Preparing employees for working remotely in times of crisis

Preparing employees for working remotely in times of crisis

  • COVID-19 has resulted in many organisations implementing emergency travel restrictions and requesting that staff telecommute
  • Major conferences, events and training sessions have been cancelled
  • The Resilience Institute offers specialised digital support for employees working remotely
  • The Resilience Institute publishes 10 tips for remote working success (below)

Over the past decade, flexible working arrangements have become standard practice around the world. Indeed, some distributed teams and freelancers of the gig economy may never actually meet their colleagues in person. For many organisations, it makes sense to allow office staff to telecommute. The arrangement saves money, reduces transit time and carbon footprint, increases millennial engagement and supports diversity. Gallup revealed that 54% of office workers say they’d leave their job for one that offers flexible work time.

Working from home – but not by choice

Flexible working may once have been considered a perk but the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in what some have labelled the world’s biggest work from home experiment, forcing thousands of employees to work remotely if their job allows for it. Immediately after the outbreak, an estimated 60 million Chinese workers were placed under full or partial lockdown. As COVID-19 spread, organisations across South East Asia, then Italy and the USA implemented emergency remote working arrangements. Some employees are allowed into the office on roster, while others are being asked to work from home until further notice. Companies including Twitter, Google, Amazon and Apple have restricted employee travel and requested people stay at home where possible.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is a proponent of remote working and optimistic about the shift.

This may be simple for a tech company with a young workforce, equipped with modern laptops and robust cloud infrastructure. But many organisations have been caught off guard. They have no business continuity plan for a suddenly distributed workforce. Most production lines can’t function without human labour and, as a result, China’s manufacturing production has fallen to record lows. Global supply chains have been seriously impacted and, with demand waning, the global economy is slowing, possibly towards a recession.

For security reasons, many jobs can’t be easily shifted to a remote arrangement. Miltary and banking are two obvious areas. Nevertheless, COVID-19 is going to trigger experiments that will test human, technological and organisational resilience and ingenuity.

Remote working to maintain productivity

Countries like Singapore are less vulnerable than many others. Flexible working arrangements are commonplace and have made it possible for top talent to deliberately balance their careers with lifestyle. Companies like Dell are also prepared, having initiated workplace transformation programs back in 2009.

Organisations of the future will be looking at these examples of flexible working success and reimagining business continuity. What happens in a future where COVID-19 is but one of many threats, ranging from virus to terror, climate to political unrest? Could your organisation continue operations if the office was shut down? Is your technology infrastructure capable of handling the shift? Can your managers lead remotely? Perhaps, most importantly, are employees equipped to deal with the challenges of being physically isolated, potentially for long periods of time?

Remote working is not a new idea

Opportunities for remote working have increased dramatically since the advent of the internet. Those with specific skills can live productive – even nomadic – lives equipped with just a laptop and wi-fi.

Working from the bedroom (or beach) is a dream for many but the reality may present a shock. Some people thrive in their own space, operating without the distractions inherent in the modern, open-plan office. A Chinese remote working study showed that employees were 13% more productive at home, mainly due to the quieter environment. As you may expect, they also requested less sick days. Think about our ancestors: we evolved hunting and gathering in small, close-knit groups. In the evenings the tribe would gather and tell stories around the fire, then rest and repeat at sunrise. Public transport, open-plan offices and densely populated cities are not our natural environment. A home in the suburbs might not be such a bad place to work after all.

In reality, however, most home environments are not optimised for serious productivity. There may be family members present during the day or no suitable area available for work. The dining room table is fine for the occasional email but video conferencing won’t work if there are toddlers crying in the background. The boundaries between work and home can easily blur and many employees will find themselves working late, suffering disrupted sleep routines, experiencing resentment from partners and kids, and feeling lonely.

Companies need to lead the way

Governments are understandably focused on the medical implications of a pandemic like COVID-19. Organisations will need to lead the way in terms of securing productivity and supporting the livelihood of those in their care during turbulent times.

McKinsey’s report, COVID-19: Implications for business, states, “Protect your employees. The COVID-19 crisis has been emotionally challenging for many people, changing day-to-day life in unprecedented ways. For companies, business as usual is not an option. They can start by drawing up and executing a plan to support employees that is consistent with the most conservative guidelines that might apply and has trigger points for policy changes. Some companies are actively benchmarking their efforts against others to determine the right policies and levels of support for their people. Leaders must communicate with employees with the right level of specificity and frequency.”

At the Resilience Institute, we work with organisations around the globe to provide assessment and training – often delivered digitally – that equips individuals with action plans to improve their resilience and leaders with insights on how best to look after their people in times of crisis. Reporting on 60 factors of resilience we believe the future lies in providing targeted, relevant support, at the right time, wherever employees might be.

As such, we have prepared the following guide to help organisations equip their teams and leaders for success.


10 Tips for Remote Working Success

1. Set up a dedicated workspace

Employers are probably aware that most employees work from home even if they have not signed a flexible working arrangement. A report by Fortune reveals that 68% of people check work email before 8 am, 50% check it while in bed, 57% check on family outings, and 38% regularly check at the dinner table.

If we expect employees to be productive in the home environment it is necessary for them to create boundaries, both physical and time. Most organisations will be unable to ship standing desks to every staff member’s home but some simple tips will improve safety and wellbeing.

A clear desk and dedicated workspace improves focus and productivity.

Considering that staff will primarily be using laptops it is important that they learn optimal posture and take regular breaks. If budgets allow, companies may choose to ship a laptop stand plus external keyboard and mouse to each employee who is working from home.

To assist with focus in a potentially noisy environment, employees might choose to wear noise-cancelling headphones. For those in sales roles where client interaction will be required it is worthwhile investing in quality USB headsets that transmit and receive clear sound.

Encourage employees to blur their background if necessary during video calls (Skype has a setting for this) and to use an appropriate lighting source if client communication is necessary. A small, clip-on LED ring light can provide excellent illumination for a few dollars.

2. Encourage communication

Many employees enjoy the social aspect of work. Being suddenly isolated can result in feelings of loneliness. Motivation may decrease.

Use group conversations to stimulate formal and informal communication. Consider a “virtual watercooler” where employees can discuss a range of topics. Create a thread called “Working from Home” so people can share anecdotes, tips and success stories.

Encourage video calls whenever possible. Being able to view faces will reduce ambiguity and build a sense of connection. Equip employees with some guidelines around video call best practice, especially those who may be new to the technology.

For calls with large groups, nominate a conversation facilitator who ensures each person has an opportunity to contribute. Some people may interrupt or speak out of turn so create some protocols for group call etiquette.

Keep virtual meetings short. People will often multitask (that’s why having cameras on is useful) and they’ll almost certainly zone out of anything beyond an hour. Allow rest breaks for meetings longer than an hour.

Don’t see COVID-19 as an excuse to roll out more systems and software. Starting a Slack board may seem cool but how distracted are your employees already? Can you make use of existing tools, like Yammer, Skype, Hangouts or Sharepoint?

Encourage employees to have virtual coffee breaks where they can openly discuss non-work topics. Using technology effectively can help maintain and even build company culture. It will be integral to human success in a physically disconnected future.

3. Be empathetic

Employees will be working from the sanctuary of their home space and this brings with it all kinds of challenges, from the White Tennis Shoe Syndrome (finding any distraction more appealing than the current task) to the lure of the fridge, to kids who also happen to be locked down at home.

While running remote working experiments you’ll connect with employees who’ve just woken up after a rough night. You’ll hear screaming in the background. Some people will be hyperproductive (take note) and some will be wallowing in procrastination and doubt. Managers are not immune to this – they may feel the pressure more than most.

Everyone responds differently to challenge so ask people how they’re doing and show them that you care. Emphasise the importance of the organisational mission and how much their contribution counts towards the greater goals.

Be really clear about performance objectives but allow space for adaptation to the new arrangement.

4. Create a culture of recognition

High-recognition companies have 31% lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition cultures. Use remote working as a way to encourage recognition, both peer-to-peer and from leaders.

A simple first step is saying thank you. The next step is public recognition. When teams are distributed geographically they miss the small wins – things that went well but don’t deserve a group email. Take the opportunity to recognise small wins by broadcasting daily or weekly group updates that are dedicated to good news, gratitude and success stories.

5. Hold virtual training sessions

When group workshops and conferences are impossible due to the risk of infection, employee training does not need to stop. Most training companies can offer webinar versions of their content, enabling employees to dial in remotely.

Tools like Zoom enable video meetings and webinars, with advanced functionality like chat and breakout rooms for one-on-one discussions. Zoom’s share price increased by 67% in 2020 with several large conferences switching to digital-only format.

Virtual summits and training sessions make sense, both environmentally and in terms of limiting the spread of viruses. They may not be quite as fun as a face-to-face event but they can certainly still be effective.

The Resilience Institute offers introductory webinars and deep-dives into specific areas including bounce, sleep, focus, emotional intelligence and high performance.

6. Encourage transparency

In times of crisis, transparency builds trust. From a team productivity perspective, shared task lists can help groups collaborate more efficiently. Tools like Trello (free), JIRA (paid) and Microsoft Planner (included with Office 365) enable the quick creation of boards (projects), tasks and delegation.

Highly visual, shared boards become the central repository of work in progress and are much easier to manage than email. Leaders can quickly identify which employees need additional support, based on the number of tasks assigned and forthcoming deadlines.

Consider letting teams explore agile ways of working. You may discover an emergent workflow that forms the basis for future business continuity planning.

From the perspective of company communications, it is important that leaders maintain contact and share important updates as swiftly as possible. Crisis situations are an opportunity to strengthen relationships and practice real-time resilience. Transparent and authentic communication creates a foundation of workplace trust.

7. Offer virtual wellbeing training

Employees will take time to adapt to a completely new way of working. Some will take advantage of the extra time and go for walks or attend group fitness classes. Others may lack the motivation to get out of their pyjamas.

Working from home is an opportunity to save money and improve diet by preparing meals at home. Encourage employees to move throughout the day and provide them with resources to encourage mindfulness and calm. Promote healthy sleep habits and discourage working late.

Keep training sessions short and focused. Encourage the use of self-assessment tools to build personal insight.

The Resilience App contains a comprehensive diagnostic assessment plus over 55 micro-learning videos designed to improve individual wellbeing and resilience.

8. Establish daily rhythm

The remote working experiment is an opportunity to develop high-performance habits, both individually and as a team. How about reserving the first 90 minutes in everyone’s diary for Flow State – the most important task/s for the day. After this, we share a collective break (meet at the virtual watercooler / Slack), then batch process emails and make video calls.

Some might schedule a second “flow zone” for the afternoon, followed by a break and time for recovery.

Bear in mind that some people will have kids arriving home in the afternoon, so they will compensate by working late. Be empathetic and discourage extremely late nights and weekends online. Leaders will need to model these behaviours because remote-working culture starts from the top.

The dangers of long hours are well documented and a study showed that upper-level managers who used their phones after 9 p.m. experienced decreases in quantity and quality of sleep.

View the Master your Day guide for suggestions and resources.

9. Mental health check-ins

Whether conducted by leaders, peers or internal wellbeing ambassadors it is worthwhile scheduling mental health check-ins to make sure everyone is coping with the change to remote working.

A guide to leading mental health is available here.

Many organisations choose to focus on cultivating mental wellbeing – or mental fitness. In this context, the check-in becomes an opportunity for coaching and support.

The Resilience Institute’s downward spiral provides a clear framework to help leaders and employees describe and sustain their mental fitness.

10. Train leaders to identify risks

The remote working experiment is fraught with risk. Some areas to consider include:

  • Conducting flexible work risk assessments and defining remote work policies. Duncan Cotterill have produced an excellent guide.
  • Employee wellbeing – sleep, fitness, relaxation, balancing home pressures.
  • Expenses – is an allowance available for working in cafes or for use of the home internet connection, especially if video calling is required?
  • Security – does the employee live with flatmates or others who can gain unauthorised access to company information. What security protocols can be established?
  • Mental health – be aware of behaviours that signal resilience failure.
  • Employee engagement – how can leaders maintain employee morale.

30 Ways to Manage Stress in the Workplace

30 Ways to Manage Stress in the Workplace

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) is how strategists describe the modern workplace. Everything is also moving faster. Many work processes that used to take weeks – letters, reporting, travel – are now instantaneous. Humans are not equipped for this turbulent assault of information, opinion, news, competition and distraction.

Many feel overloaded, busy and stressed. A quick look at the rise of anxiety, depression, attention disorders, sleep problems, relationship conflict and stress-related health conditions, will leave you in no doubt that the workplace has a big problem. Here are our top thirty recommendations. We will work through language, leadership, rhythm, culture and personal responsibility.

Language

1. Stop using the word “stress” as fast as you possibly can. It is sloppy language that will confuse everyone. The language in your workplace is subtle but powerful. Get it right.
2. Define external pressure as challenge (never as “stress”). When things are VUCA, let people know that it is intense “out there” and you have challenges to address.
3. When you feel challenged but still motivated and energised let people know that you are fully engaged (never “stressed”). If you are on top of your game, say “relaxed and in flow”.
4. When you feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable and fragile, you are “distressed”. Distress is suffering and counter-productive. Distress is the body’s alarm system. You need to hear it and take action to bounce.
5. Define the difference between acute and chronic distress. Occasional, short bursts of distress are normal and adaptive. This is the acute stress that happens with a fire alarm. Persistent and relentless distress is abnormal and dangerous. This chronic distress is perhaps the greatest risk to your people and your business. It is the mental health disorder of our time.
6. Be clear that the opposite of distress is not disengaged. The solution is relaxed effectiveness. The question to ask is “how do we get back to relaxed effectiveness quickly.

Leadership

7. The solution starts at the top with simplification. The fastest way to solve the problem is for leaders to enforce clarity. Define the objective and the key results needed to secure them. Remove distraction and goal conflict from the top down.
8. Leaders and teams must clarify each day’s key actions that will support desired results. Rather get one thing done well each day than make a little progress on ten things.
9. Leaders and managers must learn how to model calm, respectful and focused behaviour. When leaders show anger, disappointment and fear, distress rages through the organisation.
10. Be strictly focused in all meetings and teamwork. Remove devices and clutter. Multitasking is massively ineffective. We waste massive amounts of mental energy by switching attention. The average i-gen switches attention every 19 seconds. Overload, withdrawal and distress follow.

Rhythm

11. Help your people design and follow daily rhythms. Work is effective in bursts of high intensity on a single focus. Each person must learn when they need to take a quick and effective rest. For example, focus for 40 minutes followed by a 3 minute walk and stretch.
12. Make sure people get up and about for tea and lunch breaks. If possible get outside for some natural light and a brief walk over lunch.
13. Negotiate times or signals to reduce unwanted interruptions. Be firm with those who do not respect focused bursts.
14. Encourage daily stand-up meetings for each workgroup. These should be at the same time and ideally at the start of the day. Connect as human beings and then share your key goal for the day.
15. Keep meetings short
16. Consider having meeting-free hours during the day so that they can plan to get things done.
17. Answer e-mails and messages in short bursts no more than four times per day.
18. Work on one document or platform at a time. Use airplane mode when you can.

Culture

19. A key role for the board and leadership team is to model behaviours that set the culture of your organisation. Truth and respect are the foundations of culture. Demand honesty and expect everyone to be treated with respect.
20. Set high standards for impulse control. Outbursts of anger (shouting), sadness (tears) and fear (avoidance or panic) create waves of distress that echo for decades. Make sure everyone knows how to restrain outbursts, calm down and have a constructive candid conversation.
21. Be proactive and generous with apologies. We are human and we make mistakes. Be courageous and humble. Immediately step forward when you behave without honesty or respect.
22. Train your people in empathy. Empathy is at the core of communication, collaboration, innovation and high performing teams. Empathy requires that you be physically present, emotionally attuned and can take the perspective of others. If people feel listened to and understood, distress is massively reduced.
23. Train people in influence and communication styles. Diversity at work demands that we learn how to understand and connect with different perspectives and styles. These are not rigid diagnoses. We can learn to recognise different styles and how to adjust and be more flexible with our own.
24. Train your people in conflict resolution. Human interactions are messy and conflict will occur. Conflict is a primary cause of distress and mental illness. It can be managed. Show people how to respectfully disagree, debate and resolve differences without compromising truth, respect and compassion.

Personal Responsibility

25. Be clear in your expectation that you expect people to know how to bounce, recover, relax and rejuvenate. While work is a significant source of distress, family, health and finances play a role. A significant solution to the problem of distress is personal responsibility for making the time and practicing the solutions.
26. Ensure that your organisation makes the necessary resources to support effective bounce and recovery available. Including assessments, workshops, digital training, practice tips and coaching (or EAP).
27. Ensure that your people understand the importance of sleep. After excessive device time, sleep disturbance is a key cause of anxiety and depression (distress). A good night’s sleep at the right time is a primary solution.
28. Train your people in the evidence-based skills of relaxation, breath control, emotion regulation and attention training. We recommend avoiding confusing words that might cause religious or philosophical friction. Give people every possible support to build the right practices into their lives. Encourage practice at work.
29. Socialise the concept of smart switching. Many of us remain in the work grid through the evening and the weekend. As people learn to switch from work to home and family, resilience will build.
30. Encourage laughter. Don’t be too serious. Perhaps every workplace needs a joker.

 

by 

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.

The Art and Science of Expertise

The Art and Science of Expertise

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.
Written by 

The methodology for how to be your best is becoming a systematic science and art. With a number of new and complimentary themes, this article explores what we know and how to apply it. What are the main themes? How do we make this personally meaningful?

Expert performance can involve four distinct sets of players. The first is the individual. The second is the team. The third is teams with computers. The fourth is entire organisations be they military, commercial, sports or humanity.

Here are some key themes and the key references for those want to go deeper:

The Science of Flow

Over the past decades humans have made massive gains in performance. We see this in sport, extreme adventure, science, music, chess, military, and business. The gains come from applying this science of expertise. Csikszentmihaly[1] popularised the Flow concept three decades ago and Steven Kotler[2] has taken this to a new level. Now Anders Ericsson[3] has taken another step with deliberate practice.

At first, Flow simply described the state of optimal performance. Today, we are systematically mapping the experience. We now know exactly what has to occur in our physiology, emotions and mind to enable flow. It is indeed a magical state of super-performance liberated from doubt and fuelled by extraordinary changes in the chemical brain and consciousness. In Flow we can do the seemingly impossible – and it feels fantastic!

McKinsey argues that an executive in flow does five days work in one. The All Blacks and Navy Seals have institutionalised flow as a way of being.

At the core, flow emerges when we tackle a serious but meaningful challenge with a set of finely honed skills (expertise). The experience is so intense, thinking, feeling and bodily processes temporarily cease. This allows maximum resources for rapid, accurate perception, evaluation and decision-making.

The Science of Expertise

The systematic development of the necessary skills to enter flow consistently is new territory. This is where high performance sports coaching, military strategy and Anders Ericsson have lots to teach us. Deliberate practice trumps genes and “natural talent’ every time. Experts agree that Mozart, Einstein, Picasso and others shone not because of some magical talent but because they practiced deliberately over long periods of time.

Expert performances are increasing because we understand the process of skill development. It takes time – in the order of 7,500 hours. It must start early in life. It requires expert coaching and data-driven feedback. Ericsson’s recipe includes deliberate, purposeful practice over long periods of time, specific training objectives, quick feedback with expert coaching, razor focus, practicing outside of one’s comfort zone, and alignment of motivators.

Ericsson and Duhigg[4] both agree that developing the right mental maps (or representations) is critical. This is worth a moment to process. In the demanding and fluid conditions of expert performance, the pictures of one’s options must present immediately. In other words whether it is chess, concert performance, battle, sport or business, experts have mapped these mental maps into their long-term memory.

There is no time to ponder the question: “what should I do now?” You have to know that exact situation from memory – through deliberate practice – and all of the possible options available. This is the meaning of what we call situation awareness. Because you have practiced the situation so many times, you can feel the right option intuitively. Working memory (thinking) is just too slow and too expensive. Top Gun, the Navy Fighter initiative, did this by drilling pilots in specific dogfight situations followed by detailed debriefs. Again and again they learned how specific situations unfold and how to respond intuitively. This transformed the Navy’s performance in Vietnam and has become the template for US military campaigns.

The applications of this idea are huge from parenting and education through to business and the professions. The more we practice for novel situations and enrich long term memory with different options, the better we will become. These mental maps must include physical, emotional and cognitive elements.

The Science of High Performing Teams

Geoff Colvin[5] and Charles Duhigg converge on a definite shift in research on what drives team performance. The message is crisp. Intelligence, expertise and style are not correlated with team performance. Empathy or social awareness is categorically the best predictor of who will contribute to team performance. Both MIT and Google have contributed to this work showing that it is the teams that interact face-to-face with high emotional sensitivity that deliver the goods.

Further they suggest that short burst communication, evenly distributed around the team characterise a high performing team. Imagine what happens when the deliberate practice of empathy is combined with the tools to work in this way. Then what when we apply team flow to deliberate practice and after-action reviews.

The final frontier is where excellent teams interface with excellent technology. Already teams of chess players collaborate with computers to be the best chess “players” in the world. It is time to ask yourself how you might work with emergent technology to expand and develop your career.

Resilience in Body, Heart and Mind

Expert performance must rest on a foundation of Resilience. The entire range of expert performance is no longer the domain of intellect. The possibility of flow depends upon our will to cultivate resilience in a systematic way. Be fit enough to keep the brain plastic, sleep long enough to activate empathy and social intelligence, and learn how to create meaning and passion on a daily basis.

We know that children who learn to develop their impulse control, empathy and physical wellbeing are far more likely to excel. As Anders Ericsson pleads, we are becoming Homo Exercens – the practicing human. Start early, support everyone and back yourself.

References:

[1] Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Good Business, 2003

[2] Steven Kotler, Rise of Superman, 2014

[3] Anders Ericsson, Peak, 2016

[4] Charles Duhigg, Smarter, Faster, Better, 2016

[5] Geoff Colvin, Humans are Underrated, 2015