As a reaction to the sweeping uncertainties and changes brought on by Covid-19, many companies across the world are moving towards a remote work model.
For many freelancers or remote workers, these are not new policies or habits to adjust to. However, for the majority of the workforce within North America and in Europe, the latest work from home policies are leaving people scratching their heads and hitting roadblocks. Before this shift, nearly a quarter of the US workforce was already working remotely, but this pandemic-related shift has left many unprepared to work from home. From employees to managers, working from home has begun to prove challenging as staff are out of the office and separated for the first time ever.
While it is in the best interest of a company or a team to establish thorough work-from-home policies in advance, times of crisis and change call for quick thinking and pulling together resources on the fly.
Thankfully, there are specific resources and science-backed steps that managers and companies can take to manage and improve the engagement of their employees. These tools and tips can help you build a more reliable remote policy and learn how to engage freelancers or other out-of-office workers that may be on your team. Since there is still much uncertainty around the length of time companies will be working from home, implementing these steps, workflows, and tools for your organization can help you set the stage for continuous momentum until we’re all back in the office.
COMMON REMOTE WORK CHALLENGES
Firstly, team leads or managers must acknowledge the main reasons that remote work can become demanding - even more so than regular in-office work. You may notice a shift in how your employees work; your A-team players may not be performing to the level that they had in the past. There may be a decline in overall job performance when an employee initially begins to work remotely - especially when there is a lack of training or preparation in advance.
Never fear: there is often an adjustment period, and things will slowly go back to normal in no time. Until then, here are four other challenges (and a bonus fifth at the bottom) you may face when managing a new remote team, and solutions on how to increase productivity through it all.
1. PROBLEM: A REDUCED AMOUNT OF IN-PERSON SUPERVISION
When in the office, many employees are used to getting up and walking over to their managers’ desk to ask questions, or vice versa. When working remotely, supervisors may assume that since they cannot see their employees working, it means that they are not working as hard or as efficiently as they would when in the office. While there is a myriad of research that proves that this is not true for specific roles, it’s still a belief that may be difficult to unlearn.
SOLUTION: INCREASE OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT VIA THE WEB
As a manager, if communication and worries around efficiency are top of your list, connecting with your employees separately or in a group can help increase visibility and grow your trust with them. Check-ins and status updates mixed in with fun “watercooler” type video calls can help break up the monotony and develop a sense of belonging and trust on your team while they work from home. Setting regular check-ins can help increase engagement and ensure that you and your remote workers are trending towards success.
2. PROBLEM: INCREASED SILOING OR A BREAKDOWN OF INFORMATION SHARING
Not being in the office adds many challenges, but a lack of access to information is one of the critical issues that new remote workers face. There is an extra amount of time and effort for finding and learning information from their coworkers that will need to be accounted for. Employees may even find that getting the answers to seemingly simple questions can be a paramount task when they are not in person in the office.
SOLUTION: SHARE, SHARE, AND SHARE AGAIN
Employees and managers alike should learn that in a remote world, communicating and sharing details and information readily will help ensure the successful completion of projects. Using a project management tool such as Monday.com, Trello, or Asana can help with task-oriented information sharing.
3. PROBLEM: AN INCREASE IN SOCIAL ISOLATION FOR REMOTE WORKERS
Those who are used to coming into an office every day can be at risk of experiencing social isolation. Mental health has become a topic of discussion as we are all quarantined, and you may already be seeing this happen with your colleagues or teammates. Employees may miss the informal, spontaneous social interaction that pops up during the course of a workday, and those extroverts on your team may be suffering to adjust the most.
Loneliness is one of the more frequent complaints that come with remote work, and a lack of belonging that comes with not being actually “present” with your team.
Social isolation is a bigger problem than we may think, as prolonged feelings of loneliness can push employees to feel more fractured from their teams, and decrease a sense of belonging. When an employee’s sense of belonging at work decreases, it increases turnover in your organization.
SOLUTION: INCREASE OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMPLOYEES TO CONNECT
Even though it may be easier to forgo video on a conference, incentivize employees to go live, as actually seeing a colleague’s face, can help increase feelings of connectedness. It’s known that visual cues can allow for an increase in “mutual knowledge” between coworkers. Knowledge exchange can also reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation amongst teams. You can effectively solve two problems here: lack of access to information and increasing connection. Video also adds a personal touch when you may need to have more “sensitive’ or “complex” conversations.
Some companies have even begun to do weekly “social hours” where teams can get together, play games and bond. Sharing memories on a team roundup or stories can also help create healthy relationships of trust and connection while working remotely.
For interpersonal related sharing, building a “random” or ‘general” channel on old faithful Slack is your best bet. Don’t forget: there is such a thing as oversharing. Check out these great tips for how to tailor and streamline your internal Slack communications for maximum impact.
4. PROBLEM: EMPLOYEES OVERWORKING
While working remotely means an increase in flexibility, even the most seasoned freelancers and remote workers know that it’s easy to spend much more time working than they usually would when in the office.
Without the team breaks, the impromptu and spontaneous conversations that an office can bring, supervisors must be aware of their team’s output and capacity and be mindful of potential burn out. From sleep deprivation to lack of personal time and the ever-present feeling of exhaustion, employees may experience a greater sense of overwhelm when they move over to remote work.
This is not only detrimental to the individual employee but your overall team as well. When employees feel overworked or overwhelmed, they experience a lack of focus and may be scattered in their work, leading to an overall decrease in productivity.
SOLUTION: INCREASED PRIORITIZATION AND LESS MICROMANAGING
It’s easy to increase micromanaging when you’re not in the office. Thanks to fears of distraction and lack of trust, many managers may end up in this camp. But this will make things worse. To increase productivity, work to prioritize your team’s overall tasks and communicate them effectively. Being realistic about output and understanding that many people may be struggling to adjust is also crucial as a successful manager.
If you see a freelancer or a remote employee struggling, work with them to manage their workflow and reduce delegation where possible. Helping to organize their days and encouraging your employees to take breaks is necessary, and can make all the difference when they are learning to work from home.
COMMUNICATION IS THE MAIN PRIORITY
Above all, the main challenge that managers face is building out effective communication with remote teams. If you, as a manager, are looking to solve only one problem, we strongly urge you to take a critical eye to how your team communicates. It’s a challenge that managers face, whether they are in the office or not, and can cause many other related issues.
A manager’s role is to offer direction and guidance for their teams to successfully do their jobs. Being able to effectively communicate strategies, goals and expectations will never steer you wrong. By fine-tuning your managerial communication skills and taking into account some of the plans that we’ve laid out above, you’ll have your remote workers and teams functioning like a well-oiled machine.