COVID-19 is causing many businesses to shut down their offices for extended periods, meaning employees must work remotely. For businesses that already have work-from-home policies in place, this isn’t too much of a disruption to business operations. For the businesses that don’t, this can be challenging.
In theory, remote working shouldn’t compromise business outcomes. Think about it – if employees can complete their work online using cloud-based software, they should be able to maintain productivity and performance, despite their changing work environments.
Nevertheless, most managers are not accustomed to – or have had training in – managing remote workers for long periods of time, and therefore may require some guidance.
For advice on how to maintain momentum, achieve high team performance and keep spirits up, keep reading.
Communication is essential when managing remote workers in times of crisis. In fact, there is no such thing as too much communication in times like this. Anxiety and fear are contagious and is fuelled through isolation and loneliness. Therefore, it’s imperative that managers fight the feelings of isolation and keep spirits high within their team by enforcing regular communication and virtual engagement via online channels.
Slack, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are valuable tools for enabling remote workers to take part in virtual team collaboration, which mitigates feelings of loneliness but also aids productivity. Instant messaging tools like Slack connect employees in real-time, and audio and video-conferencing tools like Zoom feed employees’ craving for social interaction.
To combat panic – and the disengagement that naturally follows – managers and business leaders must make it their responsibility to keep their team informed with information and updates related to COVID-19 and business operations. This will also limit the spread of misinformation and keep employees calm so that they can continue “business as unusual” until told otherwise.
Some more tips for encouraging quality communication are below.
- Make time for small talk – When working remotely, it can be easy to forget how to talk to our colleagues about anything besides work. However, removing the simple acts of human connection is detrimental to engagement and productivity levels. Managers should make a conscious effort to have a non-work chat at the beginning of the working day (and throughout) and continue to build rapport with team members to reinstate the human bond that feeds positive work outcomes. Even the most introverted person craves connection on a personal level, so it’s important to interact with employees like you would in the office.
- Reinforce communication etiquette – Online communication can be blurry and, like the previous point touched on, people can forget they are talking to other humans who need positive social interaction. As a manager, you must enforce your team is remaining polite, patient and considerate of each other when communicating virtually. Just because two people are not interacting face-to-face, doesn’t mean quality socialising must be compromised.
- Use video as much as you can – Although face-to-face interaction isn’t possible, we are lucky enough to be in an age where the next best thing – video-chatting – is accessible. It is advised that managers jump on video calls regularly to discuss tasks – big and small. This will maintain collaborative and routine work, despite the environment.
- Spread optimism – What employees need in times of crisis is their leader to show an optimistic outlook. Managers who actively raise team morale and cheerlead their team’s efforts will achieve greater productivity and will come out stronger the other end. Championing a team through uncertain times and keeping them feeling positive and motivated is arguably the biggest responsibility a manager has right now.
A powerful channel of communication can also be established via carefully designed and professionally deployed employee surveys (e.g. a Remote Working and Wellbeing survey) that focus on understanding your employees’ individual experiences, while providing the possibility of aggregate reporting as well. Not only does this have the advantage of giving your employees a voice, but the messaging in pre-survey communications, as well as in survey invitations and reminders, are themselves an invaluable communication channel. Conducting it as an ‘anonymous survey’ via an independent third-party may also result in more open, frank feedback and invaluable suggestions.
One of the most challenging impacts remote working has on teams is that managers must find new ways to monitor employees’ output, as measuring hours worked is less effective in a work-from-home situation. This is no surprise – we have been trained to be productive in an office environment for over a century and learning at-home work practices is relatively new.
“The proof is in the pudding,” is a common phrase, but isn’t the easiest way to measure whether KPIs and OKIs are being met. Instead, managers must come up with other ways to measure performance. This differs depending on role and industry, but some tips can be found below.
- Conduct regular one-to-ones – Keeping an open dialogue through times of change and disruption is key to monitoring not only the productivity of your team members, but also their wellbeing. Without the disruption rife in traditional office spaces, managers will find themselves with more time to give on a one-to-one basis, which is a definite benefit. What’s more, different team members will react in different ways. Some will be totally fine, while others may require more support.
- Focus on performance relating specifically to remote working – especially for businesses that operate entirely office-first – is trial and error, and managers should endeavour to seek as much feedback on the process from their team as possible. It is natural for drastic change to impact productivity, routine and motivation, but by making performance reviews and one-to-ones specifically related to the remote working experience, managers can gauge more information and gain actionable insights.
- Encourage self-assessment – Remote working requires employers to trust that their employees are completing their work. That being said, managers may ask employees to account for their time using spreadsheet documents and to-do lists.
See PeoplePulse in action …
Request a free demonstration to see how PeoplePulse helps organisations by designing, implementing and reporting on custom employee feedback solutions, such as surveys focusing on Remote Work and Employee Wellness.
Alternatively, visit our parent company ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll‘s website to learn how they help business leaders manage their workforce, even while operating remotely. As a cloud-based solution, ELMO helps employers manage their teams from anywhere at any time from a secure, centralised database. All employee-employer touchpoints are covered by ELMO’s suite, from ‘hire to retire’. This includes recruitment, onboarding, performance management, payroll, rostering / time & attendance, learning & development, and more.