Over the past two weeks, as we suddenly became a telecommuting nation, the internet was flooded with tips, guidance and secrets for making the adjustment to working from home.
After three decades of going through the daily routine of getting up in the morning, driving to work and putting in an honest and honorable shift of labor, I must admit… I found much of the new online advice to be useful.
I have a suspicion that many of the impacts of the changes and nuances wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic on the American workplace are going to become permanent.
But let the record show, I still miss the noble venture of “going to work.” I miss my co-workers. I miss my network. I miss meeting friends, peers and potential clients for coffee. For lunch too.
I miss going to business breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I miss my colleagues and friends at the Milwaukee Press Club.
So, yes. I plead guilty to being old-school that way. But the show must go on.
This week, I’m writing my column from home. I want to focus on the mission staring many of us down right at this moment: How can executives making the transition to a telecommuting workplace ensure their employees perform at a top-level, even if they no longer gather at a common office or plant?
For guidance, I put that question to two workplace experts in my network: Regan A.R. Gurung, Ph.D., interim executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and director of the General Psychology Program and professor at the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University; and Douglas Woods, Ph.D., vice provost for Graduate and Professional Studies and dean of the Graduate School at Marquette University.
Here are their pearls of wisdom for executives making the transition to overseeing a newly formed telecommuting workforce:
Plan well. “When we are released from the rigors of a schedule, the flexibility may be difficult to cope with. It becomes more important to plan every major activity. While you can try to keep to fixed hours, being at home with family may need moving things around. Plan everything. Work, Play. Family time. Screen viewing,” said Gurung, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Be realistic. “This situation is not only disrupting the workplace, but it’s disrupting every facet of people’s lives. Lead with an appreciation that the employees are dealing with that disruption, while trying to learn to work in a new environment. Acknowledging that reality with your employees will go a long way toward helping people reestablish their productivity in the work-at-home environment,” Woods said.
Evaluate how your plan is working after a fixed time. “Try it for three days and explicitly check to see if you need to change it. Basic metacognition skills include planning, monitoring the plan and assessing how well it works,” Gurung said.
Help the team establish/reestablish daily routines. “Encourage them to set up a room in their house that will be a stable office space until their work resumes. Keep the same hours, try to have the same meetings with the same people, etc.,” Woods said.
Model good behavior for your employees. “Share how you are working and when and make expectations transparent. Clarity and transparency during this time – what is acceptable and what is not – are important,” Gurung said.
Be more intentional about checking in with your team. “For example, I now start each morning with a meeting of my executive team. In turn, I have asked them to periodically check in with their direct reports throughout the day and to have an online meeting with their folks at the end of each day,” Woods said.
Make sure you take time to directly face any anxieties relating to the situation. “If ignored or if not mentioned in an effort to look strong, it may actually be worse,” Gurung said.
Cultivate your social support networks and team building. “Check in with team members more often for a while,” Gurung said.
Regan A.R. Gurung, Ph.D., Oregon State University
Douglas Woods, Ph.D. Director of the Graduate School Marquette University
Steve Jagler is the director of executive communications at Kane Communications Group.