Pandemic Remote Work Isn’t Remote Work

My thoughts on Pandemic Remote Work

Have you switched to remote work in the past couple of weeks/days? 
Well, chances are high you have, or you will. I want to share my words of caution and tips to make pandemic remote work better.

I am an advocate of remote work. But what’s happening right now isn’t what remote work is or should be.

We should not have to deal with a pandemic and economic crisis at the same time as we switch to a remote workstyle.
Many of us even have their spouse and kids at home.
Many of us worry that they or their loved ones lose their life and/or job.
Some might already have lost their jobs.

The promises of remote work: more flexibility, in addition to more productivity, just do not hold true in such a setting.

Expecting that they do, creates a lot of additional stress.

True Leaders Are Visible in Crises

I’ve seen several different leadership mindsets and types in the last couple of days.

Some leaders are worried about the reduced productivity of their employees. The only thing that they can concentrate on – in addition to the anxiety from the crashing markets – is that their employees aren’t productive at home. So, they come up with ways to measure or ensure productivity. The set limits on response times from emails, enforce that employees are always in front of the computer, and ask employees to be reachable throughout the day via phone.

Contrary, I have also seen leaders that give their employees some additional time off to care for their kids, to bunker some food, or to practice self-care and improve their mental state. Those leaders do not expect that people just “work” while their worlds are (seemingly) falling apart.

I believe that both leadership mindsets lead to similar productivity levels of their employees. But, only one of those builds up loyalty, trust, and in the long run ensures that people dedicate their mental power back to the work they feel privileged to do. If you still wondering, it’s the latter leadership mindset.

Well, so how can we best support each other during pandemic remote work? Here are my thoughts:

Acknowledge it’s not a remote situation, it’s a pandemic situation

This means focus on empathy and compassion and not on productivity. Yes, many people might not prioritize the next release or the work they are supposed to do right now.

Instead, what’s on their mind is their grandma who is sick, their child that is immune-compromised, or they feel lonely and isolated at home. Some see their 401K or savings crumple. Some worry they might die. All these thoughts and worries take up space in people’s heads. Neglecting those thoughts or expecting that people put them aside as soon as they start working isn’t realistic.   

Let’s support each other in those hard times

Instead of focusing on controlling people, and on productivity, let’s focus on supporting each other. What do your teammates need right now? How can you support your team? What does each individual team member need the most right now?

Maybe someone needs to talk about their worries? Maybe someone needs to hear that they will get a paycheck? Maybe someone needs to know that despite their reduced productivity, they aren’t at risk of losing their jobs.

Also, what do YOU need right now? What are your biggest fears? How can others support you?

Let’s cut each other some slack

For many of the worries, you will not have a cure. And that’s not needed. It’s good to just talk about the worries and fears, and know that others actively listen.

And maybe, you find solutions by doing so. But, at least let’s acknowledge what is going on, and that this isn’t what remote work normally looks like.

This also means that we can cut each other some slack. And this, on its own, can be a little bit like a cure.

Well, having said all that, this also isn’t the time to bury our heads in the sand. We have to deal with the current situation, and there is nothing wrong with trying to make the best out of it.

Make pandemic remote work as good as possible

There are many great articles and books that highlight how to make remote work possible. Have a look here, here and here.

Working remotely has many similarities to code reviews. Asynchronous, written communication is often the default. Overcommunication is key. People must learn to be diligent on how to phrase feedback or discuss issues. And the negative bias in written communication often leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Still, when you implement remote best practices, keep in mind that there might be big differences between remote teams, and pandemic remote teams.

Why?

In pandemic remote teams, people must work in such a setting that would not have chosen this way of working. The remote workstyle might not fit their personality, skillsets, or preferences. They might need more support, or different routines, than people that actively choose this way of working.  

Create a safe space to learn

Priority one should be to create an environment in which people can safely talk about their struggles and worries. People should be able to say if something does not work for them, without fearing to face negative consequences.

And slowly, by practicing active listening, acknowledging the unique situation, and focusing on helping and supporting each other, we will adapt to this new way of working.

Stay safe in this pandemic situation!


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Dr. Michaela Greiler

I help companies improve their software development processes, like code reviewing or software testing. I work for corporations such as Microsoft, but also help smaller businesses and start-ups to ensure a productive, satisfying and efficient software engineering process.

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Remote Work Isn’t Remote Work

  • March 20, 2020 at 21:10
    Permalink

    Fantastic advice — really puts things in perspective. I particularly like the advice/reminder to cut each other some slack when working remotely. This is the time to be our best selves to each other, and be as helpful and understanding as possible, recognizing the difficult time we are all going through.

    Reply
    • March 26, 2020 at 09:07
      Permalink

      Hey Peter, Yes, it’s a hard time for many of us (on so many levels). Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply

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