In her recent April 20th, 2020 Forbes article, “Three Keys to Engaged, Productive Telework Teams,” author Rajshree Agarwal, who is a professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, explored how to get the most out of telework. This highly timely article covers some very important territory for many companies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s explore Agarwal’s key points so that you can help your team get the most out of telework.
Agarwal notes that people may tend to shy away from sharing personal information and feelings while in the office. But via video conferencing, the story can be different. For this and other reasons, it is necessary for employers to keep in mind that the dynamic between you and your employees may be different when you use video conferencing. This will also often be the case when your employees speak with one another.
She prudently cautions business owners from taking a “business-as-usual” approach to the COVID-19 situation, as it can make them look both unnecessarily cold and out of touch with reality. On the flip side, however, it is also important to not dwell on the negative aspects of the pandemic. Offering some sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic is a smart move as well.
How you use telework and video conferencing is, in part, about developing the correct balance. On one hand, you’ll want to acknowledge that the situation is serious and must be addressed. But on the other hand, you don’t want to dwell on the pandemic. After all, not effectively handling the work at hand could undermine your business and cause other problems for both you and your employees.
It is in everyone’s best interest to be smart, safe, and acknowledge the bizarreness of the current situation while striving to achieve business goals. The keyword here is “balance.” Agarwal states that “The combination of empathy and purpose unifies individuals, allowing team members to channel their efforts towards shared objectives and values. This is the best antidote for anxiety.”
From Agarwal’s perspective, there are three keys to making telework effective: communication, socialization, and flexibility. First, there has to be good communication. For example, people can’t simply ignore one another’s emails because they are working virtually. She points out that real-time meetings via Zoom or Skype can eliminate some communication issues, but not all.
The second factor to consider is socialization. As Agarwal points out “Engaged, productive teams also take time to socialize.” Working from home alters the typical modes and methods of socialization, but virtual interactions can be used to help people form and develop their social networks.
In short, socialization doesn’t have to end once telework begins. Used judiciously, socializing, and the bonds it creates between co-workers can still continue.
Agarwal’s third key is flexibility. Flexibility is critical, as all team members must adjust to what, for some, may be a fairly radical restructuring of their day-to-day work experience. Those who haven’t worked virtually before may find adjusting to be quite a challenge. Management should strive to be more flexible during telework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to maintain the same top-down approach could prove to be problematic.
It goes without saying that telework presents challenges. However, the challenges it represents are not insurmountable. There are benefits to teleworking, and teams can use it to generate solutions that they might have not reached in the typical work environment.