This is a guest article from Greg Jacobson, CEO of KaiNexus. Listen to his podcasthere.
Many leaders have found themselves faced with managing a 100 percent remote team for the first time. The challenge is amplified because remote work is new to most employees, and even getting together for an in-person meeting once in a while is tough.
Unfortunately, business challenges and process defects don’t disappear because there’s a pandemic. In many cases, they just get worse. That’s why we’ve been getting questions about how to operate tried and true improvement tools in this new reality.
Here are some tips on how you can create a thriving improvement culture while your team is remote.
Implement a communications plan
Remote work often causes feelings of isolation, especially for people who aren’t used to it. Team members must have a regular cadence of communication to know when and how often they can expect to hear from the organization’s leaders and their direct supervisors. Consistency is key. When there is a communication void, people become uncertain about their performance and the company’s state. Email communication is great, but those who directly manage others should pick up the phone—a lot.
Set clear expectations and align goals
Keeping everyone heading in the same direction is tough during any crisis, much less one that has fundamentally impacted the way people work. That’s why every employee must understand their role in responding to the organization’s changing needs and customers. There must be a clear path from the organization’s short-term and long-term goals to each person’s daily responsibilities.
Remote work requires a significant degree of trust. Not being able to see team members working in person can be uncomfortable for managers and employees. They want everyone to know that they are productive. That’s why a clear set of performance metrics should be in place to help both supervisors and team members know that work is getting done.
Walk the Gemba
In the practice of continuous improvement, Gemba refers to the place where work gets done. It could be a factory floor, a sales bullpen, a hospital admissions desk, a call center, or any area where people add value to products or services. If your employees work from home and practice physical distancing, you can’t possibly go to the place where work is done. But Gemba walks are such a valuable improvement tool, and if ever there was a time for identifying ways to make processes run better, this is it.
Although the situation isn’t necessarily ideal, there are ways to adapt to the Gemba walking technique and still enjoy the many benefits. If you can’t be there, video is an excellent second choice. You probably won’t observe your employees performing their tasks the way you would in an office, but you can discuss what’s adding value and creating friction.
Ask for ideas
There is no doubt that the switch to remote work opens up opportunities for improvement. Be sure that employees know that they are welcome and ask them for suggestions on what can be improved. You may obtain unconventional ideas on communication, technology, customer success, and HR support during the transition.
If you’d like some more ideas on how to keep your improvement culture alive, execute standard improvement techniques, and ensure broad employee engagement while remote, download KaiNexus’ free eBook:
Greg Jacobson is a co-founder and chief executive officer of KaiNexus. He is also an emergency medicine physician and has been practicing for over 20 years. Starting in 2004, it was his observation and research of operational inefficiencies and unrealized continuous improvement opportunities that resulted in the founding of KaiNexus. Jacobson is a co-author of Kaizen: A Method of Process Improvement in the Emergency Department, published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine.