As we look ahead to a post-COVID world, it’s clear remote work is here to stay, in some form or another. Research has repeatedly indicated workers aren’t eager to return to the way things were. We’re all tired of lengthy commutes and a lack of flexibility. But while remote work might have become more popular, it isn’t without its challenges.
Shauna Moran is a remote-working consultant, coach, and founder of Operate Remote, a business helping empower remote organizations and leaders to create a work culture that thrives. I chatted with Shauna to learn what inspired the business, how to navigate workplace communication in a virtual world, and how to handle pesky #WFH burnout.
What inspired you to launch the Operate Remote?
The inspiration for Operate Remote came from my own challenges in a remote working space. A couple of years ago, I was working for Shopify, which was a really hybrid environment communication-wise. Teams would work from all over the world remotely! Back then, I didn’t really see any content or support around remote working, and no one was talking about this topic.
My time at Shopify was fun, but also challenging. I remember working remotely for the first time and being like, how great is it that I don’t have to commute! But a couple of weeks in, I asked myself, why aren’t I feeling good? No one educates you properly on the challenges that come with remote work. And within teams specifically, people don’t really talk about ways we need to change our processes, mindset and strategies to be successful at remote working.
So that led me back to school where I studied innovation management around remote teams, and I also have a degree in psychology, so I approach the strategies I provide to clients from a behavioural perspective.
The coaching aspect of my business came in when I was doing consulting, and found that the leaders and teams I worked with had blind spots they weren’t even aware of, like issues of trust, how to delegate tasks remotely, and also issues of self-awareness from an emotional intelligence perspective. So I went back and qualified as an executive coach so I could help fill these gaps.
How do you feel businesses are preparing for a post-COVID work landscape? What can they do to ease teams back into things?
We can’t predict the future, but research shows that people just don’t want to go back to what things were like pre-COVID. Of course, everyone is missing social interaction and are craving variety. But they don’t want to commute anymore, and they know their quality of life is better when they have more flexibility.
Even if teams do return to working in an office once this is over, remote work isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay in some capacity. With this in mind, even if your business is planning on returning to in-person work in some way, we still need to incorporate remote-work processes into the landscape, so those who ARE still remote don’t get left out.
Also, incorporating remote processes for the long term is great, but don’t forget to solve any current issues you might be having first, and do data pulls to see what your team needs from you to fix or prevent burnout!
Sometimes teams can be hesitant to communicate with leadership that they’re feeling burnt out. What are some signs leaders should watch for that their team or employees are experiencing burnout?
Create psychological safety! This is also where intuition comes in for leaders. You know your team, you’ve worked with them for a while. Does something not feel right? Have some employees missed meetings or had errors in their work? Have they underperformed in ways that aren’t the norm for them?
If so, make a safe space for a one-on-one conversation to ask how things are going. So many leaders I’ve worked with have told me that when they did this, their staff would tell them about issues that they couldn’t have even considered.
Some leaders will see underperformance in their team and go into micromanagement mode, but this isn’t the way to go! That’s why communication is so important. Hold space for your employees and have regular conversations that are open-ended, agendaless and focused on that person.
Most of our communication happens virtually these days, and understanding body language can be tricky. How can we approach communication effectively when it’s all virtual?
Be aware of the remote rabbit hole. Here’s an example I’ve heard from clients: Something would happen in a meeting and someone would internalize that, and it would become a problem that didn’t exist. Like a CEO raising their eyebrows in a meeting, and someone misinterpreting what that meant and thinking the CEO was upset with them!
Normally, in an IRL situation, you would maybe approach that person afterwards and after a bit of small talk, you’d realize it was nothing. But we don’t have that opportunity now, and so you don’t have a chance to reality-test. It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, especially as everyone’s emotions are heightened.
Sometimes it’s easier just to say, hey I want to check if everything is OK, am I interpreting your expression wrong? Is it just a Zoom thing? Add a bit of humour in there! Overall make time and space to listen and have these types of conversations.
What are some signs of remote work burnout that are less obvious?
Overworking is a common form of burnout that people tend to notice less, mostly because it serves the business and team so well. These days as a society, we are recognized for how much we work. It’s why I cringe when I hear the word “hustle”!
We can work smart and still be ambitious, but we can also just BE. I believe in “human being” versus human doing. It breaks my heart to see so many people overworked and unable to switch off.
Also, we’re in a pandemic, so work can be a great distraction from discomfort. And it’s very easy to just be like, I can just open my laptop for two hours and do some work, what’s the harm? It takes courage to resist that urge and make space for yourself.