A letter from our CEO: Helping Make Remote Work, Work

Many of our clients are asking how we can support the swift and urgent shift to remote work. This blog post outlines our initial thoughts and how SHIFT’s tools might help.

Parker Mitchell
/
April 23, 2020

Like everyone, we hope the coronavirus spreads less quickly and is less severe than epidemiologists currently project.

Without knowing the severity or scale the virus will reach, nearly every company is actively planning for portions of their workforces to work remotely during the next three months. Managing this rapid and large scale shift to remote work is a massive undertaking.

This moment of heightened emotion will be unfamiliar and unsettling for most leaders, managers and companies. Navigating it well, with empathy and understanding, will be challenging.

During this fast-changing and complex situation, it’s crucial that leadership not only engage in analyzing and deciding, but also on listening and responding. How people at every level interpret the situation, how they make sense of it, and most importantly, how they feel will be as important, if not more, than any fact-based analysis.

The only “right” answer is the right conversation

While there are no “right” answers in this unprecedented situation, there are principles that leaders can put in place to provide their teams with the scaffolding to understand the rapidly changing situation and make better decisions for them and their companies.

The spread of the virus will impact people in different ways. Some will be anxious for their own health. Some will have children who could be sent home from school. Some might have loved ones who they will need to care for or support. Some will enjoy working from home, others won’t.

The common denominator is emotion. People will bring their emotions to work. Helping surface, discuss, and having means to listen and support will be important — yet often these aren’t skills leaders possess in equal measures.

Leaders and teams are under stress and embarking on unfamiliar territory.They need help and support. If teams are able to talk through the situation, to raise and hold the space for emotions, they will establish the context to make more supportive decisions.

Shifting to remote work requires new mindsets and approaches for managers and teams.

So far, corporate efforts have understandably been focused on the technical requirements to make this massive transition work.

Yet equally important to the technical capabilities are the support systems that help employees adapt to new ways of operating.

The shift to remote work requires a rethinking of team processes, norms, expectations and communications practices — both within a team, and across other teams.

Most shifts to remote work are gradual and intentional. This one will be sudden and pressure-filled, and organizations need more concerted support for each and every team.

In such rapid change, new practices that facilitate communications are urgently needed, as interactions that may have been taken for granted will need to be redesigned and made explicit. What might have been accomplished with a quick hallway conversation or an in-person meeting, needs a new approach.

The right way to make this shift is to explicitly and consistently surface how people are adapting, what’s working and what’s not, and to have conversations about the new norms.

Such intentional communication surfaces misunderstandings and misaligned expectations, and helps prevent frustrations or resentments from building up.

SHIFT’s tools help teams cope with change.

Our digital tools have been used by thousands of teams across the Fortune500 to help them manage change — to become more agile, adopt new ways of working, or improve their team dynamics.

One of the changes we help teams adopt is successful remote working practices, which require enhanced intentionality.

SHIFT’s digital “team discussion cycle” leverages multiple tools in our suite to help teams make this transition to remote and virtual work.

Teams will surface what’s on their minds, have high-impact conversations about the most pressing issues, and make (or update) their shared commitments, norms, and remote work habits — even in these emotionally laden times.

And SHIFT’s tools can help teams have ongoing conversations about their reaction to the challenges they could be feeling. We help teams put proven approaches into practice — non-violent communications, getting to yes, listening to learn, and others — and give managers support for the issue that are most important to them.

We believe that remote teams can be as productive, authentic, vulnerable, connected and effective as in-person teams. The practices we help teams adopt may very well become the new and better norms, even long after this health crisis dissipates.

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