How to Kick-start Working from Home

With the COVID-19 crisis escalating, some whole families are suddenly at home all day all week working and learning. Fast learning is happening, and a great deal of improvising.

My colleague Stefan Meyer working from homeFor some of you, it is merely an increase of an already familiar set up. You probably have some routine in how you create your rhythm for productivity and how to set boundaries within the family. You may also be well versed in how to socialize across digital platforms with colleagues and clients. For others, the leading-and-working-from-home-situation may be very new. So, challenges vary.

From my 20 years of experience helping organizations, leaders, and teams to improve virtual leadership, distributed teamwork, and digital collaboration, hybrid teams can be a particular challenge. If your team is composed of both people working at the office and people working from home, you should pay attention to kick-starting this set up consciously as a team. The transition from your former work situation to the new team's state requires a “reset” of not just technology but also of mindset and social interactions.

Flipchart teleworking life cycle from Leadership TrainingYou can see here along the outer loop, that typically HR and IT are preparing for a transition (this has been grossly cut short because of the current pandemic). On the individual level, you may be pretty agile and quickly find pragmatic solutions to get set up and running from home.

The challenge now is that between the outer and the inner processes, there needs to be a co-created social process between leaders and team members negotiating this new way of working.

This sketch is from a leadership workshop I designed many years ago for a European institution. They had decided to send employees into teleworking from home because they wanted to save office space and expenses. The reality of this organization was, however, that they took precaution and care of the legal, contractual, and technological aspects but forgot the social dimensions of this change. E.g., to prepare and support the leaders who suddenly were leading hybrid virtual work teams (partly present in the office and partially working from home). I worked with them, and I learned a great deal from them and their team members. Because IT and HR managed this change mainly administratively and technologically, the office culture lagged behind the new set up. Office workers perceived their colleagues working from home as absent. They were not on their colleagues' minds when they scheduled meetings. They were not included in informal conversations any longer or the latest gossip or lunch breaks (this was long before social media). Even worse, people working at the office almost blamed their home office colleagues for having an easy time as if they were on leave or prolonged vacation. The teleworkers, on the other hand, felt guilty and even ashamed of their way of working. At the same time, they suffered from exclusion, sometimes mockery, and even suspicion. A toxic culture had developed around the introduction of such a seemingly simple change by moving office that no one had seen coming. In the leadership workshops, we worked on ways to "reset" team relationships and develop helpful inclusive routines. One further recommendation was to consciously manage the transitions, even ritualize it by having a "farewell" event into the new team member status as a teleworker.

So, some of my recommendations for you currently newly or more so working from home are:

  • Co-create new rules of communication and collaboration.
  • Set expectations as to which channels to use for what and how fast you expect responses on the various channels.
  • You need to reset your team charters - no matter how written or unwritten the rules are. If you had none, it is time to step up your digital leadership and collaboration game! In times of COVID-19, you may have had to rush into a new way of work and learn from a home office situation.
  • Kick-start your working-from-home teams or hybrid "office/home office teams," even if you already started. Do it retrospectively and have your formal video call with all agreeing on some new rules of conduct.
  • Use the experiences and lessons learned so far to start feedback loops for continuous improvements.

Trustful relationships - Edgar Schein's concept of level 2 relationships is beneficial here - are your currency now more than ever. Otherwise, culture eats technology for early breakfast!

Suddenly having everyone or part of your team working from home is a challenge that needs a "reset" for this new way of working. Do it better late than never, we may need it for a long time coming.

Stay safe and healthy!

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