As businesses grapple with COVID-19, prompt action in moving the workforce to the home wherever possible is not only commendable but becoming imperative. This shift has everyone from the C-suite to the water cooler asking questions about how to adjust. The influence of Silicon Valley work culture has made working remotely an increasingly popular full or part-time option for many office workers, but now many companies have found themselves unexpectedly flung on the shores of full-scale remote work. As Microsoft Partners we’ve helped many teams improve their digital collaboration abilities and enabled business success across remote networks. We’ve also identified best practices through our own experience running a primarily remote team for over five years. After repeatedly fielding similar questions from our clients and their stakeholders this past week, we’re sharing our insights more broadly in a series of topic-specific posts.
Establish new cultural norms
If a business decided to implement Casual Friday for the first time, employees would expect planning by management and clear communications. Formal policies would be codified, staff guidance would be provided, and human resources would follow up after a few weeks to refine guidelines, answer questions and make adjustments as needed. Yet even under normal circumstances when remote work is added as an option very few companies go through these steps. Why not? Working at home is not the same as working inside an office, and the norms of one work environment don’t always apply to the other. Effective remote work requires the establishment of new cultural norms that are communicated broadly and re-assessed as needed.
Step 1: Figure out your camera culture
We strongly believe that using your camera as much as possible when communicating with colleagues greatly enhances remote communication.* We find that using the camera while meeting:
- Increases engagement on both sides. The person talking can see how their message is being received and the listeners get a more full-spectrum version of the message when it includes body language and facial expression
- Makes it less awkward. You want most people to stay on mute to prevent background noise but this also makes it harder to interject. You can see if people are engaged, agree or disagree, or are prepping themselves to make a comment if you’ve got the camera on
- Makes remote work less isolating. Not everyone will thrive in the quiet atmosphere of the home office; we’ll cover team standups and one-on-ones in a future post but connecting visually via camera is critical for establishing a sense of human connection with your remote workforce.
People are often camera-shy at first though, so don’t expect everyone to turn theirs on unless you establish that expectation. Here are some additional things to consider while developing your camera culture:
- Clarify the remote dress code. If it’s ok for everyone to trade their ties for t-shirts, go ahead and acknowledge it. Many times, we find that people are sheepish about revealing they are wearing casual clothes while “at work.” Decide up front what approach meets your business needs while the team works remotely and proactively communicate it rather than expecting everyone to figure it out for themselves.
- Acknowledge the elephant in the room (and at home with you). Not only are you suddenly at home all day, but so are your significant other, roommates, kids, pets, etc. Managers should take the lead on acknowledging that we are now working from home during extraordinary times. Let people know that they don’t have to feel embarrassed if their dog barks or their kid wanders around in the background. The reality is that we’re all human and will be juggling more than usual during this experience.
- Be respectful and professional. Someone recently asked me if I felt that requiring the camera be turned on put an undue burden on female employees. Honestly, the answer is not more than we already face in the physical office. Refrain from comments like “you look really tired today” or “that lighting doesn’t do you any favors” when meeting remotely with teammates of any gender to prevent fostering self-consciousness when on camera.
- Mind your own business. Letting co-workers see into your home can feel like an invasion of privacy and with the sudden rush to teleworking not everyone will have a dedicated space set up. It might feel innocent to comment on people’s wall art or other background objects, but this interest isn’t always welcome. Play it safe and let your teammates choose to reference their surroundings or not.
- Look in the mirror. Not just to check if you have spinach in your teeth, but whether the policy and norms you put in place on day one are working for your team or not. Be proactive in setting up the norms, but also listen to the feedback of your team and evolve your approach as things change in your business and the world around you.
Tomorrow we’ll cover pro tips on using Read Receipts, Presence and Status Messages in Microsoft Teams to help replace the visible indicators of availability you take for granted when working in an on-site environment.
Is there a topic you’d like us to cover? Drop us a line at email@example.com. We want to share what we’ve learned over the last five years to help you make your team’s shift to remote work successful.
* Note: There are certainly some situations when requiring everyone to have their camera on may not be appropriate and we encourage you to adapt your own policy as needed in order to support your team’s needs.