By Kelly Pray
While initially a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become the status quo for many of us – even in the “essential service” that is health care. Remote work may be considered a temporary solution for your employees; however as this pandemic continues, so too does the timeline of temporary. As your organization may be evaluating the long-term effects of remote work operations, it’s important to be proactive and diligent in optimizing the remote work environment.
The transition from working in an office or hospital with colleagues to working remotely is different for everyone. While working remotely may be a great experience for you and your employees, others may find it to be a major adjustment. Factors that can make remote working especially challenging include:
- Lack of face-to-face interaction: Many employees may struggle with reduced access to onsite support and communication. They may feel isolated from the organization, leading to disengagement and lower productivity.
- Increased screen fatigue: In addition to lacking face-to-face interactions, you and your employees are most likely participating in an increased amount of video conferences and interactions. While technology is an incredible tool for us to stay connected during these times, this may cause more fatigue at the end of the day.
- Distractions at home: While under normal remote circumstances, best practices encourage a dedicated working space at home to minimize distractions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and daycare closures may make dedicated working spaces unachievable.
There are quick, inexpensive and easy action steps you can take to alleviate these challenges and optimize remote work success. This begins with the notion that if any of your employees are working remotely, you should approach your team or organization with a “Remote First” mindset. Because of the variety in onsite, hybrid and virtual employees at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, we have dedicated our remote work strategy under the veil of a “Virtual Workplace.” Having a Virtual Workplace allows for inclusive considerations for all employees, regardless of location. It is the virtual equivalent to the physical workplace, led to prioritize employee productivity, engagement and wellness.
Action steps to support virtual workplace success
Create opportunity for virtual workplace interaction:
- Create a cameras-on norm that is encouraging (but not mandatory). Encourage all employees to keep their cameras on and explain why. Seeing each other matters most- research shows that seeing each other’s image promotes trust, liking and social belonging.
- If you have a hybrid of onsite and remote staff, create a “one person, one camera” policy. Even if a few people are in the same room, have each person dial in from a separate laptop with their camera on. (Ensure everyone but one person in the room is muted.) This enables those who are working remotely to see everyone in the room’s faces and promotes inclusivity of all working arrangements.
- As a leader, reach out daily. When it comes to social connection in the virtual workplace, frequency trumps length of time. Schedule daily check-ins with your team in the form of one-on-one calls, team huddles and/or chats. Whichever method you choose, make it regular, structured and predictable.
Promote social interaction opportunities. Examples of these may include:
- Building in 5 minutes during a meeting for small-talk
- Creating optional “Study Hall” times with your staff where employees can remotely work in the same virtual room together
- Hold virtual events for teams to join such as morning coffee sessions or happy hours
Don’t forget to interact with your colleagues and peers, too. Check in on other leaders you would normally interact with on a daily basis. Schedule a virtual coffee or lunch to promote social engagement and support for yourself during this time.
Alleviate screen fatigue:
- Avoid multitasking. As tempting as it may be, multitasking during virtual meetings can lead to increased risk for exhaustion. Close tabs that may distract you, put your phone away and stay present.
- Focus on the speaker. As exciting as it can be to have a gallery view of everyone’s faces on a call, this counteracts our natural focus on a single person during in-person interactions. Protect your energy by keeping calls on speaker view. Another step during calls is to minimize your video camera feed – it is exhausting to have what feels like a tiny mirror throughout calls. These steps will allow you to have a more natural visual sensation during meetings.
- Build in breaks. It’s easy to schedule back-to-back meetings when you aren’t leaving your desk. The same grace period of 5 minutes for traveling to onsite meetings should be allotted for virtual settings. Take 5 minutes to step away from your computer, using the time to stretch, step outside or simply give your eyes a rest.
Normalize distractions at home:
- As a leader, normalize sounds and distractions that may occur in the background as to not alienate employees with kids or pets at home. Acknowledge the strain of distributed attention and greater stress both at work and at home.
- Create resource groups for employees with at-home considerations such as children or pets.
- If encouraging employees to share photos or keep cameras on, be mindful that some people working remotely may not feel comfortable sharing their living environment.
- Lastly, with so much focus on families and pets, it can be easy to overlook employees who are living alone. Employees who live alone during COVID-19 may be at higher risk for loneliness and isolation. Be sure to address this in one-on-one conversations and identify opportunities for connection.
Working remotely is going to look different for each individual person. I encourage you to work directly with your employees to come up with the communication approaches that will work best for your team’s operational and engagement needs. Regardless of how you chose to lead with a remote workforce, you should ensure you are proactively and consistently providing equal opportunities for remote workers to contribute, succeed and advance within your organization.
Kelly Pray is the enterprise change management lead at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.