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Leaders need to adapt to the new normal.

Almost a year later, many employers continue to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on their workforce. Effectively managing their employees as they continue to work out of the office and separated from each other has proven to be one of the biggest challenges. As the new year begins, it is important to take time to consider the most efficient ways to set up your organization for success. This is a great opportunity to establish clear policies and procedures for remote work or to review existing policies for potential changes. Setting clear expectations for your remote employees will ensure you and your team are aligned with a common understanding of the company vision and will also increase the productivity of remote work.

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Some Common Challenges of Remote Work

Managers must first understand there are certain factors that can make working remotely particularly demanding. If these factors are not properly acknowledged, high-performing employees may lose enthusiasm causing declines in job performance and engagement, especially in the absence of preparation and training.

Some common challenges presented by remote work include:

Lack of face-to-face supervision: Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently, though research indicates otherwise (at least for some types of jobs). Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs, and are neither supportive nor helpful with getting their work done.

Lack of access to information: Getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle to an employee working from home, especially when they feel disconnected from their coworkers.

This phenomenon extends beyond task-related work and into interpersonal challenges that can emerge among remote coworkers. A lack of “mutual knowledge” of a coworker’s current situation could result in a lower willingness to give the coworker the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations.

For example, when you are physically in the office, you can see that your coworker is having a rough day so you will most likely view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive the same email from a coworker working remotely, you have no understanding of their current circumstances, so you are more likely to take offense to the bluntness, or at minimum, think poorly of your coworker’s professionalism.

Social isolation: Loneliness is one of the most common complaints regarding remote work. Employees often miss the informal social interaction of an office setting. It is thought that extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote work environment. Regardless, over a longer period of time, isolation may cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to his or her organization.

Distractions at home: We often see ‘work from home’ photos that deglamorize and showcase the distractions associated with remote work. Images that portray a parent holding a child, typing on a laptop, often sitting on a sofa or living room floor. Employers should ensure their remote employees have both a dedicated workspace and adequate childcare, before allowing them to work remotely. In the case of a sudden transition to virtual work, however, there is a much greater chance that employees will be contending suboptimal workspaces and (in the case of school and daycare closures) unexpected parenting responsibilities. Even in normal circumstances, family and home demands can impinge on remote work. Managers should expect these distractions to be greater during the pandemic.

Working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic definitely has its pros and cons. Employee productivity has proven to be just as good, if not better, than when working in an office setting. But working from home presents some challenges as well. Our HR professionals at Resourcing Edge are here to help guide you through the difficulties of managing your remote work employees, including policy review and creation. Contact your client account manager today for assistance.

What are some additional goal-setting items to consider?

Establish structured daily check-ins: Many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees.  This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls if your employees work more independently from each other, or team calls, if their work is highly collaborative. The main takeaway here is that the calls should be regular and predictable. They should be a forum in which employees know they can consult with you and have their concerns and questions heard.

Provide several different communication technology options: Utilizing email as your only form of a communication is insufficient. Remote employees benefit from having “richer” forms of technology, such as video conferencing. Video conferencing has many advantages, especially for smaller groups. It gives participants many of the visual cues they would get if they were face to face. These visual cues allow for increased “mutual knowledge” regarding your employees and also help reduce the sense of isolation among teams. Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations. It feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.

If your company does not have technology tools already in place, there are inexpensive ways to obtain simple versions of these tools for your team, as a short-term fix.  Consult with your organization’s IT department to ensure there is an appropriate level of data security before using any of these tools.

And then establish “rules of engagement”: Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. Let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday and monitor communication among team members (to the extent appropriate), to ensure they are sharing information as needed.

Provide opportunities for remote social interaction: One of the most essential steps a manager can take to encourage inclusivity is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of team calls for non-work conversation.

We recommend you review your current policies and procedures in place for remote work to stay up to date on how your company chooses to handle the arrangement. Remote work does not appear to be going away any time soon. It has and will, for the foreseeable future, affect the way we manage our employees. Resourcing Edge is here to partner with you as we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic. Contact one of our HR professionals today with any questions.

Kimberly D. Gray, Senior HR Services Partner
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