Working Together While Working Apart: Managing a Remote Workforce
Many business enterprises are evaluating approaches for return-to-work efforts and their related safety considerations. 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 awhile. Remote work will continue to be the new reality for your employees who make up the final “wave” of those returning to work.
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 workforce is up and running, what’s next? Is your remote workforce indefinitely sustainable, or just treading water? Since there’s no telling how long telework may be necessary, read on for tips in managing a remote workforce.
Tips for 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 it’s virtual platforms such as time and task management software, or physical attributes such as office chairs, monitors or telephones, ensure your team is equipped to deal with remote work challenges.
Make sure every employee has a phone number where they can be easily reached for work. If employees use personal cell phones or other personal devices for work, have clear policies for appropriate use, security and reimbursement, if applicable.
Check in with employees to ensure they have a suitable home office setup. Address any needs they might have or equipment they are lacking. If finding a place to work undisturbed in the home is difficult, brainstorm creative solutions to ensure they have an effective workspace.
It’s no good to have employees working from home if they sustain injuries as a result of using poor equipment, from unsuitable office chairs to poor lighting. Consider allowing employees to take certain items from the office home. 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 channels such as email, text, chat, or phone calls, many nuances in communication can be lost. Encourage your remote team to use video conferencing technology whenever possible. Remind staff to be 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. Try managing your remote workforce by encouraging 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 leaders to make extra efforts to connect one-on-one to their employees on a regular basis. This will ensure that employee needs are being met and allow them 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 workplace and home begin to blur, encouraging firm delineations between home and work life helps prevent burnout. Remind employees to take regular, structured breaks 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.
While teleworking employees should be responsive, don’t expect them to be immediately available 100 percent of the time, even during regular working hours. Set clear and reasonable expectations about responsiveness and productivity while working remotely.
Encourage employees to take care of their mental health. Ideas could include taking walks or spending breaks outside to promote daily exercise and mood boost.
Create opportunities for employee social time over communications 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.
Until society returns to “business as usual”, remote work will be an important aspect of operations for enterprises. In fact, it’s likely that remote work will continue to be a primary method of engagement, at least for some. As a result, knowing how to effectively manage a remote workforce is a crucial skill for employers.
Inspiration for this article was taken from the following sources. Read on for further tips and insight for how to manage a team remotely: