Remote working has never been more essential to ensure business continuity, but there are steps to take to ensure that it works positively and proactively for everyone.
It‘s important to remember that what many of us are engaging in at the moment is not normal remote working. Previously, we might have worked from home a day or two a week to avoid the commute, help with our work-life balance and facilitate productivity.
Now we are juggling child-minding duties and home-schooling, and battling for the optimum space to facilitate working. In addition, our full teams are all now working remotely, a fact which brings its own challenges.
Most of us, to some degree, have separate personal and professional lives. At work, an employee has their job title, their defined list of responsibilities, a key set of skills and a key role in the business. At home, we all wear many hats – partner, parent, caregiver, cook, housekeeper, storyteller – the list goes on.
What we are seeing through this new normal is not so much the merging of these two, but the window opening to get a peek at the other.
We are seeing into our colleagues’ homes when we videoconference, and we are hearing their children in the background when we’re on calls, reminding us that at the end of the day we are all human. It’s a good reminder for managers that their staff, just like them, have a lot going on at the moment, and so empathy, kindness and compassion can go a long way.
That said, whether remote working is a new concept or not for your business, it’s important to set guidelines for employees and managers. A remote-working policy does this proactively and ensures clarity for all, thus avoiding issues down the tracks.
As a manager of remote workers it can be tempting to micromanage, and this is something of which you need to be very conscious. After you have set clear expectations, you must have faith and trust in the employee that they will get the job done.
Being trusted to get things done is a big motivator for employees. It encourages them to work on their own initiative proactively, and it means they don‘t feel the need to overwork, which can add to their stress levels at an already difficult time.
There may have been an abrupt shift to remote work for many, so it is important for managers to acknowledge that this transition may have been difficult for some of their employees.
Take time out to have a check-in virtual visual meeting this week to assess how remote working is working in your organisation. Find out what’s going well and what needs to be tweaked. Listen to your employees’ anxieties and concerns, and offer them encouragement and support.
If you are not getting the desired results from your team, you need to figure out why that is. We need to avoid striving for perfection at this time, but we also still need to get things as right as we can.
Examining the issues that are impacting on productivity and motivation is important, as is trying to find a way to overcome them. But it’s also important to remember that some things will be beyond your control, so try to avoid getting caught up with the frustration of that. Accept what you cannot control and change what you can.
One of the key challenges that employees have recently experienced with working from home is the adjustment to working alone, rather than within a group or office environment. We are all learning more and more how we might not have fully appreciated the social aspect of work until now.
It’s really important that employees working remotely are constantly communicating, ideally visually using videoconferencing tools with the rest of the team and with their manager. Many of them are missing the social interaction that work brings and we need to work at keeping staff connected to our organisation.
When your workforce is dispersed, it’s especially important to keep your employees engaged. Take advantage of the multitude of online connection platforms available to engage in virtual team bonding. This can be anything from virtual team lunches or coffee breaks to online yoga or workout sessions.
Allocate even a few minutes of your weekly or daily team meeting to discuss something non work-related, such as a book suggestion, to recreate an element of normal workplace chat. Don’t forget to keep marking milestones such as birthdays or work anniversaries, either via a virtual team celebration or a card in the post.
We all agree that some sunshine and fresh air can have a huge impact on our mood and motivation levels, so try to incorporate some outdoor time into the work day. Can employees take part in your team calls or videoconference calls from their back garden? If so, encourage that. Can any calls be done as a “walk and talk” if they don’t require screens?
The key thing for all employers and managers to remember is that we are all feeling some degree of stress throughout this challenging time. Encourage your team to talk when they are stressed, and also encourage them to provide a listening ear to colleagues. If your employees are highlighting concerns to you as a manager, make sure they are listened to.
If your company has an employee assistance programme in place, ensure that all employees are reminded of that. Send lots of information on the programme, including details on how to access it.
It‘s very likely that the new world of work for all organisations going forward will include some element of remote working. Taking time now to iron out any issues is time well spent.
Caroline McEnery is a human resources consultant and managing director of The HR Suite