A Playbook to Optimize Remote Work

A Playbook to Optimize Remote Work

June 2020

Covid-19 has forced many of us to make changes – almost on the fly. Many organizations are just emerging from shelter-in-place and have reassessed their work from home policies. The recent shift to remote work has affected nearly every industry and put everyone’s abilities to the test. Mobility managers for many fleets have taken on increased responsibility and workload with the federal regulation for daily driving hours being temporarily suspended in mid-March 2020. The sudden shift to remote work left some scrambling to adjust and find ways to productively cope with the new situation. Now, nearly three months later, the way people work has been revolutionized, so it’s time to revisit best practices for this new work style. 

Is Remote Work Here to Stay?
Like it or not, the massive workforce shift brought upon by Covid-19 has highlighted the value of remote work. Depending on the culture of a specific organization, such new work methods may stay in place for a long time or even be made permanent. According to the Global Workplace Survey in 2019, 82% of surveyed businesses in the US are using flexible working to improve employees’ work-life balance and 85% of respondents reported an increase in worker productivity. Additionally, according to a survey by Global Web Index in their April 2020 Coronavirus work behaviors research, 40% of US employees report better sleeping/eating habits and 32% experience a less stressful environment. Shifting to remote work has been under analysis for years as the next evolution of the workplace. The idea was alluring yet challenging to implement and a global movement seemed unlikely until the days following the World Health Organization’s classification of the Covid-19 virus as a global pandemic on March 11 2020. Given few options otherwise, the world began the experiment of a new remote workforce experience. 

Communicating Outside the Office
One hurdle when adjusting to remote work is how drastically communication changes in its form and ability. When employees are in the office, they are able to talk and collaborate face-to-face, a valuable benefit of working in a communal space. The ability to see the facial expressions of co-workers, hear the inflections in their voices and pick up on micro expressions all contribute to camaraderie of coworkers while also minimizing the chance for misunderstandings that can happen over text-based communication. Since normal office socialization can’t happen without the office, it becomes necessary to artificially recreate the atmosphere using popular productivity apps like Zoom and Slack. If the adjustment to remote work has hindered the effectiveness of communication within your team, try adopting some expert-based tips.

Prioritize Strong Channels for Communication
A critical function of a mobility manager is their ability to communicate with their team members to track and coordinate assignments and routes. One important item on the list for a shift to remote work is a strong WiFi connection and a reliable cell signal. It might sound basic, but mobility managers are dependent on wireless communications to be available at all hours of the day in order to quickly respond to emergencies or even just to make necessary adjustments as needs arise. This can be particularly challenging when working from home because not every home has optimal cell phone reception, especially in more rural areas. There are a few no-cost options available and if all else fails, it might be time to consider investing in a cell phone signal booster. Your WiFi signal is just as important because the internet is often much faster and more reliable than cellular data. This plays an important role when it comes to large bandwidth functions such as live-data tracking like the monitoring of multiple GPS devices. There are also a few options available to improve your WiFi signal. 

Video Conference Manners and Etiquette
The cliché of wearing sweats on a video call has been around since the introduction of the technology. Many companies are only now exploring the world of video conferencing and realizing that the lack of a relevant established policy can be problematic. While examples of inappropriate dress etiquette may not always be as pronounced as the cliché may suggest, it does accurately capture the lack of understanding that, even though an employee is working from home, they are still expected to maintain a professional appearance.
The organization that implements video conferencing should make clear that when an employee is on camera, they should be as presentable as they would be in person. Video conference etiquette captures much more than just the dress code, it also covers expectations that employees will mute their microphone while not actively speaking, ensure that their background and wall coverings are work appropriate, and more.
Video conferencing also requires an understanding from everyone else in your living space that, while you are at home physically, you’re at work mentally. When you are on a call, you need privacy, although we have all become forgiving of the errant pet that steals the camera.

Be Wary of “Zoom Fatigue”
The adage, “with great power comes great responsibility” is applicable in many different facets of life and is particularly relevant when adopting new technologies. One problem that has been recently identified from the global shift to remote work is known as Zoom Fatigue,” named after the leading enterprise in video communications. Effects of this new stress can manifest in fatigue and mental exhaustion, which is surprising to many since the conferences are held in the comfort of one’s own home. However, the effects are real and employees should take active steps to reduce its impact for their co-workers and themselves. Measures that can be taken to reduce zoom fatigue can include reducing onscreen stimuli, making virtual social events opt-in, and simply reducing the use and reliance on video conferencing as a form of communication altogether. 

Automate Data-Heavy Procedures
For some managers it might seem like their job is overburdened by a never-ending stream of statistical data and analysis to benefit the company. Data that needs managing range from fuel consumption analyses, driving hours and mileage of the vehicles, processing toll road fees, scheduling inspections, preventive maintenance appointments, and more. It is imperative that many of these data-heavy processes are accurate and the sequential repetitiveness can make them prone to human error. In terms of remote work, the time spent on these tasks is time that is lost communicating with co-workers, which can easily compound stress and feelings of burnout. 
Repetitive tasks are prime targets for simple forms of automation, such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation), which is a type of codeless automation that requires little background knowledge of automation or change in IT infrastructure. Implementing some form of automation can significantly reduce errors, speed up the process of handling the data, and free up a manager for other problem solving such as utilizing the data and coordinating with their team. Simple forms of automation do not pose a threat to replacing a worker, because the “digital worker” needs to have a human manager to make “human decisions” whenever the program encounters errors such as misplaced data. The key to automation is that the data is analyzed and transformed into intelligence by humans.

Set Parameters for Your Team 
Defining expectations and goals clearly on a routine basis can help the team optimize its output, reinforcing why each individual is a valuable asset. Particularly during a crisis, goals and expectations should also be clearly presented, and easy to understand and remember. Helping your team understand how they can hit company goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) can take some of the workload off a manager by reducing the need for micromanaging. A team with achievable goals will feel a sense of accomplishment and value as they reach each objective, and can even help mitigate some of the negative emotions that co-workers experience when they lose daily face-to-face engagement. 

The New Normal
The jury is out on how pervasive work-from-home will become once we have successfully cleared the Covid-19 pandemic. Even with productivity levels higher with remote work, the need for socialization is still vital for team building. Quartz News reports that “when the 1,500 employees of tech company Sonos went fully remote during the coronavirus lockdowns, employees experienced getting acclimated to a new corporate culture, which came down to this energy that you only know through your sofa and Slack. It just does not quite help build a long-term relationship with that culture bonding that you’re probably hoping for.” The fatigue of an endless digital stream of emails, texts, and on-screen meetings will be more palatable with a balance of in-person communications. Humans are, above all else, a social species! The occasional in-person staff meeting can actually become energizing and be higher quality when experienced in smaller doses. We’re making up the rules as we move through this new normal.

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