When the World Health Organization recently declared a pandemic from the COVID-19 (cororavirus), several organizations have taken steps to protect their teams by having employees work remotely. Remote working has become more and more feasible due to technologies and communication tools, but sudden, wide spread remote working can have a negative impact on your culture and employees.

Many of your employees will initially enjoy working from home. A day free from constant distractions and interruptions in an office can really boost productivity. However, working from home for a long term can actually introduce challenges including lost productivity, low energy, and even outright loneliness .

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to maintain your culture as your people work together from home.

  1. Use communication tools – This one is fairly obvious, but when everyone works remotely, you will need to use communication tools to coordinate work. We like tools like OneNote, Trello, or Slack. If you don’t have these tools in place, now might be the time to employ them. Relying too heavily on email will flood everyone’s inbox making it difficult to separate urgent requests for information from 10% off offers from your favorite ice cream vendor.
  2. Use video – Most laptops and phones are equipped with video. Tools like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or even Facetime allow you to share video. Don’t underestimate the power of seeing the people you work with. Communication happens with more than just what we say. You may be tempted to skip this, but don’t. Make video meetings the norm when you are working apart.
  3. Have meetings (good ones) – A good meeting cadence is important for efficient and effective flow of information. If you have a good communication cadence, keep it going while not in the office. It’s tempting to skip meetings when everyone isn’t around. Don’t. They are actually more important than ever. What if your meetings are normally pretty boring? This is a chance to spice them up. Let more people talk and give feedback. This is an opportunity to break a bad habit.
  4. Create online water cooler discussions – Studies show that people are really only productive for about an hour, then their productivity starts to drop. The problem is that we don’t recognize this loss in productivity until it really hits us in the face. The cure is to take breaks from time to time. At work, we often do this through short water cooler discussions throughout the day. A pro tip while working remotely is to create a special water cooler channel where employees can talk to each other about things other than work. This could be a simple as a text string or a special slack channel. If nothing else, encourage employees to jump on informal, short calls with each other to just take a break.
  5. Enforce your dress code (and other normal expectations) – Working from home to many people immediately invokes thoughts of sleeping in, making a pot of coffee, and working in your home office in a robe and slippers. Encourage your employees to NOT do that. The best practice is actually for everyone to maintain their normal routine as much as possible. Get up. Take a shower. Eat breakfast. Get dressed. Wear something you would wear to work. Set the expectation that working from home is not a vacation from work.
  6. Frequent check ins with employees – As the manager of your team, you should “walk the floor” from time to time just to see how everyone is doing. This is easy in an office environment. When everyone is working remotely, it takes a little more effort. Call your people and do short video calls just to check in and see what your people need. Use this opportunity to offer compliments and encouragement.
  7. Encourage exercise – Nothing will make your smart watch go into “ARE YOU DEAD?!?” mode faster than working from home. The 46 steps from your bed to your office and another 30 to the bathroom and an additional 42 to the kitchen just don’t add up very quickly. Consider doing company wide exercises. I like the 7 minute exercise apps to encourage everyone. I suggest doing it with video. Maybe give a prize to the most enthusiastic exerciser or the person who gets in the most steps during the day. Working at home all day with only 350 steps will leave anyone feeling pretty lousy by the end of the day (I know from experience).

Working separately at home can have a negative impact on your team and your employees, but if you are deliberate about it, you can make the most of this situation and actually enhance your culture.