As the CMO for a company that provides a platform for remote work, I’ve always had the ability to do my job from wherever I happen to be. To me, that’s completely normal. For most, it’s anything but.
Working remote is perhaps the biggest change in the way business is done that the world has ever seen. But as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, it is fast becoming the new normal. And to emerge successfully from the crisis, companies must recognize this and help their employees adjust.
Remote work is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Companies that invest in technology to give employees access to the applications and information they need to be informed, collaborate and get work done from their homes in a safe and secure manner gain the agility, speed, and efficiency required to manage resources in the dynamic way that unpredictable business environments demand and position themselves well for the future.
But you can’t just throw technology at employees and expect them to embrace it — particularly in times like these. To keep them engaged and productive requires a different approach. Here are a few tips I can offer as an executive, manager, and an employee that has effectively gone virtual:
Design for digital engagement: Working from home is not ‘business as usual.’ You can’t expect to keep a globally distributed and remote team’s attention with multi-hour meetings with multiple topics. Instead, borrowing from digital marketing and media rules: keep things short, focused, and engaging. In the case of Citrix Marketing, we’ve encouraged shorter, more frequent meetings on single-topics that allow teams to prepare and keep them engaged and focused. We’ve also instituted a standard meeting request template that requires the organizer to state the purpose of the meeting, provide an agenda and pre-reads and outline key decisions or outcomes expected from the meeting.
Force frequent communications: With the COVID-19 situation changing every day, teams need to be far more connected and agile than ever. One way my leadership team stays informed and aligned is through virtual stand-up meetings twice per week. These meetings are only 15 minutes long and are designed to provide transparency of evolving communications, marketing programs, and blockers that need to be addressed. We do not strategize or resolve issues during stand-ups. We assign the right leaders to develop a recommendation offline and review the resolution together at our next stand-up. We use our marketing Slack channel to extend vital information and gain key insights from the broader marketing organization.
Don’t neglect virtual “face-to-face”: There’s a camera button on all major online meeting tools. Use it. We’ve instituted a “cameras on” policy to ensure that team members can look at each other in the eye and engage in a much more genuine way. It can uncomfortable at first, but I’ve noticed that people are quickly recognizing how invaluable it is to keep focused and connected. And it makes for far more meaningful meetings. We also use the chat functionality in online meeting tools to exchange questions and answers or create lists for follow up actions.
Virtual Office Hours: Uncertain times raise lots of questions. Working remotely, employees lose the opportunity to swing by their manager’s office to get a question answered or to just be reassured. So I and some of my leadership team have instituted virtual office hours and created a standing online meeting for employees who might want to drop by to get an answer to an urgent question or to share an idea of how we can better help our customers or fellow employees.
Don’t skip the watercooler: While having its benefits, working from home can lack the social engagement that keeps teams connected and motivated. One thing we’ve introduced is #WorkStyle Thursdays in which we encourage team members to use our marketing slack channel to share photos of their work from home environment, tactics, and the people and creatures they interact with there. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the personal side of the people you work with.
Create a productive place: Securing a separate office space with a door in your home or apartment is ideal. If employees can’t declare a defined space, have them set expectations with family about work hours and set boundaries for what that means. I regularly use “Meeting in Progress” on neon post-it notes outside my office door to signal to family when I absolutely cannot be disturbed.
Encourage “Me Time”: Don’t let work overtake life. Too often, remote workers find it hard to stop working as that device or Slack message is only a few feet away. Encourage employees to establish set office hours and communicate them clearly with teammates and family. Also, be sure to have them set time for regular breaks to stretch, step outside, or meditate. At Citrix, we host virtual mindful sessions multiple times each week to guide employees through brief meditation to recharge and enhance focus.
Be safe out there
Sending everyone to work from home with a laptop can keep them out of harm’s way, but it introduces new security risks. People want to know that their devices and the personal and company information on them are safe. At Citrix, we assure this by requiring employees to only access their applications and content through our own virtualization and digital workspace solutions.
Lead by example
The Citrix executive leadership team has adopted similar approaches to stay informed and connected through the rapidly evolving COVID-19 crisis. In addition to our regular biweekly staff meetings, we’ve added a weekly check-in specifically focused reporting on the rapidly emerging situation, impacts on employees and customers, and programs and actions we are implementing to help. I and my team work directly with our CEO, Chief People Officer, and General Counsel to ensure that we are monitoring the situation and driving a communications strategy to keep our employees, customers, and communities informed. For example, we beefed up the business continuity section of our corporate website with resources, remote work best practices and case studies, FAQs, and a hotline to contact us if they need assistance. We have also increased public communications and best practices posts in a highlighted section of Citrix blogs.
Embrace the Silver Lining
It may not seem like it right now, but the world will eventually recover from this current pandemic. When we take a retrospect of lessons learned from the crisis, one positive outcome will be that corporations and employees will embrace more flexible work models. The very same approaches and technologies that have helped organizations keep their employees safe and connected and their businesses running during this crisis will provide new levels of agility to capitalize on new opportunities and unlock entirely new pools of talent — such as workers in remote locales, retirees, gig workers, and stay-at-home parents — who were previously inaccessible to companies reluctant to use remote work models.
Remote work is the new normal. Ongoing operations and future competitive advantage will go to those companies that invest in technologies and operating methods to empower employees to do their very best work wherever and whenever work needs to get done. By delivering a superior employee experience, you can ensure employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, keep them engaged and productive, and drive the agility your organization needs to better meet the needs of your customers and the broader community in both good and challenging times.