When it is done correctly, remote working helps employers reduce costs, boost productivity, increase customer service and enhance employee engagement. In fact, a recent survey found that 30% of remote workers would rather quit than return to the office after the pandemic!
However, in many organizations — including those that have been operating remote teams for several years — the rapid and massive shift to remote working has been problematic. It is one thing to have select individuals work from home. It is another to have the majority (or the entirety) of team members populating the virtual landscape.
To address some of these problems, Gartner has highlighted nine tips for managing remote employees during and after COVID-19:
Proactively watch for signs of distress.
Managers shouldn’t assume that remote workers who aren’t struggling or complaining are automatically doing fine — because some will be, but others probably won’t. Remote workers are worried about their health, and the health of their family members and friends. They are also worried about finances, job security, and the future. Naturally, managers aren’t expected to provide solutions for these complex problems, but they should use every opportunity to let remote workers know that they are supported and cared for.
Provide all necessary equipment and training.
Managers need to ensure that remote workers have the required tools to do their jobs from home, such as suitable web cams, access to cloud-based communication and project management platforms, security software (e.g. anti-malware, anti-virus, virtual private network, etc.), VoIP phones, and anything else.
What’s more, managers shouldn’t assume that just because remote workers have the equipment they need, that they know how to use everything properly. Video tutorials, webinars, how-to articles, Q&A forums, and direct access to vendors can all help remote workers close the knowledge gap.
Contrary to what many people believe, research has found that employees do not necessarily have to like change in order to get behind it. What matters most is that they understand why their organization is making a change.
In this light, managers should reach out to remote employees, and invite them to participate in an authentic two-way dialogue about how the organization has changed — and will continue to change — in light of COVID-19. This will help remote workers have a solid foundation of facts and data vs. assumptions and rumors upon which to grasp what is happening, and position and prepare themselves for the future.
Dial up the trust.
The lack of in-person engagement has turned some managers into micromanagers. Not only is this stressful, exhausting and tedious for employees (and in more severe cases can damage their mental health), but micromanaging is counterproductive. Managers who have become micromanagers need to be re-oriented, retrained, and if neither of those work: replaced.
Reinforce organizational values.
Managers should regularly remind employees that they are vital and valued — now more than ever. Gartner also recommends that managers encourage employees to call out unethical behavior, since employee misconduct can jump by as much as 33% during periods of uncertainty. However, managers must be cautious. The goal is for everyone to model the right behaviors, not to create a toxic culture where everyone is paranoid and suspicious.
Clarify roles and responsibilities.
Employee misconduct isn’t the only thing that can increase during periods of uncertainty — employee disorientation and confusion can as well. To help their team from feeling lost and heading in the wrong direction, managers should clarify role definitions and verify that the right people are doing the right things.
Focus on outputs.
The same confusion that can obscure role definitions can also thwart productivity. To avoid bottlenecks and bureaucracy, managers should focus on outputs rather than processes. It is more important what remote workers do than when and how they do it (provided of course that they are doing it properly and meeting all other required standards).
Managers can be so consumed with just “keeping the wheel turning” — not just for their team, but for themselves as well — that they can overlook a key objective: rewarding and recognizing employees for going above and beyond the call of duty. Even if there is little or no budget to hand out awards (e.g. Amazon gift cards, etc.), managers can still applaud and celebrate top performers during virtual meetings. Sometimes small gestures can have a big impact.
Innovation is essential, regardless of whether teams are working in the same office or are distributed. To that end, managers need to make it safe vs. risky for team members to introduce ideas and suggest improvements.
The Bottom Line
The only thing we know about the “new normal” is that it will continue to be “abnormal” for quite a while. In fact, some public health officials are saying that we shouldn’t expect to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, or perhaps even 2025. However, what we do know with certainty is that the remote worker movement will keep growing and growing. Managers who have until now thrived in a conventional setting need to learn new skills and adopt new approaches if they — and their teams — are going to succeed rather than struggle.
For guidance on how to optimize your remote teams and ensure that your managers have the training, techniques and tools that they need, contact PIVOTAL today.