Virtual Teams

What have we learned about working from home – Part 3

This is the third and final blog in a series of 3 designed to capture the learning from this unique period of working from home, see if you had similar experiences and make some recommendations on how we embed working from home into the new normal. The content comes from our new white paper on working from home.

  • Part 1 of this series of blogs looked at the initial concerns that people faced when they suddenly had to work from home, often with little preparation and how the challenges changed as people started to get used to working from home and needed to make the experience more sustainable.
  • Part 2 concentrated on the additional people challenges that are coming from a phased return to work and more mixed methods of working. We will identify the trends that are becoming clearer about the new ways of working that will emerge.
  • In this blog, part 3 we will draw on this learning and our experience of 25 years of training people to work remotely to identify the key individual and management challenges in working from home and what to do about them.

If you can’t wait for the last blog or want to get the content of all 3 as a pdf download you can get our working for home white paper.

Enduring people challenges

We used a grid to introduce the webinars we ran for thousands of people new to working from home in early to mid-2020. It summarises the key issues that individuals and managers were facing.

Organizations and managers are finding benefits in increasing productivity and reduced cost. During the pandemic managers also saw the benefits for business continuity and resilience. Many however have concerns about exercising control in this environment.

We have found this attitude to control to be one of the biggest barriers to successful remote working over the last 25 years.

Individuals enjoy the flexibility and autonomy. During this period, they also appreciated the ability to stay safe and balance their commitments to family issues such as home schooling or supporting vulnerable relatives.

The main concern for individuals was around the social element of work and staying visible to their colleagues, managers and the wider organization.

Perhaps more surprisingly this was a grid from our first ever remote teams training programme in 1994. These exact same issues (except for the COVID-19 specific ones) were being experienced then by early telecommuters and international remote workers. These key people issues have remained very stable ever since.

The traditional remote and virtual team barriers of working across distance, cultures, time zones and working through technology remain. But now teams are becoming more fragmented: people work on multiple teams at the same time, and teams change more quickly as they form for specific projects and then disband.

Add to the mix working in virtual cross-functional and extended teams in complex organizational structures such as the matrix that are supercharged by digital technologies – and it can be hard to keep up.

Many organizations had also begun to adopt agile working practices in the run up to 2020, often based on collocated teams and practices like face-to-face morning meetings and physical KANBAN boards. Clearly these practices now need to be adapted to at least a partially remote way of working.

Five key challenges to address in WFH training

Our training, usually delivered through live and interactive web seminars, is based on our extensive experience of working with managers and teams around the world in over 400 organizations over 25 years, plus the latest learning from the lockdown period. Our training focuses on the Five Cs of working from home.

1. Understanding Context

People want to understand and discuss their experiences of the typical advantages and challenges of WFH, how to set up the technology and maintain boundaries and routines.

We provide a framework for deciding which work to do when at home and which to do when in the office.

There are significant benefits to both individuals and their organizations and we acknowledge and celebrate the win:win and discuss where we need to focus to offset the potential disadvantages.

2. Streamlining Cooperation

Working remotely is more challenging so we should try and do more of our work asynchronously (where we do not need all to be available at the same time or in the same place). This is particularly important if your team crosses several time zones or if people have busy diaries that are hard to coordinate.

We focus on simpler ways of working, fewer, better meetings and more focused decision making in distributed teams. This can save up to a day per week of unnecessary collaboration.

With many people working on multiple remote teams at the same time we show participants how to manage the time costs and complexity of switching between tasks, teams and technologies.

3. Better Communication and engagement through technology

We nearly all have access to the basic communication tools we need on our PC, tablets or smartphone.

We show participants how to create a communication plan and cadence that engages team members when communicating through technology.

This includes making effective use of online meetings and collaboration tools to create engagement and participation.

It also includes developing more spontaneous communication practices to replace those informal “water cooler moments”.

4. Balancing trust and Control

We give individuals the tools they need to build, maintain, and repair trust with colleagues they do not meet face-to-face with very often, if at all.

We show managers and individuals how to actively build the trust that used to be a free by-product of proximity.

We use a systematic process to help managers build the confidence they need to continuously increase empowerment and relax traditional methods of control.

This includes new practices and capabilities for remote performance management and virtual coaching.

5. Building Community and visibility

We show individuals and leaders how to build and maintain a sense of community and team spirit.

We give them tools to understand and manage the challenges of staying visible when working remotely.

We give ideas on how to manage a potential sense of isolation and improve wellbeing.

We help them develop strategies for improving and activating their networks to get things done.

You can see a more extensive research-based analysis of some of these remote and virtual team challenges in our white paper – Mastering virtual, matrix and digital teams.

Bespoke or bite-sized

We develop bespoke programs tailored to your specific situation and needs. We have also packaged our most popular modules into bite sized 90-minute sessions that can be delivered face-to-face (in normal times) by live web seminar or online learning.

On our website you can see an interactive graphic of our working from home learning path, click on each to see the full content of the modules. The modules highlighted in pink on the model are the ones most relevant to working from home. Depending on your needs you can just select the modules that are most relevant right now or choose a complete learning path.

Download our full white paper on working from home with the content of all 3 blogs.

You can see more of our insights on working remotely or an interactive graphic of our working from home learning path and module contents.

Educate yourself further with a few more or our online insights:

25 years of experience learning with a range of world class clients

We work with a wide range of clients from global multinationals to recent start-ups. Our audiences span all levels, from CEOs to operational teams around the world.  Our tools and programs have been developed for diverse and demanding audiences.

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Tailored training or off the shelf modules for your people development needs

We are deep content experts in remote, virtual and hybrid working, matrix management and agile & digital leadership. We are highly flexible in how we deliver our content and ideas. We can tailor content closely to your specific needs or deliver off the shelf bite sized modules based on our existing IP and 25 years of training experience.

For more about how we deliver our keynotes, workshops, live web seminars and online learning.

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