Managing remotelyUnusual times call for creative solutions. For maintenance and reliability professionals used to working on or nearby busy, thriving plant floors, the current COVID-19 pandemic is requiring new ways of thinking to keep plant operations up and running — or, in some cases where there is a shutdown, simply keeping assets maintained for a future ramp-back-up.
One humongous change, of course, is the need for flexibility in where you and your fellow team members can work. Some team members continue to remain on-site, but practice social distancing, while others must work remotely — from their homes, outside offices, or other off-site locations. In a recent Plant Engineering survey conducted in March, 56% of the survey respondents (manufacturing company executives and others) said they were encouraging workers to work from home.
A growing number of people who work remotely means there are more managers supervising employees remotely, including those who lead maintenance and reliability teams. At first, this task can seem fairly daunting – after all, it can be difficult enough to inspire and motivate a team that’s all in one physical location, let alone one that’s diverse geographically.
That’s why we’ve developed this blog post. It offers tips and suggestions for maintenance leaders and others to get the most from your physically separated teams — and how to help your team members to get used to this new way of working for many. Here you go:
- Keep employees informed: an updated team is a motivated team.
When people aren’t sure about what’s expected from them as individuals or as part of a team, their uncertainty can quickly result in reduced production and low morale. To avoid this, keep your team motivated with ongoing and frequent communications. Explain events that may or may not be in your (or their) control and reassure them their contributions are valued and your team will get through this. You want your people to know when to expect an update, even if there sometimes is little to update them on. And note that this doesn’t mean calling every day to “check in” (a.k.a. micromanaging)—a team conference call or formal email update at least once a week should be enough.
- Plan periodic “temperature checks” to see how each team member is doing.
Many team members take a while to adjust to different working environments and different operational modes. Emotions can run high and there are distractions everywhere. Consider a survey, or ask your HR department to conduct one, to gauge the mood of your remote workforce. And if you don’t typically use surveys, work to gain an increased sensitivity to the signals your employees are sending so you can modify the environment to be more responsive to their needs.
- Meet as a team regularly to review asset data, dashboards, customer feedback, and other business metrics.
Even if these meetings are simply business-as-usual, they may be comforting for those who count on teamwork and normalcy. Videoconferencing is a strong alternative to being able to meet in person, as a video meeting goes a long way toward helping employees stay in touch with each other. Video meetings do not require that everyone use the camera on their PC, but that is an option and one preferred by many teams to provide a bit of social interaction. One solution may be to require that cameras be used for certain meetings, but perhaps not every meeting. For any cameras-required video meeting, employees should dress as if they were at the office (managers too). And they should make sure to check the background of their webcam shot and remove anything inappropriate or distracting (managers too). Finally, consider holding regular all-employee video conferences to enable employees to hear from their executives directly. Employees should be able to submit questions to the execs.
- Build in other sharing time for less formal communication.
This is team time to share best practices and productivity tips, present awards, and recognize team members for their accomplishments, years of service, birthdays, and more. Encourage employees to share experiences and tips for working remotely — what they find challenging, how they stay focused, what they do for fun, and so on. (For example, Fluke is holding periodic Virtual Coffee Chats with tips from featured employees.)
- Help employees adapt to today’s need for being flexible, nimble, and open to change.
From an article in The New York Times, these are some tips for you and your employees to be productive and effective when working remotely:
- Keep some of the same touchpoints and contacts, if you can: Recommend that employees try to stick some of the same routines as when they went into an office. “If you checked in with the same person every morning, check in with that person” remotely, suggests the Times.
- Set boundaries: As much as it’s possible, create a dedicated spot for your office that is as free from distractions as it can be. As a manager, be aware of the challenges some employees may have working from home or other remote locations and be tolerant of interruptions. You may need to adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, wherever you are working from, try to have the things you rely on daily at your fingertips.
- Schedule breaks: Suggest employees put exercise, walk breaks, coffee, and lunch breaks on their calendar as if they were meetings—meetings that they can’t cancel or change unless it’s absolutely necessary. If they are part of a skeleton crew working on-site, likewise encourage taking breaks from their environment that only emergencies can interrupt. They deserve it. And urge them to stay safe!
Visit our FLEX Work landing page for more on how Fluke Reliability can help maintenance professionals get the job done remotely