from home is still low. For example, in the US only 5.2% of employees work completely remotely today. However, after the coronavirus pandemic is over we will see a big change in peoples’ mindset regarding working from home – they will understand that it can be as effective as working from the office and brings more benefits in terms of work-life balance. As a result, companies all over the world will have to adjust their policies to include flexible work arrangements as a key benefit to help them stay competitive within the market. It’s important to note that we won’t see a total shift towards remote working as it will still be important for people to come into the office and meet with other team members and clients.
The current situation should also positively change the dynamics in teams, as employees will be trusted more on how they organise their working day. There will also be a change in how managers set tasks and manage their staff, as the focus shifts to more human communication and addressing an employee’s needs, which brings us back to the critical importance of supporting emotional needs during this time of crisis and beyond.