The COVID-19 pandemic has already irreversibly changed the way we work. As much as some of us would like to go back to our old habits and meet our colleagues in real life, we may be forced to accept the fact that work will never be the same again. We’ve witnessed the dawn of more de-centralized work practices which have brought about new requirements for management and information sharing.
In the old days, a good manager was always supposed to be available. This meant that a good boss stayed up to date on the goings-on of their team by checking up on them on a daily basis, thus simultaneously demonstrating their approachability. Availability may also have referred to the boss’s door being open to anyone wanting to have a word.
But things have changed. Long gone are the water cooler chats at the workplace. There are no people wandering up and down office aisles. Today, even the boss is working from home.
When I was a kid, I used to make telephones out of tin cans attached to either end of a string. The reception was nothing to complain about; as long as the call wasn’t long distance, everyone remembered to talk in turns and the string was kept taut. It wasn’t that long ago that I came to regard these phones as an analogy for our current situation. Here’s what I think these tin can telephones can teach us about managing remote work:
- In our digital age, distance is as we perceive it, a feeling. Digital distance can be reduced by trying to understand where the other person is coming from and by being open and honest.
- When one person speaks, the others should listen. This doesn’t mean being silent while fidgeting on your phone, but truly listening to what the other person is saying.
- Good communication requires two people. It doesn’t matter how hard one person tries to have a conversation with you if you’re not interested in what they have to say. Every individual is equally responsible for the success of any discussion.
The Teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond guide written by the UN agency ILO offers some practical tips for remote work (the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, FIOH, has also summarized the guide in Finnish here). Looking at the table of contents, the guide did not necessarily offer any earth-shattering insights, but the points about information sharing and collaboration and the frequency of contact particularly caught my attention. Below, I’ve specified the ideal communication frequency for each area of work:
- Work organization – monthly
- Performance management – every two weeks
- Trust building – weekly
- Wellbeing – every second day
- Problem-solving – immediately (this is something that FIOH didn’t include in their own summary; instead, FIOH emphasized early problem detection through the collection of information)
The list above clearly demonstrates that remote management is more time-consuming and requires a different mindset compared to management in an office environment, where lots of information gets shared informally, for instance, during coffee breaks. Anyone aiming to apply telework practices will soon realize that remotely managing even the smallest of teams is practically a full-time job.
What needs to be remembered is that responsibility for ensuring good communication doesn’t fall entirely on the manager but requires two parties who are equally invested in information sharing. Now may be the perfect time to dig up those tin can telephones.
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