Part 3, The Human Element
We’ve discussed various ways the COVID-19 crisis could impact our technology, operations, and security concerns – but what about our people? Many of the staff now working from home have never done so before. Most were unprepared for their home to become their full-time office, and each employee has a unique situation with varying concerns and impediments.
While much can be said about remote work, and different opinions abound, one thing is for sure: in most cases, there will be a learning curve or adjustment period. Staff who have always been hard workers may struggle to meet deadlines when they first transition to remote work, and others who were excellent communicators in office may take a week or two to learn how to keep lines of communication running from afar.
We want to encourage those in management roles to be patient. If you’re working at home yourself, try to be patient with yourself too. Remember that this is a temporary arrangement with an even more temporary adjustment period. It takes time to develop new routines, learn to use new tools, learn to function productively with new “officemates” (family, roommates, pets, etc.), and carve a productive workspace out of an area not built for it. Understanding that this learning curve won’t last forever and that it will get better can help everyone to be patient, to handle the situation smoothly, and to support one another more effectively.
Expecting a Different Timeline
Some readers will be familiar with research suggesting that remote work corresponds to significant increases in productivity and effectiveness. This research is interesting, but it should not be taken to apply to the coronavirus lockdown, at least not in all cases. The research done in the past has typically involved voluntary remote work. These employees wanted to work remotely, which suggests that their personalities and home lives could support this. At least one study required that participants have sufficient internet speeds and a private room at home to use as an office.
In addition, this research did not involve the simultaneous closures of schools and childcare facilities.
During COVID-19, if you find that you, those under your supervision, and your team as a whole, seem to be moving sluggishly or inefficiently, don’t blame yourselves or your staff too much. (Try, as well, not to let it bias you against remote work in general – this crisis is not a fair trial for working from home.) While time spent on work can grow out of control when working from and unable to leave your home, and some will find sticking to a schedule helpful, the same 9-5 principles that worked in the office will likely require some softening and adjustments here.
Instead of clinging to traditional office expectations and timelines, be patient and adapt as you learn. Take the opportunity to show your support for your teammates as humans, not just as workers. The VPN or the home internet may be running at the rate of molasses (especially if others are streaming videos when they should be schooling or working). Many employees will be struggling to maintain focus in the midst of frequent interruptions from small children and pets. They will be juggling home life and work life all at once. Dogs may bark and children may cry in the middle of your conference call, and remaining patient, understanding, and encouraging towards the embarrassed, overwhelmed staff member trying to do their job from home will likely go a long way in helping them cope.
Timelines for some projects may need to be adjusted, and expectations for when an employee will have a task completed may need to change. As we know, many tasks are urgent, and especially during a crisis such as this, treasury must continue to perform its function effectively and as efficiently as possible despite distractions.
While some tasks become significantly harder, others may become easier to complete. Some writing intensive tasks that are done alone, for example, and even some collaborative tasks may be far easier and effective when working together with a web meeting rather than in a conference room with people scribbling their notes. Accordingly, more can be accomplished in the long run if expectations – and the selection of activities where possible – are adapted to reflect the changed working environment. The new reality offers some challenges along with opportunities to learn.
Keeping Remote Workers Engaged
Whether leaning towards extroversion or introversion, most people need frequent interaction. The isolation of the current social distancing, quarantines, and shelter-in-place regulations have already proven frustrating and difficult for many. Remote work can be isolating even for those who prefer it overall, and the feeling of being siloed away from the rest of the team can be detrimental for motivation, efficiency, and smooth workflows.
Typically, in a traditional office setting, little additional effort is required to stay somewhat in the loop and to feel engaged in the company culture. Simple pleasantries when your coworker arrives in the morning and a moment’s watercooler chat often do more than we realize to solidify the team and help staff feel engaged. With remote work, no one greets you or wishes you a good evening when you open and close your laptop for the day. “Watercooler” chats take place with your spouse, your children, or with no one at all.
It’s easy to feel – and often to really be – out of the loop and isolated from the team. Consider ways you can keep your remote workers informed about the department’s projects and plans, even those that may not directly impact them.
Also consider what lines of communication you want to use. Video calls can be helpful at times like these, and some have suggested opening channels of communication (such as a separate Slack or Teams channel) solely to facilitate the more casual, personal conversations that would usually occur around the watercooler. Much as treasury performs best when not siloed away from other departments, treasury staff perform best when they are actively engaged with their teammates. Keep communicating.
What are you learning from the COVID-19 crisis? Drop us a note.
N.B. If you’re interested in helping the industry or gaining insights into the weekly developments of your peers’ views, click here to access the Treasury Coalition website. The Treasury Coalition was formed in response to the rapid changes and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to monitor the industry’s response on a weekly basis through the Global Crisis Monitor survey. From the website, you can participate in the survey, register for results, or both.