Working together in a prescribed home office has proven to be very practical in many jobs and employees appreciate the flexibility that working in home office offers. One challenge that arises from this new scenario is cooperation. How can remote management, for example, be successful in the long term? We have already learned a lot about this at ARTS, as we are basically a team working at different locations and some of our colleagues work permanently in the home office. We would like to share our knowledge about leadership and our own experiences from our cooperation with you.
There is now much more talk of New Work and the flexibilisation of work than before. Especially the young, well-trained employees from generation X and Y have been demanding this vehemently for quite some time. In order to take advantage of the new situation with the associated adapted structures and to bind them to the company in the long term, it will be an important criteria for success to establish modern structures and agile working methods. This transformation is also indispensable if you want to make your company fit for future work. For the teams and also for the managers it is a new and unusual situation not to meet physically every day and to transfer the exchange into the virtual. Even managing employees from a distance works differently than it does every day in the office.
The provision of equipment - laptop, smartphone, headsets, webcam, software and secure VPN access is essential for productive work in the home office. While you can help each other in business, in the home office you are dependent on the technology, access and licenses working. As a manager, ensuring that the working conditions of employees are good and that effective work is possible without frictional losses, or accepting such problems and solving them as quickly as possible, is recognised by employees and is an important part of employees' appreciation of management.
The manager must be able to trust that the employees work at home with the same level of commitment as usual. Mistrust is inappropriate at this point, as this quickly affects the mood and leads to demotivation. The beginning of virtual collaboration, however, also puts the manager in an unfamiliar situation, so it is important to communicate this to the employees honestly and quickly in order to find a good way to work together. The team members have to get the feeling of being safe, not to be left alone despite the distance and in case of difficulties. The basis for trust on both sides is transparency and constructive communication - the first step must be taken by the leader.
Our most important experience is that managers must know their employees very well. A large part of interpersonal communication takes place via facial expressions and gestures, which is omitted in written communication. It is therefore essential to speak as often as possible by video or in person and to ask clearly what works well and where dislikes lie. Otherwise, there is the risk of assigning a colleague recurring tasks that he or she is not comfortable with and thus, in the long term, will be dissatisfied, even though he or she completes these tasks quickly and in good quality. Doing a task well or doing it with pleasure can be a big difference. Every employee wants to be seen and taken into account, both with his or her strengths and weaknesses. This shows genuine appreciation and produces top performance from the employee.
In order to guarantee a regular exchange, to give the team structure for communication and to maintain team spirit, it is important to set up regular team meetings. Depending on the field of activity roles, the rhythm can be very different. Some teams need a short vote in the morning so that everyone knows how the tasks are distributed and what the status is. In other teams a weekly exchange can make sense, so that everyone can keep up to date and offer each other support. The challenge for the leader is to communicate important information to each team member. Transparency is the key to successful cooperation if there are no short conversations at the coffee machine. In this way, the team is kept up to date and everyone knows exactly how things are going in the company, where the future challenges lie and what news is available.
The small personal conversations in between and the short run across the desk are omitted. For most people, the hurdle to call someone and ask a question is higher than doing it in person through the official channels. The manager should overcome this hurdle by seeking contact to each individual employee himself. It will soon become clear which team members need this type of communication more often and which ones do not necessarily need it on a daily basis. As a manager in this team constellation, it is important to make it clear that you can be contacted at any time by e-mail, telephone or video. Employees may not find it an obstacle or disturbance to seek contact with the manager, otherwise they will cease communication relatively soon.
The employer's duty of care also applies in the home office. It is important to take on the same advisory function as in the office. Does the workplace meet the requirements of an optimal workplace from an ergonomic point of view? Are working, rest and break times observed? What is the personal situation and work organisation at home? Especially in stressful times, it is important for leaders to ensure the well-being and thus also the performance of their employees. Clear boundaries should be drawn between job and private life. At the same time, it can make sense to make working hours more flexible, for example by shifting working hours to the evening hours when children are at home in the afternoon and concentration suffers as a result. It is important to perceive the needs of the employees and to combine them with the requirements of the job.
Even if working together from a distance is unfamiliar and challenging at the beginning, it brings a new perspective on work processes and communication in the team. Once the first steps have been taken, the framework conditions defined and initial experiences made, the home office becomes more attractive, accepted and significant. As various studies also show that the performance of employees in the home office increases, companies and employees can only gain from this form of cooperation.
Companies that recognise the opportunity and take the time to prepare their managers for the task of putting the full focus on their team will be well prepared for New Work and the future labour market. As described at the beginning, we at ARTS have been working together successfully in this form for a long time. We would be pleased to support you with further impulses for communication and work organisation.