In light of the recent havoc brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak, many companies and organizations had to adapt to working remotely. Many of the global workforce already has the experience of working remotely, or at least, partially for the day.
However, the sudden shift to completely working remotely has left many employees and their managers in a challenging situation. They are required to work away from their offices, separated from their coworkers for an extended duration, for the first time. As a result, managing virtual employees becomes a unique responsibility for managers.
Having said that, it is critical to establish, in advance, clear remote-work policies and training, to be prepared, during times of crisis or other rapidly changing circumstances. Thankfully, there are specific, research-driven steps that managers can follow without putting much effort into improving the engagement and productivity of remote employees, especially when there’s very little time to prepare.
Common Challenges of Working Remotely
Managing virtual employees can be quite challenging, especially when companies want to continue their business operations as usual. They need an environment where employees can feel connected to the company and work towards the same goals. It becomes more critical for managers to understand the factors that can make remote work demanding. If not planned correctly, it can impact employees’ job performances considerably when they start working remotely. Challenges that come with remote work are:
Challenge #1: Lack of Face-To-Face Interaction
It has been mentioned that both managers and their employees often complain about having the lack of professional face-to-face interactions. Supervision is one of the issues that managers encounter as they are worried employees will not work as hard, or as efficiently, when working remotely. Contrarily, many employees struggle with reduced remote access management support and contact while working remotely. It’s a challenge for managers to keep track of employees’ productivity, and at the same time, employees feel their remote managers are out of touch with their needs and not helpful in getting their work done.
Challenge #2: Lack of Timely Information
Imagine everything is running smoothly where management has a handle on managing virtual employees when suddenly, a new team member is hired that may lead to a disastrous situation.
Remote workers have reported a lack of information and the timeliness of the information they receive from management as the biggest obstacles they encounter while working remotely. Remote workers, where some may be new to working from home, often feel overwhelmed with the extra time and efforts required to collaborate and communicate with their coworkers. To ensure this doesn’t happen, a robust, reliable, remote access management process needs to be established. A conducive communication channel needs to be in place to ensure employees are aware of any changes that may impact them.
Challenge #3: Difficulty in Tracking Productivity
When employees can’t be physically seen on a regular basis, it becomes harder to track the amount of work they invest in completing their tasks. Sure, there may be some remote workers who may take advantage of the fact that there is no one looking over their shoulder, allowing them the freedom to do whatever they want.
Another difficult challenge, regarding remote working, is managing workers across several different time zones. When there is a huge time zone difference, this can be especially difficult. Additionally, it can be more challenging to determine if employees are working during their regular hours. If virtual employees fail to respond to any crucial emails that can quickly lead to unnecessary downtime and lost productivity, it can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Challenge #4: Social Isolation
Working in an office environment with colleagues may create comraderies where some inside jokes may be shared, spontaneous after work drinks may have occurred, or some unplanned events to attend to. Working remotely may make employees feel lonely or isolated from their office groupies since they are out of their informal social interaction of an office setting. Isolation may be more impactful to extroverts, especially if they are not able to interact with others from their remote work environment. If it goes beyond an extended duration, employees might feel less connected to their organization, which may lead to them leaving the company.
Challenge #5: Household Distractions
In the case of a sudden transition to virtual work, there may be higher chances employees will be facing ample distractions relating to many unexpected household responsibilities. During the unplanned work from home transition, managers should expect these types of distractions to occur regularly.
Without having a balanced working environment at home, some employees may have developed unhealthy habits. They might be spending more time on social media instead of working, or can even experience burn out, loneliness that may lead to a depression.
How to Support Remote Employees Effectively
Although remote work can present some tough challenges, there are also some relatively quick and inexpensive strategies that managers can implement to allow for an easy and smooth transition.
Manage your remote workforce with the tips shared below:
1) Establish A Systematic Daily Check-ins
Most successful remote work managers establish a daily routine to call their remote employees individually, or in a team setting for calls pertaining to work collaboration. There are many online communication apps such as Zoom, and Slack that are used for group calls. It ensures the regularity of the calls so employees are aware of the tasks at hand, and management will be available to address the employees’ concerns with issues that may be related to their work.
2) Provide Several Different Communication Channels
Emails, messaging, or phone calls may be insufficient when working remotely. By providing remote workers with a richer technology communication experience with video conferencing, it allows participants a platform to express their opinions and communicate more personably with their teams and clients.
Video conferencing offers various advantages, with some of them listed below:
• It allows for more personable collaboration with coworkers, while helping to lower the feeling of isolation among teams.
• It’s also a more appropriate platform to have complicated or sensitive discussions than written or audio only communication.
• For quick or simpler collaboration, use mobile enabled individual messaging apps like Slack, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams.
Companies will need to have these type of communication tools in place, with data being secured while using these tools.
Set Up Rules of Engagement
To achieve an efficient and rewarding remote work, managers need to set clear expectations that communication shouldn’t be interrupted by selecting the appropriate frequency, mode, and schedules with their teams. For instance, videoconferencing can be used for daily meetings, while IM (instant messaging) can be used for urgent tasks or responses. Additionally, inform employees of the management’s availability and the method of communication, during the workday, if they need to be engaged. Finally, monitor the communication among team members to ensure they share information as required and not listen to rumors.
Establish Some Basic Social Interaction
It is essential that remote employees’ work is balanced and not burdened with constant tasks. Ensure employees have nonwork related discussions, as well, while working remotely. That way, it helps remote workers adjust to this new style of work, particularly those employees who have been suddenly transitioned out of the office.
At the beginning of team calls, initiate social interaction by discussing nonwork related topics such as catching up with each other, asking team members about their weekend, etc. Other alternatives include having virtual pizza parties or virtual office parties. While these events may seem artificial or unnecessary, it has been proven in the past that virtual gatherings of team members and managers help reduce the feelings of isolation and promote a sense of belonging.
Provide Encouragement & Emotional Support
As employees are settled into this abrupt shift to remote work, managers need to provide support by acknowledging their stress, listening to their anxieties and concerns, and empathizing with their struggles to adapt to their new working environment. Communication plays a vital role: ask employees how they are doing and, to perhaps, offer some solutions to their issues. Even a simple question, “How is this remote work situation treating you so far?” can make all the differences.
Allow employees to voice their concerns and stress, and to remember they should be the focus of this conversation, not you. This way, they’ll feel cared for and receive the encouragement they need to continue working efficiently.
As demand for remote work increases with each day, developing the right procedures and following that rigorously is critical to the organization’s success. Whether employees are adjusting to a new work from home mentality, or striving to improve an existing working environment, flexible work arrangements and implementing the above suggestions can make it easier for employees to embrace this new way of working, which could lead to enhanced work productivity.
By providing the necessary support to offsite employees, it can strengthen the engagement, collaboration, and performance across the workforce. Managing virtual employees is not too difficult, if sincere efforts have been put forth, while applying the telecommuting practices, which will allow companies to be ready to face an uncertain future.