At very short notice, recent events have forced businesses across the globe to change how they work. Sure, many organisations have offered some degree of remote working for a number of years now, but to be in a position where the entire workforce has to suddenly work from home is challenging even for the most prepared. 

Remote working has moved from being a “nice to have” to a “must-have,” and at least for the foreseeable is now the new normal, so business leaders must ask themselves – how can our organization stay productive, connected and happy?

About the author

James Petter is VP International at Pure Storage.

Successful remote working requires a two-pronged approach. First and foremost, businesses need the right IT infrastructure. Do employees have the requisite technology? Have they got the software needed to join conference calls, download applications, and access resources? Most importantly, are the correct security and business continuity practices in place – such as immutable backups? 

Secondly, successful remote working requires business leaders’ utmost support; and in uncertain times like today, employees need solid leadership more than ever. Good business leaders will naturally possess skills to manage employees’ reactions, drive timely completion of projects and motivate teams, but these traits become even more powerful – and crucial – when the whole workforce is at a distance. 

Let’s take a look at these two factors in more detail, and what is needed to effectively lead a remote workforce, both now and in the future.

Access to remote technology capabilities

Remote working is not a new phenomenon, and some of us are already familiar with working away from the office, whether due to international travel needs, flexible working practices or attending events. However, what was previously a gradual move towards more remote working is now a necessary change fast-tracked by COVID-19. Ultimately, this paradigm shift will challenge both the large-scale companies who are already equipped to adapt to remote working conditions, and those who are just exploring it as an option for the first time. 

Businesses that work well remotely will have implemented, and tested, technologies that can support around the clock access, communication and collaboration, as well as rapid back-up. They will also have reviewed security approaches to integrated working. These factors are critical to maintaining business continuity when a crisis occurs and disperses employees – or even takes the workforce offline. As many companies are already in the process of migrating to cloud computing environments, these measures are likely to ring a bell.

Maintaining trust in leadership

As well as technological capabilities, a good remote working strategy requires sound leadership – not only will this keep levels of productivity up, but it will also boost morale, which is definitely needed during such difficult times. 

In my role as VP International, I spend the majority of my time on a different continent from my colleagues, so I’ve become accustomed to leading and managing remotely – here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way: 

Individualize your approach

As always, being a good leader is about adapting your style to changing circumstances. This is even more imperative when managing employees remotely. Coaching workers from afar requires greater intentionality, and enhanced awareness of the unique requirements and conditions for which your team members perform best, in their specific region. A one-size-fits-all approach will not offer the best results.

Equip and inform

Though it might take a little longer in the short-term, the productivity gains you will benefit from by comprehensively briefing your team upfront will save you far more time in the long-run. Remote working means you cannot converse as easily and openly as you would in an office environment. Ensure you are taking enough time to brief your team thoroughly to enable them to action items, meet deadlines, and maintain quality standards without having to pause for regular follow-up questions.

Consistent communication

Looking after employee morale and well-being is vital, it’s all too easy for people to feel isolated in a time like this. A key way to help with this is consistent communication. For example, I have 15-minute catch up call with each of my country leads every week without fail, at a set time. It’s important to create routine and connection.

Have some facetime

Thank goodness for technology – it’s never been easier to have a reliable video chat with a friend or a colleague. I’d actively encourage this where possible. It’s been argued that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal, so it’s not something that should be overlooked. Often you don’t get a true feel for someone, such as how much of a task they’ve understood, or equally as important how well they are coping, just through phone or email. Video calls are a great way to offset this and stay better connected as people. 

Final thoughts

The reality is that recent global events mean that organisations have had to accelerate remote working policies a lot quicker than they would have planned. It’s more important than ever to have an IT architecture in place that can adapt. While technology will be crucial to maintaining business continuity throughout an organization – first and foremost do consider how you can use technology to look after the most important part of your organization – the people.

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