Think back to the good ole’ days…all the way back to February! Schools, restaurants, bars, and offices were all open for business as usual. We were hearing bits and pieces of this new virus that was spreading throughout Asia and Europe, but it did not seem as though there was much to worry about here in the United States. Within a few weeks, college and professional sports were “pausing” their seasons, schools and universities were closing to in-person classes, and restaurants needed to shutter to determine how and if they would be able to adapt. Businesses were scrambling to figure out how to suddenly facilitate their staff working remotely. The overwhelming opinion at the time was that while it would be painful for many, it was short term and we would be back to normal by summer.
Fast forward to today and there is no return to normal on the horizon. Masks and social distancing are now a part of our everyday lives. Sports are being played without fans and in many areas across the country children are starting a new school year the same way that they ended the last. Most businesses are now faced with the reality that safely opening offices may not be possible for the foreseeable future, and as a result, need to plan long-term to manage their remote employees effectively.
Common Challenges of Remote Work
Managers and supervisors need to understand what can make remote work challenging for staff to identify solutions:
Lack of face-to-face supervision/interaction: Managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently. Employees, on the other hand, may struggle with reduced access to support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are not aware of their needs, so they feel as they are not being supported daily.
Lack of access to information and resources: Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate necessary information and resources. Even getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle to a worker based at home. Without a simple way to access necessary files and data, employees can often experience frustration that can spread throughout your staff.
Social Isolation: Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. According to the Journal of Management and Marketing Research, extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment. This can be difficult to manage on a large scale.
Distractions at home: Life happens. Kids, pets, spouses are all suddenly at home every day. Often, when an employee is transitioning to remote work, they can plan ahead, but in the time of Covid-19, that wasn’t possible. A case of a sudden transition to remote working is going to mean there is a much greater chance that employees will be contending with suboptimal workspaces and unexpected parenting responsibilities. Managers had to quickly come to expect these distractions to be greater during this unplanned work-from-home transition.
Help Them Transition
As much as remote work can be fraught with challenges, there are also relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the transition. Actions that you can take today include:
Establish structured check-ins: Many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you and that their concerns and questions will be heard.
Provide communication technology options: Email alone is insufficient. Remote workers and managers often benefit from having video conferencing, which gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face. Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication. Tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Slack are very useful to offer the ability to enable quick collaboration and messaging.
Establish communication rules: Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. For example, “We use video conferencing for daily check-in meetings, but we use IM when something is urgent.” Also, if you can, let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday. Encourage them to maintain frequent contact with their colleagues, even if it is has nothing to do with work.
Provide remote social interaction events: One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.
At Wellforce we tend to keep things more free-flowing, which allows people to interact in a more natural and conversational way. Encourage employees to catch up on non-work events in their lives. Other options include virtual happy hours with games and cocktails, fun contests among colleagues where they post results, etc. While these certainly do not replace what workers were familiar with, it helps reduce feelings of isolation and builds a sense of team.
Offer encouragement and emotional support: Many employees and workers, particularly those remote working for the first time, managers need to identify and acknowledge stress and employee’s anxiety. While it is very helpful to approach this from a team perspective, there is something to be said for managers who truly care and empathize with their employees and their struggles. Wellforce offers a tool, WellforceIQ, a solution that helps organizations effectively manage their remote teams to build a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.
None of this is to say that it is easy, as there is no quick all-encompassing solution to where we find ourselves today. Provide the necessary tools, engagement, collaboration, and communicate frequently and effectively, while offering understanding and empathy are the keys to enabling businesses to survive and thrive in the “new normal.” Wellforce has the tools, expertise, and experience to help you.