Even after the COVID-19 crisis is over, its legacy may be a sea change in working practices. We won’t know for sure until some kind of normality is established, but there are already some signs that employers and their teams are looking into a new world of remote working and liking what they see.
But let’s just pause for breath. Working from home is not the same as joining peers in the office. The software – from video conferencing and messaging through to project management – is available and relatively easy to master. But the way we interact with our peers will change. New soft skills will be required. Here are the top three.
#1. Manage your time well
One of the advantages of working from home is scheduling freedom it confers. For instance, rather than starting at 9.00 and finishing at 5.30 or 6.00, you begin work earlier, stop at 8.30 to do the school run and then perhaps go to the gym. That’s fine because you can make up the time by working into the evening. The work gets done but you can fit it around other aspects of your life. This is hugely attractive to many people.
This kind of working pattern marks a shift from presenteeism (turning up) to goal orientation (getting things done). Put differently, it is more about counting one’s output than counting their hours. To make it work, however, employees and managers will need to adopt a potentially unfamiliar time management regime, coupled with a commitment to remaining productive in a potentially distracting environment.
A good idea is to create a daily, weekly and monthly schedule, detailing everything you need to do and when. From there, create a plan mapping out when you’re going to get the work done and the key milestones. It’s also important to use the time you’ve set aside to its best advantage. Avoid household tasks when you should be working. Try not to get distracted by things that are going on in the rest of the house or on the street outside. Focus on the task in hand rather than being sidetracked onto surfing the web or checking out Facebook.
#2. Communication matters: make sure you all pull together as a team
Company culture is hugely important. What that means in practice varies enormously from one organisation to the next, but in terms of outcomes, a good culture is where everyone pulls together as a team. And this requires a lot of exellent and effective communication.
That becomes a challenge when the whole team or part of it is working remotely and can’t rely on the interactions in the office, body language, facial cues, and the watercooler small talk. So how to maintain the essential cohesion?
If you’re a manager, it’s a good idea to schedule regular meetings using video conferencing. Ideally, everyone should meet up at the beginning of the day, with smaller team or project-specific meetings scheduled when required. Everyone needs to see this as a vital part of the working day. If at least one member of the team is working remotely and is on a video call, then ideally everyone should be on a video call as well. This is to help employees who are not in the office feel included and fully engaged.
#3. Show sensitivity to others: practice your emotional intelligence
Thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to communicate. But in a virtual working environment, a new etiquette comes into play.
For instance, when is it OK to message a member of your team? Should 6.00 pm onwards be out of the question? And how rapid should you expect the reply to be? Equally, if an employee is working flexible hours, should he or she be available at all times to answer any queries? These are questions that need to be asked and answered.
Managers can help by setting out policies to ensure the team is able to function. However, in the new world of work where employees demand more and more flexibility, leaders will need to invest more time and effort into developing soft skills such as empathy and sensitivity.
A lot more emphasis will, thus, be placed on leaders to balance the team’s performance with accommodating the individual members’ needs and expectations. To that end, emotional intelligence will become a must and leaders need to learn to practice it.