Many organizations are evaluating approaches for return-to-work efforts, and all the safety considerations that must go with it. As many of these approaches utilize a gradual, phased approach, returning the entire team to “business as usual” probably won’t be an option for some time to come. For some of your employees, especially those that will make up the final “wave” of those returning to work, remote is the new reality, at least for the time being.
For many, shifting to a remote workforce was a crucial part of maintaining operations in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the challenges this transition posed, now that your remote workforces are up and running, what next? Is your remote workforce indefinitely sustainable, or just treading water? Since there’s no telling how long remote work may be necessary, read on for some tips in managing a remote workforce.
An effective team is an empowered team. Remote work is no exception. Make all reasonable accommodations for remote workers by providing them with tools that will facilitate effective workflows and communications. Whether this consists of virtual platforms such as time and task management software, or physical attributes such as office furniture, monitors, or telephones, make every effort to ensure your team is equipped to deal with the challenges of working remotely.
Make sure every employee has a phone number where they can be easily reached for work. If an employee is using a personal cell phone or other personal devices for work purposes, make sure there are policies in place for appropriate use, security, and reimbursement, if applicable.
Check in with employees to ensure they have a suitable home office setup, or to address any needs they might have or equipment they are lacking. If finding a place where they can work undisturbed in the home is difficult, brainstorm creative solutions to ensure they have access to a workspace where they can be productive.
It’s no good to have employees working from home if they sustain injuries as a result of using poor equipment, such as unsuitable office chairs, computer monitors, or poor lighting. Consider allowing employees to take certain items from the office home, and provide check-out procedures to ensure these items are properly documented, tracked, disinfected, and returned when remote work is no longer necessary.
A great deal of human communication is comprised of nonverbal cues, so in-person, face to face communication is arguably the method that results in the fewest miscommunications. With remote employees relying heavily on mediums such as email, text, chat, or phone calls, many nuances can be lost. Encourage your remote team to use video conferencing technology whenever possible, and remind employees to be both conscious of their tone when writing and to not assume negative intent in written messages from others.
Whether introverts or extroverts, humans are deeply social creatures. An unexpected and prolonged loss of normal social outlets can affect work performance and productivity. Encourage social interaction whenever possible to help lessen these effects:
- Make time for small talk. Small talk is an important aspect of office culture, and is even more important in a remote reality. Make efforts to help your employees connect on a personal level. This builds rapport and interpersonal bonds that can be critical during stressful projects and times of uncertainty.
- Make time for one-on-one communication. Encourage your organizational leaders to make extra effort to connect one-on-one to the employees in their departments on a regular basis. This will ensure that employee needs are being met and allow employees to air concerns, questions, and other crucial information freely.
- Show appreciation. Taking the time to thank and show appreciation to employees can go a long way to reduce some of the negative effects of isolation. These messages should be sincere and well-worded, especially if they are written.
As boundaries between the workplace and the home begin to blur, encouraging firm delineations between home and work life is critical to prevent employee burnout. Remind employees that they should take regular, structured breaks such as they would if they were in the office. This means time away from the desk – eating an energy bar while answering emails does not count as a lunch break, nor should it.
While employees should be responsive while working from home, it is unrealistic to expect them to be immediately available 100% of the time, even during regular working hours. Set clear and reasonable expectations about responsiveness and productivity while working remotely.
See the previous article for tips how employees can take care of their mental health. Ideas could include taking walks or spending breaks outside.
Consider creating social opportunities over new virtual work platforms, such as virtual “coffee” breaks, birthday celebrations, or other festive occasions. This creates opportunities for employees to relax and enjoy each other’s company outside the context of work assignments while still practicing social distancing.
Until society is ready to return to “business as usual”, remote work will be an important aspect of operations. In fact, it is likely that remote work will continue to be a primary method of engagement from now on, at least for some, which means knowing how to effectively manage a remote workforce has become a crucial skill for employers. Please contact your broker or risk manager if you have any questions.