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Adapt to the New “Normal”

July 1, 2020

Kevin Uhlenhaker

As we adapt to the new “normal” in a world with COVID-19, businesses inside and outside of parking are dealing with the new reality of a mixed-location work environment. This month’s question deals with the opportunities for this shift. 


Dear Kevin, 


Surprisingly, our forced work from home “experiment” has gone better than expected. What should we keep in mind as we consider keeping this setup moving forward even after we can come back to the office? 


Amazed in Austin


 


Hello, Amazed in Austin, 


I am glad to hear your work from home experience overall has been a good one. I know it has been a stressful process for many people (beyond the other stresses that abound these days). I have quite a bit of experience working and managing remotely, as I have done it for all but one year of my career. Before the acquisition, NuPark had almost 50 people working in 13 states. So, this is a topic near and dear to me. Based on your question, I am assuming you are managing a parking company and will answer the question from that perspective. Managing and working with remote employees requires a mindset shift and the use of different skills then the ones likely honed in an in-person workspace. However, once mastered, you will find they become as familiar as working in an office. 


The first change needed is in your expectations. Management of remote employees has to shift from the amount of time they spend “at work” to the actual work completed successfully. This change can be difficult as many managers don’t manage to overall goals, and it can be hard to know how long a given objective takes to complete. To do this effectively, you have to have competent trained staff who you trust to achieve their assigned objectives. Without this trust, managing people who are working from home will be a disaster. While the idea that you have to see someone to know if they are working is understandable, there have always been ways for people to commit time theft while working in an office. 


Instead, create an environment of trust that equips and empowers people for success and then holds them accountable for their results. Now that being said, not all employees are able to work remotely successfully. In this situation, they might be some of the ones who work in the office more often, or maybe their previous job in the new working environment is not a good fit for them anymore. The last expectation I would suggest you embrace is one of flexibility. Working from home is not going to look like or have the same structure as working in the office. As such, understand work might get done at hours that are outside of “normal” business hours. Also, phone or video calls might have more unexpected interruptions than before by non-employees (kids, dogs, etc.). As long as this is rare and not completely disrupting the message or ability for others to communicate, embrace the unexpected. 


Next, think about your communications. This skill is critical in a remote work environment. First off, always strive to over-communicate. (Now, this does not mean micro-manage, which works equally poorly remotely as in person.) Instead, keep in mind that it is harder to pick up on tone or subtlety when communicating in writing or over the phone. While video can be better, it also can strip out the context from the situation. Keep in mind that people typically read emails, chats, and text messages with the “voice” of the author in their heads. To help ensure that “voice” remains accurate and overall interpersonal relationships continue to be healthy, build in 5-10 minutes of social time at the start of each meeting. This time not only tends to start the meetings off on a better note, but it also helps colleagues to connect and reinforces relationships. Think of this as a replacement for the “water cooler” or hallway conversation time that typically would occur in an office environment.


 Finally, I would recommend establishing and formalizing expectations around electronic communications. This process involves creating response windows for standard communication methods such as email, messaging, and calls. As part of that standard, set “core work hours” when communication is and is not expected. This rule helps solve problems such as frustration or anxiety about the expectation of responding to late-night or weekend communications. Also, encourage your team to utilize immediate spoken communication methods (phone call or video chat) for matters that require an urgent response. With the many technology tools at our disposal, it can be easy to forget the fastest method to get an answer is sometimes picking up the phone. 


Speaking of technology, select communications products that are easy to use, work in all situations (in the office, at home, and on mobile devices), and are secure in all of these situations. Remember, training is vital not only in how to use these systems, but when to use them and how to recover when things go wrong. As with all technology, it is not perfect, and as such, users need to know what to do when it is not working. And those around them have to be flexible enough to deal with their technological difficulties. Finally, remember video conferencing is a tool, not the only tool. Don’t feel that every meeting has to be on video to be effective. It can be useful in many situations but has its drawbacks. Work hard to use the right tool for the situation. 


Thanks for your question, and good luck! I think you will find the move to a more permanent remote workforce will have many positive benefits for your organization. 


Kevin 


I only covered this topic at a high level, so if anyone would like further information about this topic or has other questions to ask, please reach out at aka@slsinsights.com.



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