This is a challenging time for all of us. COVID-19 has brought uncertainty and disruption to every business and has led to a lot of abrupt changes to how we get our jobs done.
Adapting rapidly to this new environment isn’t easy, and sometimes it feels as if the ground is shifting under our feet by the minute. Since then, we have learned a lot more about what it means to work with an entirely remote workforce — and we are still learning.
In this post, I’d like to look at some of the ways we’re navigating these changing conditions, with a special focus on communications, and how we are fostering a sense of connectedness. These are some approaches we have found to be effective — I hope you find them helpful, too.
Make your communications frequent, supportive and transparent
COVID-19 is affecting not just where we work but how we work, too. Daily routines have changed, making everyone’s remote work experience uniquely different.
Empathy is crucial here. Some have private spaces and are accustomed to working this way; some have children and are juggling responsibilities; while others may be struggling with feelings of isolation. The situation is complicated and constantly evolving, and people will respond to the pressures and challenges differently. That’s why it’s important to show tolerance and understanding — and maintaining clear communications, transparency and flexibility with your employees can go a long way to helping people know that you are there and support them.
Whether you’re a large or small company, here are some tips to remember when communicating with your team:
1. Schedule time for Q&A
Regular check-ins can go a long way to make people feel included. At Indeed, we’ve started hosting biweekly Q&A sessions with senior leaders. In these hour-long calls, employees can submit and vote on questions they’d like to have answered. This not only provides employees with transparent information about what’s happening but also gives senior leaders insight into what’s top-of-mind for employees. It’s a highly effective feedback loop that helps keep us all connected to one another.
2. Keep everyone updated via email
We’ve also found that sending frequent email updates — even when we don’t have something big to announce — helps to put employees at ease. For instance, on March 12, after working from home for one full week, we sent a brief email to Indeedians. This summarized how we were responding to the COVID-19 crisis (tracking employee exposure to the virus), an employee survey (how things are going so far), lessons learned (employee stories of how COVID-19 has impacted them) and resources to support them (employee resource groups and programs). Again, it reinforced the sense that we are all in this together and our ongoing approach to tackling the crisis.
3. Get the tone right
Tone is important in emails and largely impacts how your message is received. We have the opportunity to set a positive tone in a time when there may be a lot of uncertainty. Our emails, while being broadly conversational, also convey a tone that’s compassionate, empathetic and encouraging — especially when it comes to the steps we all need to take to keep ourselves safe and healthy. We also try to inject some levity into our communications to help ease anxiety and concern, such as photos showing our work-from-home (WFH) spaces. And of course, before you send your email, it’s always a good practice to read it out loud to yourself.
4. Experiment to see what works
We have experimented with the length and cadence of emails and are continuing to do so. You don’t want to swamp employees with communications, but you do need to make sure their questions and concerns are being addressed.
Help employees adjust to working remotely
Of course, you can do a lot more than send emails. As our employees continue to adjust to working remotely, we’re constantly thinking about how we can make this transition as easy as possible so teams can continue to be productive. Here are some initiatives to help employees adjust to working remotely:
Employee Assistance Programs: From anonymous, third-party helplines to direct support from managers, companies can offer resources and services to support employees who are feeling anxious, isolated or need to talk to someone about the changes in their workplaces. Specific approaches will vary according to the resources you have, but the principle — a readiness to listen — can apply across all firms.
Virtual events: Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or happy hour, we’re seeing more and more employees hosting virtual events to stay connected with one another in a face-to-face way, even if it’s mediated through a screen. A few of the most popular online workplace communication tools include Zoom, Skypeand Google Hangouts — and some are even free to use.
Communication tools: The social aspect of work is important, but obviously that is affected in a 100% remote environment. Across companies, employees are connecting, socializing and helping one another. Workplace communication and collaboration tools like Trello and Slack are geared toward keeping employees connected and engaged. On our Slack channel, #WFH-cooking club, employees even share delicious meal ideas.
Let go of what’s out of your control
With more companies shifting to remote work and recent school closings, we understand that our workdays will now mean more interruptions and distractions. It’s not uncommon to hear dogs barking or see children in the background of video chats. We’re embracing these interruptions and are recognizing them as an opportunity to learn more about one another.
With our new WFH structure, we’re getting a glimpse into the lives of our employees — meeting their spouses and children and connecting about home renovations and the artwork hanging on their walls.
Despite physically working apart, the shift to working from home has given us a glimpse into the lives of our coworkers and, in some ways, has brought us even closer together.
Check in to ask how everything is going
When developing a culture of trust, transparency and communication, it’s important to continuously check in and ask employees how things are going. Employee feedback not only informs decisions across the company, but it plays a fundamental role in improving employee engagement.
We sent out a survey a few weeks ago to Indeed employees across the world and have received a good response so far. Many employees enjoy not having a commute (81%) but miss having the connection with other people (75%). And despite having more distractions and interruptions, employees (84%) are staying productive at home.
With these insights in mind, we plan to take the good things from this experience — the tools, tactics and tips that have helped us stay more connected — and bring them with us when we return to the office.
While we’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks, we don’t have all the answers — no one does. We hope that our experiences and lessons learned can be insightful for those looking for solutions during these uncertain times. We have a unique opportunity to support and learn from one another. Today, everyone’s shared thoughts, ideas and strategies matter more than ever.
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