While the shift to remote working may at first seemed like a hiccup – a brief response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to limit person-to-person interactions – there’s growing evidence that managers and workers may need to get used to it. In early April, the business research organization Gartner released a study of 317 chief financial officers that found 74% of them plan to move at least 5% of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions once the pandemic subsides. That transition away from the workplace will mean big changes on both sides, with managers and executives needing to think closely about how they can ensure team members are staying productive and engaged while they’re situated in their home office.
Now that we’re roughly two months into “the great home office-ing” of 2020 and companies have tackled the initial challenge of quickly getting set up with remote video and unified communications systems, the time is coming to turn an eye toward how to improve the ways employees are utilizing those tools. “We’re going through a progression right now where the last couple months have been all about companies responding to the need to move everyone remote. You were focused on implementing that new tech, getting everything working, doing the training, and also checking in on how morale is,” said Jonathan Sass, Vyopta’s director of product management.
“Now it is about optimization. Looking at how we can be better, asking if they are interacting with each other and with clients in the best way possible. The initial reaction was to see ‘Are my employees engaged?’ and now they are looking at the best ways to interact like using video calls since that captures nonverbal cues and makes the most out of the time you use.”
Data As A Key Indicator of Remote Employee Engagement
For at-home workers removed from the water cooler and hallway chats, it is important to watch how much time is being spent on calls or in virtual meetings of all kinds. Data on frequency and length of those interactions can be a key metric for making sure there’s an acceptable level of engagement happening, though Sass points out that those baseline numbers can mean different things for different job types. Sales groups, for example, will produce a much higher volume of shorter calls and interactions with external contacts than an engineering team that needs more focused group sessions to do the appropriate level of problem solving together.
“When looking at any sort of data around meetings, calls, interactions and communications with each other, as a person who is remote and thinking about their activity level you to look at that through the lens that people work differently and no two people work exactly the same,” Sass said. “That’s especially so across departments and it’s not fair to compare someone on an engineering team to someone within sales because they’re going to communicate very differently and engage with each other very differently. Sales organizations have far more calls and video meetings, while engineering organizations there may be more chat messages and offline communication. You need to take that into consideration for different departments, and even within departments you’re going to get a wide variation in how people work, particularly in a remote situation.”
Sass said the goal of monitoring data on interactions should be looking for ways to make improvements, either in an employee’s habits or in the tools they have available to help them do their work. “It’s one thing to say this person spent X number of minutes on a call. But as a sales leader, is that call with someone internal, or with a sales rep or a client, and other ways to see if a company is effectively using their time,” he said. “At the same time you also want to see what the morale of the organization is, and it’s not about being Big Brother but rather using this data from the inside to help an individual on a team achieve their full potential by helping them optimize their time during the day.”
Knowing Your People
It appears certain that the work from home movement is accelerating the erosion of the assembly line/all hands-on deck workplace model that became standard in the U.S. after World War II. Because asynchronous communication options make it so we don’t all have to be in the same office at the same time, workers with differing styles and schedules are realizing more flexibility than ever in how they are able to perform.
That means managers will need to take advantage of a “core hours” framework where there’s likely five or six hours in the middle of the day when an entire team is closely engaged and available for instant communication. At the earlier and later ends of the workday it is becoming more important than ever to use email, texts and other “ready when you are” communication methods. Sass said it’s advisable to have one standup or core hours meeting per day to handle most team issues, keeping that meeting focused and as brief as possible since it is easy for meeting fatigue to set in and reduce a worker’s focus and productivity as a result.
“When looking at any sort of data around meetings, calls, interactions and communications with each other, as a person who is remote and thinking about their activity level you have to look at that through the lens that people work differently and no two people work exactly the same,” he said. “Doing back to back meetings is exhausting. Now that we’re in the optimization phase, there’s a lot of ways to optimize the ways we communicate and that can even be something like using the camera since some people still aren’t doing that all that much. A majority of people have gotten to a baseline ability to communicate remotely, and now there’s a big opportunity to improve that.”
As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vyopta is currently offering a free trial to help IT teams support massive expansion in remote work.
Chad Swiatecki is a business writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Billboard, New York Daily News, Austin Business Journal, Austin American-Statesman and many other print and online publications. He lives in Austin, Texas and is a graduate of Michigan State University. Find him online on LinkedIn.