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The ultimate way to keep your distance

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Leaders and managers face challenges to engage and support their remote teams. What was once commonplace for international corporations now weighs on businesses of all sizes. 

Those who pioneered work from afar have gotten a head start on the skills that go with it. 

From her vantage point at Skillsoft, Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek has analyzed the keys to remote workplaces that let their people excel, thrive and grow.

She talked about struggles and solutions for a remote workforce with Meghan M. Biro, analyst, brand strategist, podcaster and chief executive officer of TalentCulture.

Organizations large and small struggle with remote work. Many owners and managers can’t stand the thought of not seeing all their workers all the time to make sure they’re gainfully employed.

“Too many companies weren’t ready,” Biro said. “Remote work isn’t just plug and play, but mandatory stay-home regulations made it a must-do, ready or not.

“I see businesses take a plug-and-play approach: Just send everyone home, and let the teams and their managers figure it all out,” she said. “That puts even more pressure on managers. There should be an overall strategy.”

Even if unprepared, all is not lost. 

“If you have issues with remote work, it’s not too late to fix them—and you should,” Biro said. “Remote isn’t going away. I predict a huge shift to remote as a logical next step—even post testing, post vaccines.”

Not normal … until it is 

The changes are new for everyone. 

“For many, remote work hasn’t been the norm … until now,” Boockoff-Bajdek said. “Organizations may not have the tools nor skills to operate entirely virtual. It’s never been required.

“They’re learning how to walk while being forced to run: defining how to operate in a virtual environment for the first time, while doing exactly that,” she said. 

Plus, reliability takes on an even greater role. 

“This speaks to the challenges many managers face,” Boockoff-Bajdek said. “Strong virtual teams are built on a foundation of trust. We must start from a place of shared humanity and send teams a message of solidarity: ‘We’re all in this together.’

“We must not be afraid of tech here and matching it to the task,” she said. “We have a rich bank of tools today that can boost collaboration and increase productivity—both synchronous and asynchronous.”

Fortunately, learning platforms help improve the transition to remote work. They create, promote and maintain consistent training and messaging throughout the workforce no matter how widespread they are in the world.

“This brings us back to the myth of instant transitions,” Biro said. “There is a lot to learn about remote work—the tools, the etiquette, the best practices. This is a new way of working. It needs onboarding.

“Learning platforms that offer a really wide range of training on tools and skills should be available to the whole workforce,” she said. “As well as assigned training, then choose when, what and even how they learn.”

Rather than an obstacle, Biro sees possibilities. 

“Remote working and work from home offer an incredible opportunity to broaden our horizons and push ourselves toward new goals,” she said. “Companies that tap into that with learning are going to see increased engagement going forward.”

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People before tools 

Boockoff-Bajdek cautioned against getting hypnotized by bright shiny objects. 

“While the tools are important, they’re not enough,” she said. “This really needs to be about cultural change and helping people—leaders and learners—adapt.

“To be clear, the need for learning never wanes,” Boockoff-Bajdek said. “Platforms ensure that learning can happen, no matter where we are or when we fit it in.”

This is when managers can identify experts. These are the people on teams who can provide technological expertise to those less inclined to pick up skills easily.

“It bolsters confidence when you feel like you have not only the tools, but the competencies to be more productive,” Boockoff-Bajdek said. 

“A tool is only effective if you are affecting change at the cultural level,” she said. “Otherwise, it likely sits idle.”

Leaders are crucial to help create better remote workplaces. 

“This requires communication, patience and empathy,” Biro said. “Consider what managers need to better run their teams. Consider what employees need to better do their jobs. Ask them. Then provide it remotely.

“Leaders who can have that agile mindset are really going to matter right now,” she said. “Model the behavior that this is an adventure—not a compromise—and that it’s bringing out the innovator in all of us. Then, lighten up a bit.”

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented forward thinking. 

“I’m seeing leaders who are treating this as a system glitch—something so temporary it’s not worth investing in learning and training and improving the culture of their remote workplaces,” Biro said. 

“That’s a big mistake,” she said. “It could cost you people once we’re through this crisis.”

Boockoff-Bajdek stated these edicts:

  • Communicate frequently and with purpose.
  • Establish routines to provide a sense of normalcy.
  • Stay positive and supportive, even in times of uncertainty.

“From everyone I talk to, I hear the simple need to be human,” Boockoff-Bajdek said. “Knowing that we can’t flip a switch and go back to how we operated pre-pandemic, I’m curious. What will we keep from this experience?”

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Jim Katzaman
Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

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