With so many companies asking employees to work remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s up to CEOs to help employees ease the transition from working in the office to working from home. For some people, the adjustment is seamless—they’ve been enjoying their home-cooked lunches and the ability to start a load of laundry between meetings. But others will have more difficulty. Where’s my big screen? My WiFi is slower at home! And are my employees really working on the most important stuff?
I’ve spent the majority of my career working remotely in some capacity, either being fully remote with occasional travel or being remote at least one day per week. In that time, I’ve developed a keen understanding of the pros and cons of remote work, both from the perspective of the individual contributor trying to get stuff done and from the perspective of the executive or manager seeking to lead a distributed team.
Let’s start with the pros of remote work. While a lot of hourly workers don’t have the option of working remote (e.g., healthcare and restaurant workers), remote work has plenty of advantages. This is a good opportunity to test how working remote might work well for your company and employees, even after the current crisis passes. Some of the advantages of remote work:
- People generally want more remote work. In its latest annual report on remote work, 99 percent of people said they want to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.1
- You don’t waste time (and mental energy) commuting. Commuting has been proven to make us less happy. One study found that adding 20 minutes to a person’s commute had a similar demotivating effect as cutting their pay by 19 percent.2
- There are fewer unneeded meetings and distractions (like people dropping into your office).
- There’s a reduced carbon footprint.
- You don’t have to buy or bring a lunch.
- It’s a good recruitment tool for top talent.
That sounds great, right? But as CEO, you also have to be mindful of the following disadvantages of working from home:
- It can be difficult to separate home and work life. Without a cue to stop working, some people will just keep going.
- Working from home can be lonely, especially for extroverts and people who thrive on personal interaction.
- You’re free of office distractions, but not from other types of distraction—kids, partner, TV, etc.
- Digitally connected teams can struggle to collaborate on problem-solving and innovation.
- It’s more difficult to develop company culture when everyone is separated.
A Positive Remote–Work Culture Starts at the Top
If all or some of your company has been working remotely in recent weeks, you’ve probably experienced a few of those pros and cons yourself. As CEO, it’s your job to lead the way in creating a positive culture around remote work. Your goal is to capitalize on the advantages and weaken the effect of the disadvantages—and that starts with your own actions. Here are some recommendations for the CEO leading a permanently or temporarily remote team:
- Be present in online tools and channels. Let people see and hear from you regularly. Over-communication is a good way to increase engagement.
- Be open and authentic online. As you communicate, be open with people. Transparency is vital in times of uncertainty, especially when your team is distributed. Let people know what’s going on and strive to be your authentic self.
- Go offline after hours. One of the dangers of remote work is long hours. When people see you stop communicating after hours, they understand that they too can disconnect from work and get some much-needed rest.
- Reinforce the company’s mission, purpose, and values. During this time of uncertainty and crisis, reminding people of the essentials of the company is critical. At every opportunity, reshare the big picture of what the company is all about.
- Consider a daily standup with your executive team. Use this time to talk about what you are doing that day and resolve any issues that might be impeding productivity or success.
- Make sure people have what they need. Remind employees that they can bring home equipment from the office—laptops, monitors, keyboards, etc. Resources are likely tight right now, but when and if possible, offer a stipend for people to set up a home office where they can be comfortable and productive.
- Keep cybersecure. Have all employees use a VPN if operating on WiFi outside of the office, including at airports, coffee shops, coworking spaces, etc.
- Schedule virtual coffee breaks. Keeping up culture and camaraderie is difficult when people are remote, so consider a daily 15-minute virtual water cooler with employees to stay connected. This can be less structured than the daily standup, involving casual conversation and “aha” moments from the day.
- Ensure participation during meetings. If your team is partially distributed, it’s a good idea to ask remote attendees to speak first. Otherwise, the people who aren’t in the room can get excluded from conversation.
Enriching Your Own “WFH” Experience
As you lead your digitally connected organization, you also need to look out for your own well-being. If you’re working remotely too, these are some of my best practices you can use to stay focused:
- Have a separate workspace. It doesn’t have to be dedicated office with door, but find an area where you mentally get into work mode. Avoid hunching over a laptop on your couch. Don’t intermingle workspace and relaxation space.
- Get dressed each morning. Even when you’re at home, get dressed each morning and have a routine. Start and end your workday at the same time every day, with scheduled breaks and lunchtime around same time every day (extra points if you get out for some fresh air and movement). Obviously, there will be deadline or something that needs after-hours attention but make this an exception, not a rule.
- Limit distractions. Turn off social media. Limit notifications on your phone. It’s also wise to set ground rules with people in your home—they should know that just because you are at home, it doesn’t mean that you’re not working. What are the rules for when you’re heads-down on deep, strategic work? What about when you’re on a conference call?
- Stay positive. This is likely a stressful time in your professional and even personal life. As much as possible, enjoy the flexibility, freedom, comfort, and extra time that working remotely allows.
- Use any extra time for training. If you’ve picked up a bit of extra time in your day from not having to commute, consider using that time for online training opportunities. Developing your own skills can allow you to do more—for yourself and others—as we persist through and recover from this time.
As much of the world learns to work remotely, the CEO has an opportunity to build a culture that understands the pros and cons of a distributed team. In stressful, uncertain times, keeping everyone communicating freely and on the same page is more vital than ever, especially if you and your employees are working from home for the foreseeable future.