Working from home is the new normal for many companies, and it will continue to be after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
The shift brings with it many changes, and how leaders adapt to guide their employees through the virtual environment will be critical to companies’ results, says Doug Meyer-Cuno (www.dougmeyer-cuno.com), ForbesBooks author of The Recipe For Empowered Leadership: 25 Ingredients For Creating Value & Empowering Others.
“With many companies planning to make remote work permanent or implementing a hybrid of remote and office, the key question for leaders is, ‘How do you practice alignment when your team is no longer working side-by-side in the same building?’” Meyer-Cuno says. “How do you maintain productivity and morale?”
Meyer-Cuno offers five tips on how business owners and managers can lead their companies effectively in a largely remote-based work environment:
- Be empathetic. With many remote workers caring for small children or elderly parents, Meyer-Cuno says, collaborating with those workers requires a more tailored approach by leaders than when employees were all in one office. “Everything is a little more personal in a remote environment,” he says. “Everyone’s environment and circumstances are different, and remote work has a way of magnifying those differences. Collaborate with remote workers to customize work schedules and structures. Recalibrate new expectations; how do those align with the employees’ responsibilities at home?”
- Reinforce the core values. With the workforce spread apart for long stretches, a company’s culture can be challenged, Meyer-Cuno says. Thus it’s important for leaders to be proactive and spend time re-emphasizing core values, discussing how those have been the foundation of company success. “Leading by example is of critical importance now,” he says. “The core values start with the leader.”
- Streamline communication. Without having daily in-person interaction, leaders should put extra emphasis on being clear and concise in virtual communications, Meyer-Cuno says. Establishing a cadence is key, such as scheduling weekly one-on-one and group meetings to keep everyone informed and feeling valued. “Too much communication can come across as untrustworthy; too little and you risk a slide in productivity and employee engagement,” he says.
- Establish boundaries between work-at-home life and home life. Considering the possible distractions at home, Meyer-Cuno says it takes a disciplined person to work from home effectively, and leaders need to establish some guidelines and encourage good work habits without coming off as overbearing. “As much as possible, follow at home the same routines and schedules that you have established in the workplace while avoiding household distractions,” he says. “Staying organized is imperative to staying focused. Try to keep your work area at home as close as possible to the way you might keep it at the workplace. Create lists and break them down into different priorities.”
- Revise and align responsibilities with adjusted roles. The pandemic changed some roles temporarily and others permanently. Examples Meyer-Cuno uses are a traveling sales rep who could no longer travel, or the customer service rep working from home rather than dealing in person with customers in the store or office. “Leaders have to clearly lay out and communicate the revisions, processes, and key performance indicators when responsibilities have been altered,” Meyer-Cuno says. “A lot of thought needs to be put into how those employees can be as successful in those adjusted roles as they were initially.”
“The work-from-home experience will either draw teams closer together or push them further apart,” Meyer-Cuno says. “Which outcome you get will largely be decided by how well you translate the core culture from the brick-and-mortar workplace to a virtual workplace.”
About Doug Meyer-Cuno
Doug Meyer-Cuno (www.dougmeyer-cuno.com) is an entrepreneur, mentor, and ForbesBooks author of The Recipe For Empowered Leadership: 25 Ingredients For Creating Value & Empowering Others. He founded a food ingredients distribution company, Carolina Ingredients, and expanded it into a nationally recognized and award-winning industrial seasoning manufacturer before it was acquired by Mitsubishi in 2019. Since then he has founded Empowered Leadership, which helps entrepreneurs, business owners, and CEOs scale their companies by empowering their teams. Meyer-Cuno earned his BA in International Commerce from Furman University and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.