5 crucial tips to keep remote employees agile in a crisis

When a crisis hits and working habits are shaken up, it’s important to keep working smartly and effectively in order to streamline processes and keep operations moving. With employees self-isolating and businesses operating from living rooms and offices in private homes, HR leaders need to support business leaders in ensuring productivity by embracing agile principles.

1. Embrace the virtual office

Firstly, organisations must fully embrace the virtual workplace and understand how technology can be leveraged to enable business continuity, comms and operations?

“Natural disasters and public health emergencies can strike anywhere at any time,” says Donna Kimmel, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at the software company Citrix Systems. “And when they do, companies need to be prepared to protect their employees, customers and partners and mitigate any disruptions that could negatively impact the business. This is where technology that enables remote work can be of real value”.

When normal goes out the window, virtual workspaces can quickly provide the necessary frameworks and tools to enable employees to be more agile and slip into new working patterns.

2. Encourage employee autonomy

With the necessary framework in place, employers need to encourage and enable employee autonomy, as micromanagement is the antithesis of productivity with remote working.

Managers too often subscribe to the notion that employees are only productive when they are in-sight. This mindset needs to change. It requires people leaders to encourage honest, two-way conversations among managers and employees in which goals and measures of success for remote working are outlined clearly.

Managers should also factor in regular check-ins says Ms Kimmel, “where they can adjust things as necessary based on what’s working and not working”. In short, it is vital to maintain open channels of communication in order to build up trust and understanding that can empower employees to focus and deliver on their end goals.

3. Maintain transparency

Which brings us to the importance of transparency about said goals. People leaders need to ensure that teams can effectively discuss, update, assess and prioritize project and business goals regularly, which is a common challenge when remote working.

This is where organisations can really lean on technology, hosting virtual ‘open houses’ where teams can drop in and ask questions, share feedback or vent much like they would in a physical office. “It’s really important that managers and employees talk frequently and honestly,” says Ms Kimmel, “to enable agility in priority planning”.

Depending on the needs of the team, there are a wide range of applications, software and general tools that can enable teams to work more collaboratively – whether it’s video-conferencing, a task tracking tool like Trello or even something as simple as a Google Sheet in which employees can update the status of projects collaboratively in real-time.

4. Collaborate effectively and considerately

Effective collaboration can be helped with the right tools, but it is essential to continue to maintain consistent communications.

Just because people are at home and working differently, not everything needs to be disrupted and changed. Yet some things may need extra consideration, especially when working with global colleagues and clients.

As virtual meetings become a regular fixture, it can be easy to slip into bad habits. It is important to make considerations so that meetings don’t become a burden or an inconvenience to other people. “You have to keep things short and focused,” says Ms Kimmel. “When scheduling meetings, I always encourage folks to be respectful of time zones to make sure that one time zone is not always being disadvantaged”.

Consistent communications might be key, but flexible communications will be greatly appreciated.

5. Leaders must lead from the front

Yet for all of these to work, HR and people leaders need to equip leaders to lead from the front, encouraging them to embrace clear, consistent comms that help improve workforce cohesion and buy-in.

This means conducting surveys to collect data on how employees are managing, so changes can be made to support individuals; making information clear and easy to access on portals such as intranets that can supply resources, tools and FAQs; equally it’s about socialising and amplifying such resources so that employees know where they can turn.

“In times like these, you can’t over communicate,” says Ms Kimmel. “People are unsettled and have a lot of questions, and you need to reach out more frequently to create a sense of safety, well-being, security and stability”.