We’re all seeing the trend to stay working from home (WFH), even as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to shift. Many organizations are choosing to keep WFH protocols in place and even those that are allowing offices to open are doing so on a hybrid basis in many cases.

There are advantages and disadvantages (as there is with anything) in permanently working from home, but as a leader, whether your team and organization are partially or completely working from home, you have to know how to handle it and lead them well – wherever they are.

Let’s dig in together to understand some of the best practices you can implement when it comes to working from home.   

1. OVER COMMUNICATE

It’s important to have quick one-on-one check-ins certainly more than normal and at least once a week. Without any water cooler conversations and without the ability to pop your head into someone’s office, it’s important to do quick check-ins to make sure your team is ok.

In addition to one on one quick check-ins, you’ll also want to have more formal and specific update meetings with your entire team at least once a week, all together.  

Remember, people tend to fill in the silence gaps with negative assumptions.  So if there are no interactions for a few weeks, your team may fill in the blank with:

  • Am I still needed?
  • Am I going to lose my job?
  • Did I do something wrong?

Keeping in touch is critical.

Over communicating also includes encouraging your team. Make it a point to consistently reinforce positive things that you’re seeing.

Here’s how I personally prioritize this for myself:

  • Start each day with quiet time where you reflect on yesterday and pick out 3 things you saw, heard or read where you can compliment someone on a job well done.
  • Thank those three people who were involved with a hand-written note. Be short and specific in your praise.

I’ve found time and time again that this practice makes my day start in a better frame of mind, leading me to be more motivated, and more positive throughout the day.

All these best practices for over-communicating definitely take more time than we may be used to, but they are mission-critical for healthy WFH culture.

2. ACCESSIBILITY

Creating standard times when your team has access to you is so important for a healthy work from home culture, including things like:

  • Set times when you are available to your team.
  • Set guidelines for your team, like 9-3 or some set time when you (and they) must be available unless noted in their calendar.
  • Calendar sharing is a must.  
  • Setting specific meeting days is also a helpful practice. If meetings are pre-set on certain days, the other days are then accessible for travel and phone calls.  For instance, at SeaWorld, we did our best to limit meetings to Monday-Wednesday so we could travel to the parks or “roam the halls” Thursday through Saturday.

3. INCLUSIVITY

It is critical in a work from home environment that communication processes are well defined.    In other words, how are decisions made?  Who is doing what in making a decision?   

A best practice in this regard is a RACI chart should be used to define decision-making processes.

R = Who is Responsible for making the recommendation?
A = Who has to Approve the recommendation?
C = Who should be Consulted in order to make the recommendation? 
I  =  Who has to be Informed once the decision is made?

Although this does take some time upfront, the clarity it brings makes the process so much easier. It also assures no one is accidentally left off a zoom call or email distribution.    

One more important tip on making this process easier: pick how you are going to communicate certain issues/decisions and stick to it.

Text, vs. email, vs. slack or Google docs?  So many organizations let this all happen in an undefined way and this wide variety of different communication methods leads to a lot of confusion and frustration. An example of this could look like: 

Text for urgent issues only, email for multiple people/more complicated issues, and those that need to be “informed” or “consulted,” Slack or Google docs for collaborative projects.  

4. CULTURE TRACKING

In a work from home culture, surveying your team to see how they’re feeling is more important than ever.

Start with an annual survey at a minimum. I’m always surprised by how many organizations don’t ever survey their own people to know how they are doing.

This, of course, should be confidential and if you can afford it, outsource it to assure confidentiality.  

5. SOCIALBILITY

What does this mean? HAVE SOME FUN! I can’t say this has ever been my gift as I am so task oriented, but the best work from home cultures create fun even over the phone or video chats.

How can you have fun remotely?

  • Share your favorite weekend or vacation story.
  • Share dog pictures of your dog, kiddos, etc.
  • Favorite Zoom story
  • Recent movie or Netflix binge?
  • Zoom Happy Hour

Stay tuned for Part II and my last 5 ideas on continuing to improve your WFH culture.

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