A recent remote working conference heard from a range of experts in how to adapt to emergency working from home and how to plan for more remote hiring in the future.
It has been a few weeks since lockdown happened, but many are still struggling to come to terms with the new normal, however temporary that may be.
Rowena Hennigan co-founded and authored Ireland’s first Remote Skills Undergraduate Module for TU Dublin. She was a recent speaker at the recent online Remote Work Summit and suggests emergency remote working could be treated in some respects as a trial – she says employers can test out new tools, but they need to give people time to adjust.
The important thing is to acknowledge the change, agree basic terms for how people will work and connect, give them autonomy and change your mindset. Remote working, she says, is about mindset as much as remote tools – that includes trust and transparency.
She adds that switching suddenly to remote working means there is no time for embedding processes. It is important therefore to focus energy on eliminating barriers to remote working, anticipating problems and preparing for them – “there will be more”, she says – and embracing chaos and unpredictability. Simple things can upset people’s work life balance when they are so entangled as people work from home in a crisis.
“We are all in shock,” she says, so we need to adjust emotionally and reset our expectations. This can take time. However, she says, it must be done. “It’s important to acknowledge the shock and sense of crisis,” she says.
Communication is vital – she suggests a system of work buddies, for instance – and recommends video calls and staying in touch regularly, focusing on collaboration and on short-term goals with realistic timescales.
Clearly we are in abnormal times, but transition from lockdown is likely to mean a continuation of remote working for some time and may result in more companies using remote working in the future in advance of other potential disruption.
So how do employers go about hiring people to work remotely? Radina Nedyalkova, founder of Vox Advisor and a remote talent adviser, says it’s important to think about how people work best in order to get the most out of them.
She says the skills needed to work remotely are different from those required in a normal set-up where you can observe others. We take some of the things we pick up in offices for granted, such as visual communication cues. Remote workers need to rely more on verbal and written communication, how they use their voice and so forth.
For Nedyalkova, it’s important to ask at interview how remote workers prefer to communicate as there are many forms remote communication can work and no one size fits all. Personality is important in building a remote team and it is vital for managers to understand how people operate best. Nedyalkova adds that remote workers have to be self motivated – they can’t ask their manager the answers all the time as they can in an office, particularly if their manager is in another time zone and there is a time lapse. They need to be able to take the initiative more often.
For Yanisalva Hristova, founder of Remote IT World, it is important to define hiring criteria for remote workers and to think carefully about the interview and selection process in order to deliver a memorable candidate experience. She distinguishes between job-related requirements and remote worker skills, which include communications skills, autonomy, time management and the ability to collaborate in a virtual environment.