Stay-at-home mandates and social distancing restrictions in response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic have globally forced people to adjust to new ways of life. For many employees, the new normal has involved the transition to working remotely.
“The transition to full or partial remote working is more difficult for those of us who started out as face-to-face organizations and it can feel uncomfortable,” Alison Mudditt, chief executive officer of PLOS, wrote in a blog post.“Technology tools are important, but they are not a silver bullet and they alone won’t make remote working a success.”
When Muddit joined PLOS in 2017, she explained that she played a large role in transitioning the organization’s strict no-remote-staff policy to a policy that allowed remote teams and workers. Research suggests that remote working can increase productivity, creativity, and morale, and Muddit agrees, writing that it has been a positive change for her organization. However, she adds that consistent implementations, organization, and guidelines should be in place to yield success. For offices and teams unprecedently launched into remote working, Muddit offers suggestions that the Ochsner Journal staff has implemented since transitioning to a work-at-home model.
1. Think about how you’re going to get the work done without face-to-face collaboration and choose tools carefully. Our team has been using the institution-approved Zoom application an average of 2-3 times each week for face-to-face meetings during which we share ideas, discuss the workflow, set priorities, and address problems or concerns.
2. Decide how you’re going to equip and support remote employees. Leadership at our institution assisted our team with downloading software that enables remote access to the desktops in our office, giving us access to files on a shared network drive. Because we can all access the files on the network, we do not have to email documents back and forth and we have no issues with version control.
3. Communicate to keep your team on a cohesive page regarding productivity and goals. At the beginning of each week, the Ochsner Journal managing editor prepares an agenda of tasks related to manuscripts and new submissions. As manuscripts enter different stages of peer review and copy editing, the agenda—which is available on the shared drive—is updated throughout the week. In weekly meetings, we discuss what has been accomplished and what tasks should be prioritized to ensure that the team is on the same page about the status of manuscripts and their individual responsibilities.
4. Rethink your communication and people policies. In Muddit’s blog post, she also stressed the importance of building a sense of community among remote teams. “It’s critical to ensure that remote employees don’t feel like second-class citizens. Communication is the glue that makes remote working productive, emotionally satisfying and cohesive,” she explained. Research has also shown that teams with strong group identities (for example, those that share personal information) build stronger connections and trust. We greet each other with good-morning emails that include details about our evenings or weekends, mention new shows or books we’re interested in, or share comical stories and experiences. We often take the first 15 minutes of Zoom meetings for this face-to-face sharing and storytelling. In addition to these efforts, our team manager relays information and updates she receives regarding Ochsner Health as a whole; these updates help the team remain connected to the organization’s bigger purpose and larger goals.
The Ochsner Journal staff has been working remotely since March 13. Despite the sudden transition to remote work and some equipment obstacles, we have increased productivity and focus by staying organized, optimistic, and consistent. During lockdown, we published a themed issue on changes to the federal policy for the protection of human subjects in research, and our summer issue is on track to publish on schedule.