For teams working remotely for the first time, there's no shortage of obstacles to overcome along the path to efficiency. Spotty wifi, barking dogs, bored children, regular life creeping into working life—it's enough for any worker to get frustrated, or distracted, or disillusioned.
Believe us, we get it. We've been fully remote since our company was founded over seven years ago. But in that time, we've learned a lot about what works, and what doesn't, and thanks to our Seventh Level Engagement Framework, have broken down common issues faced when working from home into seven easy to assess and overcome categories.
Let's dive in by looking at the seven categories, and the levels of engagement they correspond with.
- Effective Communication — Level 1: Disengagement
- Establishing Clarity — Level 2: Unsystematic Engagement
- Limiting Distractions — Level 3: Frustrated Engagement
- Ensuring Productivity — Level 4: Structure-Dependent Engagement
- Work/Life Balance — Level 5: Self-Regulated Interest
- Maintaining Your Mission — Level 6: Critical Engagement
- Employee Engagement — The Seventh Level: Literate Thinking
(Interested in a quick assessment of how effectively your organization is approaching working from home, here's a short quiz that will tell you your group's Remote Work Culture Score!)
Effective Communication — Level 1: Disengagement
One of the best places to start with a newly remote team is by establishing expectations and boundaries, to ensure that messages and requests are reaching members of your team. You can do that by first agreeing upon what your team’s “online hours” will be. Secondly, establishing what communication methods (and tools) your team will be using, and how, makes communicating a breeze. While allowing a variety of communication methods is great (i.e. email, text, Slack, phone, etc), we recommend setting clear guidelines for when and how to use each method.
Establishing Clarity — Level 2: Unsystematic Engagement
Tools like conference calls, email, Slack, and text provide a plethora of ways to stay in touch, but they are also impersonal and leave room for misinterpretation. To limit confusion, we recommend using video conferencing for weekly meetings, or whenever there is a sensitive conversation to be had. In addition, we recommend putting things in writing and sharing them with the team as a follow up after any conversation in addition to hosting 1:1 calls for clarification, when needed.
Level 3: Frustrated Engagement
Check in with members of your team new to remote work to see if they're facing distractions of any form at home. Do they have the equipment they need (even simple things like headphones or a functioning laptop)? Do they have a dedicated space in their house from which to work? Find out what they have and what they may need, then do what you can to help ensure they get access to anything they’re missing. For some companies, this may be providing desks for their employees home or lending out laptops, for others this can be as simple as providing a small stipend to cover the cost of unexpected needs (like a set of headphones) or a list of ways to stay focused at home (like this one).
Level 4: Structure-Dependent Engagement
Make it simple for your team to complete tasks that are asked of them. When working at a distance from the rest of your team, finding ways to collaborate and replace the “walk by” updates that normally occur outside of meetings is crucial. Team members are used to having in-person interaction and reminders to find ways to manage tasks and you as a team need ways to collaborate and manage projects. Tools like Asana and Trello can fill this void nicely, and even have free versions you can begin using to try them first to see if they work for you. There are also tools like SmartSheet, Monday, Basecamp, Microsoft Project, and even Google Drive available, depending on your specific needs and preferences. (More about other tools here)
Level 5: Self-Regulated Interest
If you want your team to go above and beyond for you, you need to give them something more in return, namely, a bit of freedom. The “distractions” (family, chores, pets, etc.) employees contend with at home aren’t going away—so encourage a solid work-life balance. By making allowances for employees to take care of simple things during the work day (as long as they are short and not interfering with their work) you show your employees that you care about them, which will ultimately make them more engaged with you and your company.
Level 6: Critical Engagement
People engage deeply and can meaningfully connect when they feel their personal values and beliefs align with that of their work. By highlighting employees as examples of your mission and values, you can inspire your workforce to continue to work towards your company mission and goals regardless of where they are.
The Seventh Level: Literate Thinking
Your employees are human beings who are navigating daily life on top of a global pandemic. Making them feel cared for and heard will help them feel engaged. In an office, we often build connections with our coworkers by those passing conversations or “water cooler” chats. When working remotely, we lose those opportunities to connect with our coworkers. We recommend holding a check in at the start of a weekly meeting where employees can connect on a personal level. Also, be sure to offer your employees opportunities to pursue learning and professional development.