The COVID-19 coronavirus has led more employees working from home than ever before.
But successfully working remotely requires as much a shift of mindset for managers as it does for employees.
The inability to see staff working throughout the day can be frustrating.
However, multiple research studies have reported that most businesses see productivity increased as a result of greater flexibility in working arrangements.
There are several things managers can do to better handle their remote teams.
Working from home tips for managers
1. Tech enablement
There are many reasons employees may be unproductive at home, but technology shouldn’t be one of them. Don’t leave your staff under-equipped to work.
Before beginning a sustained period of working from home, ensure all staff members have required network access, systems, equipment (such as extra monitors) and sufficient data allowances.
Run a trial working from home day for all employees to test how this works under real conditions. Any issues can then be ironed out before they become critical roadblocks.
Have back up tools in place to ensure business and process continuity if something goes down.
For example, if Teams is unavailable, how will you communicate with staff?
Also consider the security requirements your employees will need to follow. Get more advice from the NCSA COVID-19 Security Resource Library
2. Daily check-in
Set a time every day (around 9 am is generally good) for all your team to dial into a virtual check-in.
This helps you assess progress towards agreed tasks and identify any issues arising.
Equally as important, these check-ins also foster a sense of community, reduce any feelings of isolation and reassure employees of their connection with the wider team.
3. Regular employer communications
Maintaining open lines of communication is essential during a remote working situation.
The absence of regular employer communications can foster rumors and cause anxiety.
Employees need to be kept informed of what’s happening in the business, the latest status of COVID-19 and updates from other teams.
Remember that employees working remotely aren't exposed to all the usual 'office billboards' - digital signage screens, wall posters etc. The absence of these channels creates a communication black hole that other channels must fill for employees to stay informed.
Computer screensavers or wallpapers are an excellent way to promote key health reminders, policy updates or any other message in a way that is visually-appealing, unobtrusive and seen often throughout the day.
4. Communication styles
Be cognizant of different styles and preferences when it comes to communicating through digital channels.
The tone and nuances of in-person communication are largely absent online, so be mindful of how what you’re saying is received by staff.
If the message is important and factual, ensure the wording is clear and not open to misinterpretation.
If its purpose is to keep staff informed of non-essential updates, keep the tone light.
Managers concerned about how staff are responding to company comms during COVID-19 should consider circulating a weekly sentiment survey to gauge the mood of the remote workforce.
5. Business as usual
When your team are working remotely instead of in the office it's easy to fall into the trap of forgetting noteworthy events.
Things like employee birthdays, anniversaries of joining the company and important team milestones are important to communicate and celebrate.
Continuing to do this is even more important with a virtual team, when our friends and colleagues aren't around to recognize the events.
Send a message to everyone in the team announcing each event.
Maybe even organize a virtual birthday cake meeting, where everyone needs to prepare and show off their own cake creation.
Maintaining a sense of business as usual, however unusual the circumstances may feel, is an important piece of reassurance for staff.
What if working from home isn’t possible?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29% of Americans can work from home. This drops to just one in 20 service workers.
If working from home isn’t remotely possible, and leave entitlements aren’t an option, creating a safe and healthy workplace must be the priority.
This includes promoting good personal health practices, like proper hand hygiene, regularly using hand sanitizers, practicing social distancing and comprehensive cleaning processes.
Workplaces are a significant area of risk, but there are many things that can be done to create a healthy workplace.
The trend towards working from home is clear. How effective it is during these times of global pandemic will shape the future of work for many of us.
To successfully manage a team of remote workers, use a dedicated internal communications platform to ensure your messages get employee attention, whatever else they may be working on.