How to Manage Workers Who Are Suddenly Forced to Be Remote for the First Time

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the world, countries are closing non-essential businesses to curb the spread of the deadly virus. The economic uncertainty around the outcome of the situation is taking its toll on global stock markets, and many brick and mortar businesses are starting to shutter.

The last time the world faced a pandemic was with the Spanish Flu in 1918. Fortunately, over a century later, humanity now has microbiology and technology on our side. By using our innovation and creativity, we can fight the disease and its effects on society and the economy.

Businesses are doing everything they can to continue operating through the coronavirus disruption and looking for emergency remote workforce solutions.

Not only are they looking for a solution to get things back on track right now, but at the same time want something that will continue to be a value-added investment for years to come to help them create a better employee experience and continue growing.

Tech solutions are changing the workplace. The introduction of CRMs, digital workflows, and communication tools means that your employees don’t need to be in the office to be productive. However, implementing a remote work environment for your employees may be challenging if none of them have any experience of working away from the office.

Let’s unpack the theory of remote work. We’ll give you an actionable plan you can use to set up policies and procedures that improve the productivity and engagement of employees. Speed is of the essence, so let’s get to work.

What are the Challenges Facing Remote Employees and Managers?

Moving employees to a remote work position come with a set of unique challenges for managers to overcome. Working off-site changes the environment, and managers might find that their top employees start to show lower levels of productivity and engagement.

Here are the factors managers must be aware of when implementing an employee remote work situation for the first time.

Lack of Supervision

A lack of face-to-face interactions in the workplace can leave employees feeling lost. Managers will have a concern that employees will drop engagement and productivity levels if they do not have on-site monitoring.

Similarly, some employees feel that managers aren’t around to provide support during the working day. Some remote employees might also think that management is out of reach in a remote position.

Getting Access to Information

One of the most significant issues with remote work is having employees adjust to new methods of communication away from the office. In the traditional working environment, if an employee needs an answer to a query, all they need to do is get up and walk to their manager’s desk.

Unfortunately, in a remote work situation, that’s impossible. Therefore, employees might struggle to get hold of management or coworkers that have the information they need to carry on with their work.

This situation extends further than work tasks, and employees might find it challenging the get the support they need to overcome interpersonal issues that might emerge as a result of a remote work position.

Studies show that a diminishment of “mutual knowledge” between remote employees ends up in a conflict between employees. As a result, managers find that remote workers have a lower willingness to provide their coworkers with the information they need in challenging work environments.

For instance, if one of your managers or coworkers is having a hard day, you’ll view it as them venting stress, and understand their reaction.

However, if a remote employee were to send the same email, the employee might find it offensive because they have no context of the situation at hand.

Coping With Self-Isolation

Isolation and loneliness are common complaints from remote employees. Human beings are social, and without contact at the workplace, this can take a toll on their mental health. Some remote workers find that they start to miss the daily interactions in the workplace.

Remaining in a remote work position for an extended period might cause the employee to lose their sense of belonging in the company, resulting in an intention to look for a job with another company.

Extravertive personalities have the hardest time dealing with remote positions, as they mist the daily interaction with coworkers in the workplace.

Dealing With Distractions and Staying Motivated

Some employees might think that a remote work position sounds fantastic. It gives them time to hang out during the day with the kids and work on your own time. However, the reality is that the remote workplace requires the same amount of dedication and commitment to work, as it does with working at the office.
Being at home all day can result in the employee experiencing distractions from the family. Trying to get a report done while your toddler is bouncing on your lap, or your kids are nagging you to take them to soccer practice can get overwhelming at times.

When employees have a sudden and unexpected transition to remote work, they don’t have the preparation they need to set up an effective workspace at home. Managers should expect the transition period to be bumpy.

What Can Management Do To Support Remote Employees?

Managing a remote workplace comes with a unique set of challenges. Here are a few actionable steps managers can take when forcing employees into a remote work environment for the first time.

Check-In Every Day

To successfully manage the remote work environment, managers need to check in with employees every day. A quick phone call or Skype meeting in the morning can bring your team together to set the priorities for the day while catching up on progress toward business objectives.

By keeping calls regular at a set point of the morning or afternoon, managers create consistency in the remote workplace. Give your employees a forum for communication where they can issue any concerns or questions at a periodic time of the day.

This consistency in communications helps to provide the employee with the support they need while maintaining structure in the remote workplace.

Leverage Technology to Communicate

When people think of remote work, they imagine email as the primary source of communication. However, while email is useful, and the benchmark or corporate communications, is not enough to handle the demands of remote work.

Employees need a comprehensive IT and communication solution that keeps them in touch with management and their team throughout the working day.

Collaboration tools like Podio, Slack, and Trello help managers create a system where employees can collaborate on projects in a virtual environment. Software tools keep everyone in the organization up to date with what’s going on in the virtual workspace.

Set targets, milestones, and objectives, and update projects in real-time to ensure the team is working toward company goals effectively and efficiently.

Establish Your Rules of Engagement

Managers need to set remote workplace expectations for the method, timing, and frequency of communications. Establishing these protocols and procedures helps to keep the team efficient and productive during the workday.

Instant messaging for urgent matters and video conferencing for daily-check-ins are a few examples of tech that helps managers and employees coordinate efforts in a digital work environment.

Establish your rules of engagement before you announce your remote work project. By setting up policies and procedures before implanting the remote strategy, everyone has a clear understanding of how to operate.

It might take some time for the ball to start rolling. Therefore, managers need to ensure they are readily available to employees during the first few weeks. This strategy allows managers to keep employees in line with expectations while providing the support they need in the early stage of the transition.

Give Your Employees a Remote Social Experience

Remote employees miss the social interactions they have with coworkers in the workplace. Therefore, managers need to take time for small social interactions at strategic points in the workday.

For example, starting a morning team call by catching up with what’s going on in everyone’s life is a fantastic way to improve engagement and morale among remote workers. Another popular strategy is using “Virtual Pizza Parties.” With this strategy, management delivers pizza to the employee’s homes at the start of a conference call.

These types of interactions give employees a sense of well-being and comfort in the remote workplace. As a result, they feel like they get the support they need from management to make the situation work.

Daily calls to underperforming employees can help uncover the root of any productivity issues. By communicating openly and honestly with employees, management helps them deal with any anxiety or emotions standing in the way of their performance.

Lead in the Face of Fear

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way we do work. Organizations are scrambling to implement remote working positions to keep the business going during this time of crisis.

Managers need to adapt to the change in the same manner as employees. Plan the situation correctly and manage the first few weeks of remote work with your team. By providing your team with protocols, tools, and support, companies can make a smooth transition into the digital era of remote work.

A2K Partners