While there seemingly appears to be a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, there are sure to be lasting impacts from its disruption to our everyday lives. Remote work was picking up popularity prior to the pandemic and currently it’s a staple in the modern workplace. Now that employees have had the chance to prove they are capable of being productive from wherever and whenever, employers can expect to be fielding requests to work remotely on a more permanent basis. While various degrees of remote work seem to be part of the foundation for a successful modern workplace, it will require an ability to adapt, keep an open mind and develop guidelines. Communication and trust from both employers and employees will be at a premium. Successful companies will understand how technology fits within their established cultural guidelines and unwritten social contract with workers. The driving force behind how a work-from-home initiative is implemented is knowing what is vital to your company’s mission, employees and consumers.
As alluded to before, the remote work movement is gaining momentum. Only one in 30 companies had at least half of their staff working remotely prior to the pandemic, according to Mercer. As of August 2020, that number ballooned to one in three, with expectations the trend continues. Traditional business leaders may have concerns with a drop in productivity when workers are not in the office. However, the study showed that 94 percent of employers surveyed noted productivity remained the same or even increased since employees began working remotely. Of course, a few bad apples are bound to emerge, but overall the mindset of ‘if you’re not in the office, you aren’t working’ has little truth behind it.
While there is no uniform plan for managing remote workers, there are some standard guidelines businesses should give thought to in order to create a healthy environment. While nobody is arguing that zoom calls are a better form of communication than face-to-face meetings and it’s generally agreed upon that the culture of the workplace is best formed with everyday in-person interactions, the fact is remote work is here to stay and organizations should plan accordingly. Adam Hickman, a content manager at Gallup and the author of Studies on Remote Workforces, offers three big guidelines for organizations to consider for remote workers.
- Treat employees as individuals.
Managers who are successful can identify the strengths, needs and weaknesses of individuals who work for them. Managers can then leverage that information to motivate each individual employee and nurture them. If one employee, for instance, prefers to work early hours you should encourage it. Same thing if they are a night owl. If the work that needs to be done is getting done, employees should be granted the freedom to be flexible with when they work. When you understand someone’s home life, such as having young children, you can get a better understanding of when during the day they are able to be most productive.
- Communicate often and extensively.
Excellent communication is critical when in the office and its importance gets taken to a heightened level for remote workers. In order to be successful, workers should know what is expected of them, including their scope of work. Deliverables and deadlines should be known. Communication should be frequent as well with regularly held meetings or one-on-one chats. Workers should be encouraged to reach out without hesitation regarding any questions or concerns.
- Trust that your staff is up to the task.
As a manager, you will not be able to watch over your employees when they are working remotely like you could in the office. This doesn’t mean they aren’t getting their jobs done! If you can’t trust them, ask yourself why you even hired them in the first place or what happened to cause you to lose trust in them?
Employers should always be thinking a step ahead and it’s no different when it comes to remote work. Setting sights toward more optimized and comprehensive tools that can seamlessly support a proven workflow should be top of mind. Employees have so much practice outside of the office utilizing complex systems and processes for fun that this skill can be translated to their work lives. For instance, many people these days create video content for social media or YouTube and have mastered the technology needed to provide high quality images, graphics and sound. This knowledge can be useful when creating a presentation for an important video call. The integration of technology into employee’s lives illustrates the evolution of our workforce from putting in the effort to understand technology to quickly mastering it. With that in mind, think of what can be accomplished through technology, automation and cloud at home.
Employers need to be conscious of the mental health of their remote workforce as well. While working from home may be perceived as less stressful and less demanding than working in the office, there are certainly challenges that present themselves. Most commonly, the lines between work-life and home-life can become blurred and negatively impact self-care and quality time spent with loved ones. Remote workers often feel pressured to prove their productivity and this can lead to working more hours than they should. In fact, 42 percent of men and 32 percent of women were found to be working at least two extra hours a week, according to a Chubb survey. As a manager, you should be careful not burden remote workers with more work than they can handle. Make sure to have frequent conversations about workloads and not throw unnecessary projects their way because you assume they are laying on the couch watching Netflix. Employers should encourage remote workers to focus their attention throughout the workday and workweek so a proper work-life balance can be achieved. With that being said, there is no golden rule for when to shut off your work notifications and step away from the computer when working remotely. After all, the flexibility to work whenever and wherever is part of the allure of remote work. At the end of the day, honest conversations must be had between employers and employees to make sure their workload is not overwhelming, and they are mentally in good place.
One last item for employers to consider is how they can reward remote workers for strong job performances. Having remote workers alters the definition of perks and benefits. Transportation reimbursement, catered lunches and refrigerators stocked with ice cream treats or beverages become irrelevant when the commute is just a stroll from your bed to your home office. Forward thinking employers will make an effort to re-evaluate and reallocate budget toward meaningful incentives for their remote workers. Remote workers should not be punished or be an afterthought because they are not at the office. Sure, some things require being physically present, but a little effort to make remote workers feel part of the team and rewarded for a good job goes a long way. Perhaps when you cater lunch in for your in-office employees you send your remote workers a gift card for DoorDash. A small effort once in a while goes a long way toward keeping your remote worker’s morale high.
At the end of the day, the management of your remote workforce will be critical in determining the growth potential of your organization. If an employee requests to work remotely and their job duties allow them to do so, be sure to keep an open mind and understand studies show production will not be impacted negatively. Even if you are still on the fence about remote work or prefer employees to be in the office you should be willing to compromise and meet in the middle at a hybrid approach. The simple truth is with so many businesses going remote, you will have a difficult time attracting and retaining talent if you are not willing to adapt to a modern workplace style. Having a positive attitude and approach to remote work can build loyalty and boost engagement long-term.
ACP CreativIT is happy to help your organization create a healthy remote work environment where employees thrive and productivity rises. Contact us at email@example.com to talk to one of our experts today or visit our modern workplace page here.
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