The home office is not (yet) as widespread as many people think. In reality, few companies make use of the technical possibilities. Maybe because it is really hard work to organize everything? Maybe also because there is a lack of confidence in the employees to really work? Certainly, it is a mixture. In a crisis, however, the question is usually not whether, but how to work in the home office. At the same time, this is an opportunity to develop teams sustainably. With clear structures, helpful KPIs, and lots of communication.
The home office meets many unprepared. The current situation with safety distance, voluntary quarantines, and, where possible, home office, turns team structures completely upside down. This creates new challenges for both managers and employees. Especially as working in a home office is still the general standard in few companies, as the “if” is often discussed instead of the “how”. A study by the Hans Böckler Foundation (2019) shows why:
“According to the survey, 22 percent of the women surveyed said they did not work from home because it was not permitted – and although it was technically possible. Only 12 percent of the men made this statement.” …
“However, most of them gave up home offices of their own accord. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed felt that working from home did not suit their job. Around 70 percent also assumed that their own presence was important to the boss.” (TRANSLATED)
Currently, the “how” is suddenly in the room and less the “if”. This is also an opportunity to develop the team further via KPIs (Key Performance Indices), communication and meeting structures, and a great deal of communication.
Presence times in home office?
A good keyword at this point. Because quite often there is a lot behind this little word. This is shown to me by many conversations of the last few days in this exceptional situation. Many managers are actually concerned with how they can “see” what the employees are doing in the home office. On the one hand, it’s about results and efficiency, and on the other hand, it’s also about the interpersonal aspects. So how the employees feel about it. In fact, not everyone is equally comfortable with the lack of social exchange in the coffee kitchen. Others, on the other hand, are perhaps happy because they can simply work something off. And this relatively undisturbed by the (annoying) small talk of colleagues.
Personal structures make home office work easier or more difficult
A lot has to do with how every single person on the team “ticks” like that. Depending on which personal strengths are dominant, we behave differently. Also, strengths determine what we need to approach tasks with motivation and verve in the “isolation” of the home office. Many a person may also be struggling with their fears and would actually need much more closeness than is currently required.
The good news is that closeness does not necessarily have to do with a physical presence. Even digitally, it is possible to create and strengthen emotional closeness and team spirit.
5 tips for managers and employees
Tip 1: Making an effort!
At this point, it should be mentioned that it is not only the responsibility of the manager to ensure the cohesion and cooperation of the team. Boris Grundl once said in one of his pieces of training that in his view the manager has “only” 50% of the responsibility for the development of the employees. The remaining 50% lies with the employee himself. In the meantime, I would even go further and see more responsibility for the employee. Especially when you are dealing with Learning Journeys and self-organized learning, taking responsibility is very important in the digital transformation. Each individual bears responsibility for himself and our joint success. The task of the manager is of course to create the framework and support development. But every employee is required to make his or her contribution. This is also or especially true now in the crisis.
Tip 2: Stimulating a change of perspective in communication
Communication in itself is often difficult. Misunderstandings are inevitable. This is nothing new. If everyone suddenly works from home, the body language signals are missing. The perceptual channels of communication are reduced. Digital communication demonstrably objectifies the spoken word. We tend to come straight to the point. To refrain from the small talk – or polite phrases. Also, rhetorical peculiarities such as irony cannot be interpreted digitally or can only be interpreted with difficulty. This means that I always have to think very carefully about how the message might be received by the other party. Maybe this is a good opportunity to pick up the phone more often. Instead of quickly sending an e-mail or WhatsApp? It is really helpful to keep grabbing at your own nose. And to consider how my counterpart might take it. Or also: Just ask!
Tip 3: Creating structures for effective collaboration from the home office
Neither the employees nor the managers really had time to prepare for this new situation. Now a vacuum is emerging that needs to be filled. If decentralized locations and home offices are not already in place, teams will initially lack the platform for structured exchange and the framework for regular communication. Now it’s time to be agile, namely to simply test tools. Depending on the availability of collaboration tools, there are various possibilities. A good tool is for example MS Teams. Their topics/projects can be organized via channels, documents can be worked on and discussed together. Via the integrated meeting system, task management, and also whiteboard functions a fast synchronous and asynchronous exchange of information is possible. Or simply via a shared OneNote file. Stored in a central drive, everyone works together to create a structure for sharing all relevant information, for example. It makes sense to have an overview of the daily goals of each team member, the progress of tasks towards the achievement of goals, and much more. It is always important to regulate exactly which topics are shared or worked on via which channel. By the way, it is a good possibility for virtual team development to work out and develop these structures and agreements together in a video conference call. Perhaps an hour every day – this also ensures a regular exchange. It can also be helpful to make use of other elements from agile project management. Example: Daily Stand-up. At the agreed time, all team members meet virtually in the meeting room. 15 minutes for atmosphere, daily goals, special challenges, and important information, need for support. Short, crisp, helpful. And: Short reflection on whether the meeting was so helpful or whether there is a need for adjustment.
Tip 4: Develop useful KPIs (Key Performance Indices)
Trust – a topic that is gladly discussed and upheld in management training, in leadership mission statements, etc. But let’s be honest: How great is trust really? Or, in return, the desire to control the progress of work? That is one side. But the other is also that the team members must see the individual and collective progress of the team. This keeps motivation high and the common goal (= the kit for a functioning team) in view. In most companies there are economic key figures, perhaps also process key figures. These are important. But one dimension is often forgotten: How does the team measure its success? How does the individual employee realize that he/she is making an important contribution to the big picture? Exactly these are questions that become even more relevant with the spatial distribution. Especially management or team key figures can be valuable. These are also developed together and then evaluated in the regular meetings. Conspicuous features are discussed. This can easily be done by setting points (works well virtually) or with survey tools such as LamaPoll or similar tools (with digital tools please always consider co-determination!). However, such KPIs only work if they are discussed seriously. The aim: to improve together and to uncover sticking points. Incidentally, if KPIs are consistently very well rated, you have to ask yourself whether they are the right ones or whether it is not the time for a few new ones. But please no more than 3 or 4 at the same time. A few ideas for “soft” key figures:
- I have the feeling that I have all the important information for my work
- My contribution is seen in the team
- We play by our own rules
- We’ve already laughed together today
- We are working on the right topics
- My manager gives me constructive feedback
- We work well together as a team
- I have achieved my weekly goals
- We support each other as a team
Tip 5: Getting personal
Creating space for people is important – also concerning individual needs. Even if everyone works from the home office. A small team coffee meeting twice a week, for example, helps here: everyone who can come at the agreed time comes to the virtual meeting with a cup of tea or coffee for a personal chat. The only rule: No discussions about content. The goal is a social exchange, laughter in the team. Creativity will certainly create other helpful formats to steer us through the crisis in a motivating way. Maybe even 5 minutes of collective desk fitness now and then? Why not? Especially managers should actively set a good example. Especially at the beginning of virtual teamwork, take extra time, and contact the team members individually at regular intervals. Simply to hear what the mood is, what difficulties are being fought with, and where things are going well. This way, everyone feels seen and the manager gets a better feeling for where the real sticking points are.
Now teamwork is needed – more than ever. At the same time, it is a good opportunity to promote more personal responsibility and more exchange. It is important to continue to pursue this after the crisis and to make home office work a good alternative in the long term.