In many ways, big banks symbolize the way business is done: the way they organize their workforce is a yardstick for everyone else. So, when BMO, one of the Big Five banks in Canada, recently announced plans to move up to 80% of its staff to a virtual as well as in-office work, it was big news.
Many companies are doing the same in response to Covid-19, and truthfully, we at Virtual Team Builders feel that this shift is long overdue. Not only is the technology to do so both sophisticated and mature, but working virtually is a proven, effective way for companies of all sizes to decrease real estate and travel costs while increasing staff flexibility and morale.
The devil is in the details, however, with technology making up just 10% of the equation. The remaining 90% is all about the humans involved. Done without planning and forethought, a blended on-site and virtual environment can cause conflict and a sense of inequality between team members, undermining the hoped-for cost savings and productivity gains.
What contributes to this risk, and how can companies from big banks to mid-size firms manage it effectively?
Avoiding an Us vs. Them Mentality in Your Blended Virtual Team
Humans are hardwired to favor in-person over long-distance communication, so it’s only natural that working alone can leads to a sense of isolation.
This issue is problematic for managers, who must now deal with a blended workforce where some people benefit from daily, in-person interactions while others are connected only through their laptop. This can create a real risk of inequity if managers are not proactive in addressing it before problems emerge. Challenges to watch out for are:
Share Information Equitably
It’s easier and more natural to communicate with people in person first, and remote colleagues later. Unfortunately, this innocent-seeming behavior can cause virtual employees to feel out of the loop and forgotten, leading to feelings of inequity.
The fix is to establish clear frameworks to synchronize information sharing for everyone on the team so everybody receives updates at the same time, reinforcing the sense that everyone is in it together
Share Information Equitably
If you had asked us at any time in the last 30+ years, we’d have said one of the best ways to maintain engagement in meetings is to stay off mute whenever possible. Being muted invites multitasking, splits your attention, and generally lowers efficiency and productivity.
But that was before social distancing. Now, your employees share their home office with a spouse who’s also struggling to work from home, kids logging into their virtual classroom, deliveries, and other disruptions. Mute is unavoidable. What’s a manager to do?
Make a rule that if even one person attends a meeting remotely, then everybody does. Nothing creates an us vs. them mentality faster than in-person attendees engaging in inside conversations while cutting remote attendees out of the loop.
If you find that engagement is still an issue, it may be time to ask yourself and your team: Is this meeting valuable? Could this have been an email, or are we discussing a substantive issue? Was everyone in attendance absolutely required?
Support Effective Home Office Setups
Provide resources for employees to set themselves up for success at home. A common challenge for remote staff is working in the living room or bedroom, spaces their brain associates with rest and relaxation.
The fix is to create a dedicated workspace, or a physical setup different from how things look when it’s time to relax, making it much easier to slip into and remain in work mode.
Encourage Work-Life Boundaries
Remote staff tend to work an average of four extra hours per week to “make up” for not being physically in the office. They also check email after hours and generally have a harder time switching off and relaxing.
As a result of never being fully switched on or switched off, virtual workers can experience higher stress and burnout, lowering your team’s productivity and resilience.
The fix is to create a culture that recognizes each person’s contributions and encourages them to focus on personal time when the workday is done.