Considerations for managing remote employees beyond the 2020 public health emergency

According to Time magazine, the coronavirus pandemic has created “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”

Every industry and all employers who may have been slower to adopt remote working roles in their organization were simultaneously forced to shift most if not all operations to the telecommuting space. During the public health emergency, as stay-at-home orders were extended so too were the requirements for many people to continue working in this new remote environment with many organizations already announcing they will maintain remote work after the crisis. During this period of great change not only in the working environment but in the every-day American’s way of life, employers are now evaluating their remote-working capabilities and exploring long term strategy that includes the integration of additional technologies and employment scenarios.

Communication and Productivity-
As your employees move to remote work, an important first step is to establish expectations of communication and productivity with the employee. Because you cannot be physically present with your remote workers, increasing your methods of communication is integral to the success of the employment arrangement. Creating structured communication periods not only builds on your working relationship but offers employees the support and access they need to you as their leader. This type of consistent communication helps to keep the employee engaged and motivated in an environment that makes it all too easy to become isolated or distracted.

During controlled circumstances, before moving an employee to a remote working arrangement, be sure to identify how you will monitor the employee’s production. For those employees that have task-like work, this may be easier than for employees who conduct research for example. What are the key performance indicators that you will utilize to properly manage the remote employee that offers you what is needed to evaluate their productivity? Review how you are monitoring like employees in the office to determine if those same metrics can be used to monitor remote productivity or if any of these methods need to be altered. Be sure to take into account the number of in-person check-ins that you have with employees in the office and appropriately translate that into virtual check-ins with remote staff. Collaborate with the employee to ensure that you are fulfilling your role as leader while also supporting the unique and perhaps different needs of the remote employee.

Technology-
Now more than ever, the use of technology to support remote work is paramount. Written communications such as emails or text messages are simply not enough to properly engage a remote employee. Scheduled check-in phone calls apply structure to the workers day and allow for specified collaborative time. Video conferencing is significant to the remote work environment because it not only creates a more personal experience, but it also affords workers many visual queues that are necessary to properly gage the tone and intent of a conversation which could otherwise be missed and result in miscommunication and dissatisfaction between staff and others. With many video conference platforms available like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc., employers can find a tool that best fits the needs of their organization. Before using any of these tools, you should consult with your organization’s IT security professional to ensure there is an appropriate level of data security to meet your needs.

Employee Health-
Perhaps less common are the discussions about employees physical and mental well-being when working in a remote environment. Employees should be encouraged to engage in physical activity during company assigned breaks or during the lunch period to keep the body active. Because remote workers are dependent upon their computers and phones for all interactions, they are more likely to stay seated at a desk for long periods of time. Organization leaders have an opportunity to promote the healthy behavior of moving throughout the day to not only support physical health but also mental well-being.

Because of the convenience of remote work, studies have shown that these employees tend to work longer hours that their colleagues in the office which can lead to burnout and fatigue. It is easy to log into your computer in the morning or complete a task late at night when you are able to do so from the comfort of your home. Most employees arrive to and leave an office each day. With remote work, the employee’s “office” is always with them, allowing for extended hours in the same environment. Working with your remote staff to set proper expectations around work hours and availability can greatly improve their mental well-being. The use of technologies to create more personal engagement opportunities can help to prevent feelings of isolation while also building your teams culture.

Maintaining your company culture is significantly important when managing remote workers. Explore ways to engage your employees that display company values and allow for fun interactions and experiences. Video meetings can include games and themes for example. You can also host town hall meetings with leadership to maintain transparency and connection. Most importantly, continuously solicit feedback from remote workers via survey or other method to identify what is important to them in the remote working arrangement.

Closing-
Remote work is not without its challenges for both employer and employee but it can, however, prove to be a positive arrangement. Remote employees will be challenged to develop new routines and to properly manage their time under a different type of oversight. Employers are challenged to set proper expectations of productivity with employees while developing new ways to utilize technology to engage with and remain connected to their staff. If the public health emergency taught us anything, it’s that remote work is here to stay and those employers that recognize the challenges and identify positive solutions to support their staff with best practices will find themselves to be successful.

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