Our ConvergenceCoaching, LLC® 2018 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW) Survey results are due out October 22, and in them, I’m pretty sure we’ll hear at least a few participants say that flexible, remote work is not for everyone. Often people say that it requires a certain kind of worker, one who is self-motivated and driven. Or they’ll say that it’s not the right thing for young, untested staff because they need to be in the office for training and mentoring. There are other stories as well about who can effectively participate in these types of programs, and who can’t.
I truly believe that anyone can learn to work flexibly and remotely, mostly because I did it myself. Before I came to work for ConvergenceCoaching, I was a person who said things like “I’m more productive in the office” and “He SAYS he’s working from home, but I bet he’s doing laundry.” But coming to work here and being brought “into the fold” on our strategies and approaches to making Anytime, Anywhere Work (ATAWW) successful, I’ve learned how to do it myself. I’ve practiced having positive interpretations about how successful others are being. Through that, I’ve recognized that many of my frustrations with my co-workers are about working and collaborating with others in any environment, not about whether ATAWW is a viable model.
So how is ConvergenceCoaching successful managing a 100% virtual and remote team? We’ve identified five “must-have’s” that we’d like to share.
- Buy-in from the leadership team – Soon after I started with ConvergenceCoaching, I was on an important video call with my partners when my kids burst into my office, shouting and excited after school. I was incredibly embarrassed and afraid that it would reflect negatively on my ability to create boundaries between work and home. As I was trying to hustle the kids out of the room, one of my colleagues said “who is that Renee, your daughter and your son?” and asked to meet them and say hello. We paused the meeting and had a few minutes of meet and greet. The message was loud and clear – we have families, we have life, we have interruptions. It’s normal and every day and we’ll have to be flexible and caring with each other around it.
- Clear expectations – Clarity about job responsibilities will help head off any frustrations about what a flex or remote worker is focused on (and what they aren’t!). In our experience, as someone transitions from onsite to remote, traditional hours to four 10-hour days, or from full- to part-time, it’s worth it to stop again and discuss what is expected. If I won’t be working on Wednesdays, then someone else might have to “own” responsibilities I’ve traditionally managed on that day, and we need to get that mapped out and communicated so the team is aware and prepared.
- Technology and tools to stay on track – Our tools are simple but critical to our success as a virtual and flex time team.
- Shared calendars, using Outlook 365, where we can view availability and make appointments with one another
- Skype, for accessibility tracking and quick conversations, and to share screens
- Monday Work-to-Do (WTD) emails, where we each report what we will be working on for the week (see more on this in Make Prioritization Easy with WTD Lists)
- Zoom.us, for team video calls and sharing screens
- Sharepoint to manage our central repository of tools, resources and client files
- Two-way street – We recently had a team meeting to discuss our upcoming busy season. From October 22 to the December holidays, many of us will be out on the road teaching and speaking. We’ll have to step in to support or cover for each other, have meetings at odd morning or evening hours, and flex UP to meet the demand. Rather than assume the team knows about this need, we are communicating proactively about the demands before they occur.
- Be in communication – Communicating as a virtual team takes deliberate effort and energy. If you need to chat with someone, it doesn’t happen organically by bumping into each other at the water cooler. I would argue that “accidental” communication doesn’t work well in an office environment either!
- Evaluate progress and give feedback – You might be doing great with the other four “must-have’s,” but if you are avoiding what isn’t working, you’re stepping over the most critical issues.
True buy-in means that leaders are transparent with their own use of flexibility. When any of us has an outside commitment – a doctor’s appointment, time out of the office to help a friend - we label it openly on our calendar. We also share vulnerably about our personal life, which highlights the fact that we are all struggling and striving to be successful both at home and at work.
Flexibility doesn’t mean operating in uncertainty, or not being able to count on someone. It’s fair to request a specific work schedule, but even more importantly, know how to access someone. On our team, we clearly note on our calendars when we’re in our home office or away. We share in advance if we’ll be out of pocket. We use cellphones and text as “breakthrough” communication tools for more urgent matters.
Consider setting responsiveness expectations as well, and ideally for the whole team and not just your flex workers. For instance, we might commit to responding to all emails within 24 hours. The response doesn’t have to mean completing the task – instead it can be “I received your request and will get back to you by Friday” – but at least the sender knows that the receiver is “on it.”
The first three tools are present in nearly every business environment and can easily be put into action.
Teach your team about the idea of the two-way street – that as an employer, I am willing to be flexible with your schedule and place of work. In return, I expect you to also be flexible when client demands or the seasonal compression or other needs require it.
Team members and their supervisors or career managers should agree upon a cadence of regularly scheduled check-ins and meetings to stay in communication. Those conversations can be about the work, challenges and roadblocks, or catch-up on personal lives. What’s most important is to stay in communication and bring up any issues that arise. That’s a great introduction to our next “must-have” – giving feedback.
We believe that for remote and flexible work programs to be successful, they have to be win-win-win for the firm, the employee and the client. It’s paramount that all of us – the flex employee, the flex member’s supervisor, an engagement manager working with the flex employee, a team member who co-facilitates with the flex employee for the monthly audit team meeting – take note when it doesn’t feel like a win and be willing to bring that feedback to the individual to discuss. There will be issues because after all, there are issues in almost every relationship, so why would an ATAWW employee relationship be any different? Be prepared to address those issues. For more in-depth strategies on providing feedback, check out this blog called Are You Ignoring Spinach.
We’ve found that when these five strategies are in place, and the team is truly putting them into action, our firm functions like a well-oiled machine. None of it happens accidentally, or organically. We have to be vigilant about making sure the five fundamentals are happening, or we get off track.
The great news is that once you master these five strategies, you’ll realize that they make all teams function more efficiently. So, take a look at your own team and where a must-have is missing, and map out a plan to get on track today!
P.S. Our ConvergenceCoaching, LLC® Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey results will be released on October 22nd. Survey participants will receive an email including a Survey Results Summary, while non-participants will be able to access the results on our website. Join us for First-Hand Look: Findings from our 2018 Anytime, Anywhere Work Survey™ - a webinar on October 24 to share the results.