Summary. How should corporate leaders, managers, and individual workers shift to remote work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, has spent two decades helping companies learn how to manage dispersed teams. In this edited Q&A, she offers guidance on how to work productively at home, manage virtual meetings, and lead teams from a distance.
How should corporate leaders, managers, and individual workers shift to remote work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, has spent two decades helping companies learn how to manage dispersed teams. In this edited Q&A, she offers guidance on how to work productively at home, manage virtual meetings, and lead teams from a distance.
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The coronavirus pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the way many organizations operate for the foreseeable future. As governments and businesses around the world tell those with symptoms to self-quarantine and everyone else to practice social distancing, remote work is our new reality. How do corporate leaders, managers, and individual workers make this sudden shift? Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, has spent two decades helping companies learn how to manage dispersed teams. In this edited Q&A, drawn from a recent HBR subscriber video call in which listeners were able to ask questions, she offers guidance on how to work productively at home, manage virtual meetings, and lead teams through this time of crisis.
Are organizations prepared for this sudden transition?
The scale and scope of what we’re seeing, with organizations of 5,000 or 10,000 employees asking people to work from home very quickly, is unprecedented. So, no, organizations are not set up for this.
What’s the first thing that leaders and individual managers can do to help their employees get ready?
Get the infrastructure right. Do people have the requisite technology or access to it? Who has a laptop? Will those who do [have laptops] be able to dial in to their organizations easily? Will they have the software they need to be able to do work, have conference calls, and so forth? What about the employees who don’t have laptops or mobile devices? How do you make sure that they have access to the resources they need to do work? Direct managers have to very quickly ensure that every employee has full access so that no one feels left behind.
What should people who aren’t accustomed to remote work do to get psychologically ready for it?
Develop rituals and have a disciplined way of managing the day. Schedule a start and an end time. Have a rhythm. Take a shower, get dressed, even if it’s not what you’d usually wear to work, then get started on the day’s activities. If you’re used to moving physically, make sure you build that into your day. If you’re an extrovert and accustomed to a lot of contact and collaboration with others, make sure that still happens. Ask yourself: How will I protect myself from feeling lonely or isolated and stay healthy, productive, and vibrant? Create that for yourself.
Remember that you might actually enjoy working from home. You can play the music you like. You can think flexibly about your time. It can be fun. As for managers, they need to check in on people. Make sure not only that they’re set up but also that they have a rhythm to their day and contact with others. Ask: “What can I do to make sure that this sudden and quick transition is working for you?”
How should those check-ins happen? As a group? In one-on-ones? Via phone calls? Or video chats?
First, you should have a group conversation about the new state of affairs. Say, “Hey, folks, it’s a different world. We don’t know how long this is going to last. But I want to make sure you all feel that you have what you need.” This should be followed by a team launch to jump-start this new way of working. Figure out: How often should we communicate? Should we use video, phone, or Slack/Jive/Yammer? If you’re not using one of those social media systems, should you? What’s the best way for us to work together? You’ve got to help people understand how to do remote work and give them confidence that it willwork.
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The Realities of Remote Work
Once those things are sorted out, meet with your group at least once a week. In a remote environment, frequency of contact cannot go down. Ifyou’re used to having meetings, continue to do so. In fact, contact should probably go up for the whole team and its members. Newer employees, those working on critical projects, and people who need more contact will require extra one-on-ones. Remember, too, that you can do fun things virtually: happy hour, coffee breaks, lunch together. All these things can help maintain the connections you had at the office. There’s ample research showing that virtual teams can be completely equal to colocated ones in terms of trust and collaboration. It just requires discipline.
How does working from home affect psychological health? What can employers do to make sure that people are staying focused, committed, and happy?
People lose the unplanned watercooler or cappuccino conversations with colleagues in remote work. These are actually big and important parts of the workday that have a direct impact on performance. How do we create those virtually? For some groups and individuals, it will be constant instant messaging. For others, it will be live phone conversations or videoconferences. Some people might want to use WhatsApp, WeChat, or Viber. A manager can encourage those types of contact points for psychological health. People are not going to be able to figure these things out organically. You’ve got to coach them. One more piece of advice: Exercise. It’s critical for mental well-being.
What are the top three things that leaders can do to create a good remote culture?
There are more than 10,000 books in the English language on Amazon on virtuality and how to lead remotely or at a distance. Why is that? Because this is very difficult to do, and managers have to actively work on it. Number one, make sure that team members constantly feel like they know what’s going on. You need to communicate what’s happening at the organizational level because, when they’re at home, they feel like they’ve been extracted from the mothership. They wonder what’s happening at the company, with clients, and with common objectives. The communication around those is extremely important. So you’re emailing more, sharing more.
Coronavirus: Leadership and Recovery: The Insights You Need
During this period, people will also start to get nervous about revenue goals and other deliverables. You must make sure they feel like they’re going to be OK. Another thing is to ensure that no members feel like they have less access to you than others. At home, people’s imaginations begin to go wild. So you have to be available to everyone equally. Finally, when you run your group meetings, aim for inclusion and balance the airtime so that everyone feels seen and heard.
How will these changes affect productivity?
Productivity does not have to go down at all. It can be maintained, even enhanced, because commutes and office distractions are gone. Of course, you might be at home with your partner or kids, and those issues will need to be worked out. Another problem might be your ability to resolve problems quickly when you can’t meet in person, in real time. That might create delays. But other than that, I don’t see productivity going down. There’s robust evidence showing that it shouldn’t change.
If the social distancing policies go on for a while, how do you measure your employees’ productivity and eventually review them on that work?
I’ll say this to every manager out there: You have to trust your employees. This is an era and a time in which we have to heed Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” You can’t see what people are doing. But equip them in the right ways, give them the tasks, check on them like you’ve always done, and hope they produce in the ways you want them to. You can’t monitor the process, so your review will have to be outcome-based. But there’s no reason to believe that, in this new environment, people won’t do the work that they’ve been assigned. Remote work has been around for a very long time. And today we have all the technologies we need to not only do work but also collaborate. We have enterprisewide social media tools that allow us to store and capture data, to have one-to-many conversations, to share best practices, and tolearn.
Let’s talk about virtual meetings. What are some best practices, beyond the general advice to clarify your purpose, circulate an agenda, prepare people to be called on, and so forth?
First, you have to have some explicit ground rules. Say, “Folks, when we have these meetings, we do it in a nice way, we turn off phones, we don’t check emails or multitask.” I highly recommend videoconferencing if you have the ability to do that. When people are able to see one another, it really makes a difference. And then you trust people to follow the ground rules.
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Number two, because you no longer have watercooler conversations, and people might be just learning how to work from home, spend the first six to seven minutes of a meeting checking in. Don’t go straight to your agenda items. Instead, go around and ask everyone, “How are you guys doing?” Start with whomever is the newest or lowest-status person or the one who usually speaks the least. You should share as well so that you’re modeling the behavior. After that, you introduce the key things you want to talk about and again model what you want to see, whether it’s connecting, asking questions, or even just using your preferred technology, like Zoom or Skype for Business.
The last thing is you have to follow up these virtual meetings with redundant communication to ensure that people have heard you and that they’re OK with the outcome. Say you have a videoconference about a topic. You follow it up with an email or a Slack message. You should have multiple touchpoints through various media to continue the trail of conversation.
And how do you facilitate highly complex or emotionally charged conversations when people aren’t face-to-face?
You can raise only one or two of these topics because you don’t have the time or opportunity to work things through after the meeting. You can’t just walk to people’s offices to follow up. So, be very thoughtful about what you bring up and when and how you do it. But you can still have these conversations. Allowing people to disagree in order to sharpen the team’s thinking is a very positive thing. Sometimes, in virtual environments, people don’t feel psychologically safe, so they might not speak up when they should. And so, you might even want to generate or model a little disagreement — always over work, tasks, or processes, of course, never anything personal.
In light of various day care and school closings, how do you discuss children and child care?
Leaders should be prepared for that conversation and to help people think those issues through. The blurring of boundaries between work and home has suddenly come upon us, so managers must develop the skills and policies to support their teams. This might involve being more flexible about the hours in which employees work. You don’t have to eat lunch at noon. You might walk your dog at 2 PM. Things are much more fluid, and managers just have to trust that employees will do their best to get their work done.
We’ve talked about internal communication, but what advice do you have for people in client-facing functions?
We’ve been seeing virtual sales calls and client engagements. You do the exact same things. Here, it’s even more important to use visual media. Take whatever you would be doing face-to-face and keep doing it. Maybe you can’t wine and dine, but you can do a lot. Be creative.
What do you do in an organization where you have a mix of both blue- and white-collar workers? Or for those colleagues who aren’t properly equipped?
The organizations must figure out a way to support those workers: some kind of collective action to help them because otherwise you’re completely isolating people who are critically important to your operation. I would put together a task force, and I would find solutions to keep them connected and ensure that they still feel valued. And include them in the planning.
If you sense that, despite your best efforts, an employee is struggling — not focused, lonely — what can you do?
When you see the signs — like fewer emails or more inhibition in group conversations — talk to them. Increase contact and encourage others to, as well. Understand where they are. And get them what they need. Organizations should also make sure to have employee assistance services at this time. When you’re suddenly taking away people’s regular routines and connection with others, and it’s open-ended, some will struggle and need extra help. I would add that every CEO of every organization needs to be much more visible right now — through videoconferencing or taped recordings — to give people confidence, calm them down, and be healers- or hope-givers-in-chief.
Do you see this crisis changing the way all teams and organizations operate going forward?
I think it’s going to broaden their repertoires. Organizations, teams, and people will experiment more with virtual work. Many of them have always wanted to test it as a way of expanding their reach or labor force. It’s not that people are going to permanently adopt this new format of work, but this experience will expand everyone’s capacity. If there’s a tiny positive aspect to this mess we’re finding ourselves in, it’s that we’re developing certain skills that could be helpful in the future. That’s my deepest hope.
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What challenges do you feel remote workers have compared to those in the office? Follow-on questions: What could make things easier? What benefits/advantages do remote workers have compared to those in the office?How do you answer remote work questions? ›
Share your strategy for working remotely. Mention the different ways you plan to stay productive at home, whether that is setting up a designated office area, sharing a workspace with other remote employees or using a planner to track deadlines and tasks. Recognize challenges and share solutions.What questions to ask about working from home? ›
- How do you feel about working from home? ...
- Have you worked from home before? ...
- Have you established a good work routine? ...
- Are you taking regular breaks? ...
- Do you have a healthy work and life balance when working from home?
- Home interruptions.
- Communication challenges.
- Prioritization struggles.
The most obvious benefit of working remotely is that you can work from any location that provides internet access. You can work from a home office, cafe or even while you're traveling. As long as you have a functional computer, good WiFi and the ability to complete tasks on time, you can work from wherever you are.What do managers think about remote work? ›
Managers and employees disagree profoundly about key aspects of work-from-home, according to surveys we've conducted. For instance, managers believe that work-from-home reduces productivity while employees think it massively increases it.How do you justify working remotely? ›
The foremost way to justify your work in a remote job is simply by measuring and showcasing your productivity. The best way to do this is to supply concrete examples of how you improve the operations of the company. In order to do this, you should track everything you do over the course of a day in your own log.How do you answer why is remote work important to you? ›
- Your productivity skyrockets when working in an environment that has decreased distractions.
- Working from home gives you the space to think critically and perform better.
- Time management. ...
- No work-life balance. ...
- Isolation. ...
- Trouble communicating. ...
- Increased distractions. ...
- Technological/logistical issues. ...
- Increased or decreased supervision. ...
- Lack of motivation.
Many remote workers say that isolation from coworkers is challenging to their mental health and their productivity. Being home alone all day takes its toll even for introverts, and it's difficult to feel like you're a part of a team or larger organization when you only interact with your coworkers over video calls.
- Research the landscape in your industry and organization. ...
- Emphasize the benefits to your organization. ...
- Create a clear and specific remote work plan. ...
- Time your request carefully. ...
- Ask in-person, not via email. ...
- Come prepared to lead the meeting. ...
- Expect some discomfort, but don't be dissuaded.
The main disadvantages of remote work:
Fewer networking opportunities for employees. Heat and electric bills at employees' homes may increase. Some employees could be less productive in this arrangement. Some employees may feel overlooked and isolated.
|Remote Work Pros||Remote Work Cons|
|1. Better work-life balance||1. No face-to-face connection|
|2. More freedom||2. Lack of access to information|
|3. Improved employee experience||3. Decreased collaboration|
|4. Decreased infrastructure costs||4. Loneliness and isolation|
- The risk of losing work-life balance. ...
- A great communication strategy needs to be in place. ...
- Can easily feel disconnected from the workplace. ...
- The risk of isolation is higher. ...
- Energy bills at home increase.
- Freedom and Flexibility.
- Cost saving.
- Save time.
- Peace and quiet.
- Health and happiness.
- You're not alone.
- Work/life balance.
- Healthcare, including telemedicine.
- Flexible schedules and time off.
- Home office stipend.
- Childcare and elderly care assistance.
- Continuous learning stipend.
- Wellness stipend.
- Coworking space stipend.
The average remote worker saves $4,000 a year on lunches, travel expenses, and a professional wardrobe. This is an essential reason why remote work is important. It saves costs and leads to efficient usage of employee and organizational resources to gain better results.What motivates remote workers? ›
- How can you motivate remote employees? ...
- Provide Your Team With the Right Tools. ...
- Foster a Growth Mindset. ...
- Introduce an Employee Recognition Program. ...
- Invest Your Time in Building Trust. ...
- Communication Is Key. ...
- Use Survey Tools to Gauge Motivation. ...
- Talk About Adaptive Performance.
While we still don't know much about the long-term implications of remote work, researchers agree that working outside of a traditional office setting can negatively impact our brains and our bodies with everything from eye strain to back pain.Why is remote work a problem? ›
If your workers feel lonely, they'll feel less engaged, less productive, and less motivated. According to Buffer, 24% of remote employees struggle with feelings of loneliness. Working in an office is full of spontaneous moments that allow you to interact with others. Remotely is not that easy.
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Why should we hire you?
- What's something that you didn't like about your last job?
- Why do you want this job?
- How do you deal with conflict with a co-worker?
- Here's an answer for you.
2. Why do we need the 6 Cs? The hiring panel may ask you about the six core values to assess your knowledge. The 6 Cs – care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment, competence - are a central part of 'Compassion in Practice'.What is the key when working remotely? ›
One of the keys to success when working remotely with a client is to ensure you have the ability to take on the task. Do you have the right software to collaborate and communicate? Do you have the right skill set in your team to achieve what you set out to do? Can you handle multiple projects at the same time?How do you ace a remote interview? ›
- Practice with the tech the interviewer uses.
- Present yourself well through your attire and background.
- Do your research on the company and its culture.
- Build a rapport with your interviewer.
- Prepare questions and take notes as you go.
Social Media, Email, and Online Entertainment
Closing excess windows on your computer that aren't directly connected to the work at hand. Silencing or shutting off news alerts and other pop-ups. Being disciplined about conquering digital distraction. Turning off the TV.
"Working from home allows me to begin my workday sooner. I can skip traffic and avoid delays due to weather conditions, which gives me two more hours daily that I can dedicate to my job." "I really appreciate the flexibility that working from home offers. I am more creative and focused early in the morning.What are the benefits and challenges of working from home? ›
- Pro: Remote workers feel less stressed and more focused.
- Con: Working from home can be lonely.
- Pro: No daily commute.
- Con: Communication and collaboration can be a challenge.
- Pro: Remote workers have flexibility in their schedules.
Being able to set my own hours allows me to work when I am most alert (more flexibility). There are fewer interruptions from meetings and chitchat/drop-bys, so I gain productivity. Working with the view of my plants. Seeing the outdoors from my home office window.What is your least favorite thing about working from home? ›
- There's No Water Cooler. Working from home is really, really lonely. ...
- You Never Really Leave the Office. You know that good feeling you get when you leave the office building? ...
- You Never Really Leave the House. ...
- There's No IT Department. ...
- You Need an Insane Amount of Self-Motivation.
Most interviewers will give time at the end for you to ask questions, and this is the best time to inquire about remote work. By asking at the end, it also gives you a chance to show the interviewer your skills and personality before approaching the somewhat tricky question.
If you want to know if a job can be done remotely, use technology as a guide in determining if that job can be done virtually. A run through FlexJobs' list of “100 Top Companies with Remote Jobs” can give you a sense of the broad landscape for jobs that can be done from home.Should you ask about remote work in an interview? ›
It's OK to ask about remote work arrangements in a job interview, but the key is to do so unobtrusively.Is working remotely effective? ›
Several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.Are remote workers happier? ›
Remote working ability really makes people happier
While 81% of respondents said the opportunity to work from home would make them feel more equipped to deal with work/life conflicts. Remote workers are 22% happier with their jobs than on-site workers.
- Are there any tasks you feel I am neglecting?
- What specific goals should I work toward in order to improve my performance?
- What could I focus more of my time on?
- What would you like me to focus less of my time on?
- What can I do to make your job easier?
- 1.) It can be lonely.
- 2.) Home office & distractions.
- 3.) Fewer spontaneous conversations.
- 4.) It can be difficult to collaborate.
- 5.) Career advancement takes extra work.
- 6.) Learning & mentorship.
- 7.) It's easier to be sedentary.
- 8.) Tribal knowledge & lack of documentation.
- That you're on the same page as your manager in terms of what your priorities should be.
- That you understand how to effectively manage up.
- That you're on the right path to achieving your career growth goals.
- That you're doing your best work.
- What do you expect from the company's team members? ...
- What is the one thing you would change about this company? ...
- Why did you start this company? ...
- What do you think is the biggest strength of this company right now? ...
- What have been the biggest challenges you've faced so far?
- How has your experience with the company been?
- Has the company culture changed since you started?
- What do you like best about the company?
- What's your favorite thing about working for this company?
Poor audio or video quality can have a significant impact on remote workers, making it difficult to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients, leading to misunderstandings and communication issues that can negatively impact productivity and job performance.
All remote workers need to be results-driven, proactive, collaborative and have excellent problem-solving skills.What are 10 most common interview questions and answers? ›
- Tell me about yourself.
- What attracted you to our company?
- Tell me about your strengths.
- What are your weaknesses?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Tell me about a time where you encountered a business challenge?
- What mentorship opportunities are there available for me?
- What skills do you think our team is lacking?
- How can I help train and support others in the company?
- Who in the company do you think I can learn the most from?
- Coffee Chats. Just because there's no break room to hang out in doesn't mean employees aren't taking breaks. ...
- Ask a Question of the Week. ...
- Encourage Groups Chats. ...
- Virtual Lunches. ...
- Exchanges. ...
- Company Contests. ...
- Company Challenges. ...
- Virtual Workouts.
- Say Thank You. ...
- Communicate Frequently. ...
- Recognize Birthdays and Work Anniversaries. ...
- Host Virtual Team-building Events. ...
- Set Clear Expectations. ...
- Be Flexible with Working Hours. ...
- Introduce New Team Members. ...
- Challenge Your Employees.
The most common forms of employee monitoring, however, don't rely on cameras to spy on employees' behaviors while on the clock. Employers most commonly track workers' web browsing activity and app use (62%), or limit workers' access to certain websites or applications like video streaming platforms (49%), for example.