Back in the pre-COVID-19 days, the ability to work from home was often considered to be a huge benefit. However, the world right now feels a little crazier with changes to day to day life and social distancing, worries about the economy and fear about the future becoming our new normal. In the Steel household we’re also desperate to get our kitchen table back to some sense of normality, especially as Mrs S is running a contact centre from there at the moment.
Changes like these can lead to increased isolation, stress and anxiety which remote working can exacerbate. When you also consider the additional challenges faced by everyone during the rapid and massive changes of lockdown (child care issues, finding space at home for an office set up, working around other family members, technology issues and home schooling, to name but a few), it’s clear that employers need to consider different approaches when managing remote workers.
Ensuring that individuals can continue to feel connected to their teams is vital, especially bearing in mind that we tend to spend more waking hours at work than at home. These working relationships are integral for employee happiness but, from a business point of view, they’re also key to creating good employee engagement. Time spent maintaining and nurturing them is time well spent.
It’s also important to consider how remote workers can remain professionally connected to the organisation as a whole. When employees feel that decisions are being made or projects are moving forward without their involvement, they can start feeling isolated and detached from the business. Additional effort is therefore needed to collaborate with teams working remotely.
Working from home can often mean lifestyle improvements but equally, it can create additional stress for some people. Whether you have 3 or 300 employees, the following guidelines will help you to look after the wellbeing of your remote employees.
Think about different methods of communication
Emails have the benefit of creating a written transcript of conversations but, in the absence of visual and auditory cues, they can sometimes lead to misunderstanding or misinterpretation due to the loss of context and tone.
Phone calls on the other hand tend to be a quicker form of communication and, along with video calls, are particularly important when dealing with any challenging or emotive issues. Video calling is also a great way to check in with teams as everybody gets to see a friendly face.
To avoid ambiguity, communication guidelines could be established so that everyone understands the preferred method for differing situations. For example, daily check-ins could be via video call, report sharing via email and phone or instant messaging used for topics requiring an urgent response.
Establish regular or daily contact with the team
Regular check-ins with individuals or the team as a whole will help to keep everyone updated about ongoing discussions. Daily group video calls give everyone the chance to catch up and allocating time at the start (or end) of the call to talk about life outside of work will help to maintain connection between team members.
One issue with remote working can be communication lags when team members are in different locations. Establishing an instant messaging system via software such as Slack could mean that communication is as fast as being in the same room.
Support social contact between team members
During the normal working day, there’s usually an element of social interaction between employees (eg. lunch or coffee breaks) which can quickly disappear when remote working. This lack of social connection can lead to isolation, loneliness and reduced employee engagement.
It’s therefore important for employers to encourage and facilitate remote social engagement within their teams. This could be done via non-work discussions on platforms such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom.
Set output related goals for individuals
One of the fears that managers often have when there’s no face to face supervision is whether their employees are working as hard or efficiently. Conversely, employees often struggle with having less access to managerial support.
By setting output related goals, it’s easier to manage expectations and also step back from micro managing individuals. In these particularly challenging times when employees may have child or adult care issues to squeeze into their day, organising their own way of working is likely to lead to greater productivity.
Offer emotional support
It’s important to be aware of any existing mental health issues which team members may be experiencing and also of the impact that social distancing measures may be having on individuals. Additionally, the absence of a clear separation between work and home could lead to stress and burnout.
Managers therefore need to be observant, listen to anxieties and monitor any problems which may arise. Often, a simple question such as “How is this remote working situation working out for you so far?” can help unearth any concerns.
It can also be helpful to issue a clear directive of expected working hours and a reminder that team members should respect non-working hours when speaking with colleagues.
Help remote workers to establish a structure
No longer having a routine and daily structure can be a real problem when people move from office-based to home-based working. They no longer need to get up early for the 6.30am train, starting and finishing times become unclear and the boundaries between work and home blur.
Employers can help by giving support and guidance on how to establish a working pattern which delivers both optimum productivity and a healthy home life:
- Stick to a normal routine of sleep, meal times and working hours.
- Make a schedule and follow it! Start work at the normal time and do any household jobs (such as cleaning and laundry) at the end of the working day.
- Designate a specific part of the house (even just a corner of the living room) for work and clear it at the end of the day to avoid falling into bad practices such as checking emails while watching TV in the evening.
- Block out noise from other household members with headphones or low music. You Tube has some ambient café or wave sounds which are great for concentration.
- Discourage friends and family from interrupting during the day, particularly if it’s not usual for them to pop into the workplace for a chat. To avoid distractions, ask them to get in touch when the working day is over.
- Reach out to friends, family and work colleagues when struggling. Video calling can help to prevent feelings of isolation and mindfulness techniques such as the Headspace app are great for relaxation.
- Avoid cabin fever by getting outside for a walk, either at lunchtime or the end of the working day.
- Stay hydrated, eat healthily and take regular exercise.
Remote working is often seen as a lifestyle goal which, in pre-pandemic days, could even mean working from beach front cafes around the world while still enjoying the security of employment.
However, it’s not for everyone and the enforced work from home directive due to COVID-19 may actually create additional stress for employees – particularly those who love the social aspect of working life or who have a home situation which makes remote working difficult.
By taking measures to support employees and create new ways of working, employers can go a long way to addressing some of the problems which remote working can bring. Above all, remember that these are challenging times for everyone.
Get in touch with the team here at The Business Village if you would like any help or support with establishing new ways of working.
You may also be interested in our recent blog post about business continuity: