Workplace revolutions don’t come much more super-charged than what we witnessed during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. One minute employees would hesitate before daring to ask their managers if they could work from home one day a week. The next moment organisations were rushing to set up technology and systems so entire workforces could avoid coming to the office in a world of social distancing and lockdowns.
More than a year later remote working is now the norm rather than the exception, with analytics company Gallup finding more than half of U.S. employees continue to work remotely and the New York Times reporting that major corporations such as Ford, Target and Spotify are giving up significant office space because of changing workplace practices.
While a McKinsey consumer survey conducted a few months into the COVID-19 crisis revealed 41% of employees believe they are more productive working remotely than in an office, the practice undoubtedly presents unique challenges. Fortunately there are a variety of simple steps for how to support remote employees in the new world.
Here are our top 10:
Provide the right tools
Do not underestimate the impact a lack of proper tools can have on an employee’s enthusiasm, let alone their ability to do their job. Take the time to establish the technology and equipment they need to function effectively, with quality WiFi, communication platforms (eg: Skype, Zoom) and collaborative tools (eg: Monday, Slack) at the top of the list. Establishing a presence in the cloud is also vital as it allows teams to easily access and collaborate on documents. Managers should also not assume staff know their way around such programs. Providing support has never been more important, especially given they cannot simply turn to the person next to them for a quick bit of advice.
Monitor employee wellbeing
Staying abreast of employees’ emotional wellbeing is difficult enough when everyone is in the same office, let alone when they are scattered across cities, states or even countries. Throw in potential concerns arising from a pandemic environment and it is obvious why managers need to take every chance to assure their remote employees they have their support. Direct conversations about any challenges they are facing are important, but no less so than keeping an eye and ear to the ground to monitor any concerns they may not feel comfortable raising themselves.
Communicate with your remote team
Communication – or a lack of it – is one of the biggest bugbears for employees in a traditional workplace environment, let alone in a remote working context. Leaders who clearly communicate their team’s tasks and desired outcomes are worth their weight in gold, with individuals welcoming the responsibility that comes with clear expectations. While managers may have previously been able to update and engage with staff more sporadically, routine check-ins are essential and video conferencing allows the face-to-face interaction often now missing.
Establish structure and routines
Further to the previous point, remote employees should have a clear understanding of how they will interact with colleagues and be managed in their new environment. While working from home may initially seem like a blessing, it can fast become a nightmare without proper boundaries. Work with staff to establish expectations on how often they meet online as a group, communicate with each other and report to their managers. For example, something as simple as setting rules about the use of video on conference calls can not only eliminate grey areas but spare difficult conversations in the future.
Encourage a clearly defined workspace
While many managers may feel reluctant to overstep boundaries, they have every right to urge their staff to work from a dedicated and organised space. In the same way that stepping into a workplace once marked the start of a working day, remote employees need to create an environment that allows them to feel that it is time to switch on. Managers should also support their staff to limit noise and distractions, with the relatively inexpensive ‘gift’ of noise-cancelling headphones capable of delivering an excellent return on investment.
Show trust in your staff
In the years leading up to the pandemic, countless managers refused to entertain remote working due to concerns about staff slacking off if they were left to their own devices. And what have they learned since being forced to embrace the concept? The sky did not fall in. Remote staff will do the right thing if provided with the right technology and support structures, not to mention the trust of their companies. While there may be a temptation for those managing a remote team to overcompensate for a lack of visibility by micromanaging, that will only heighten the risk of staff disengaging.
Be social and celebrate the milestones
While gathering in the tea room to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Phyllis from Accounts may have not been for everyone, many newly remote workers have found they miss such simple and well-meaning social interactions. That’s why savvy managers are using technology to bring together staff across different geographies for morning teas, mock award ceremonies and even end-of-week drinks. With the quick Bachelor recap at the water cooler increasingly a thing of the past, it’s more important than ever to provide chances for staff to engage about non-work-related topics and, in turn, build a positive culture.
Be a flexible manager
The best managers have always known that one size does not fit all. Individual employees have individual needs, pressures and motivations and that has been reinforced in the remote working landscape. Not everyone has a home office. Not everyone has angelic children. Not everyone can drop everything to be on a Zoom call in 15 minutes. Where business leaders could previously monopolise their employees’ time from 9am-5pm (or similar), managing remote employees requires flexibility and appreciating that everyone has unique circumstances has never been more important.
Celebrate your team wins
Research and advisory company Gartner says employees’ desire to be recognised for their efforts increases by about 30% during periods of disruptions. Well, there have been few greater periods of disruption than the pandemic-inspired rush to remote working, hence why managers should be seeking ways to celebrate quality work and achievements. While public acknowledgement was traditionally delivered in the office setting, online gatherings are a great chance to call out star performers and motivate colleagues to strive for similar kudos.
The most simple message of all. At a time of uncertainty for all and anxiety for some, never forget the impact a kind word or gesture can have, particularly for remote workers who can go hours without directly engaging with anyone.
The trend towards remote working models is also opening many organisations’ eyes to the potential to access a wider, global talent pool - especially for roles which have local skills shortages due to a halt in skilled migration for the foreseeable future.
One solution? Outsourcing roles or whole teams to an offshore location, such as the Philippines. Once considered the domain of call centres, outsourcing opportunities now exist across countless industries and professions including accounting, finance, technology and real estate. Outsourcing to countries such as the Philippines can:
- Deliver cost-savings due to employment expenses being up to 70% less
- Increase efficiencies by putting the right people in the right roles
- Allow for 24/7 service and support due to global time differences
- Open up a global talent pool of highly qualified and skilled workers.