In this guest post, World Manager CEO, Gary Valkenburg, offers tips to employers who want to support their newly remote employees.
According to a Gallup Poll from March 2020, the number of full-time employees working from home due to the COVID pandemic has almost doubled in size. In just a few months, this figure has jumped from 33% to 61%. While some companies were already instituting remote work policies prior to COVID, this is uncharted territory for other organizations. As a result, employers must address a unique set of challenges and opportunities to help work from home employees.
Understandably, many companies haven’t had time to train their managers on how to engage remote employees. Alluding to this fact, the same Gallup Poll revealed that just 52% of U.S. employees believe their “employer has communicated a clear plan of action” in the wake of COVID.
If you’re struggling to find a balance and direction in the virtual workplace, you aren’t alone. Here are five strategies to help you manage and support work from home employees during this period of transition.
1. Consider Your Employees’ Wants and Needs
The first step requires seeing things from the perspective of your employees. What are their top-of-mind concerns? How has working remotely made their jobs more demanding? And, as their supervisor, how can you help solve their problems, alleviate their stress, and make them more productive? It’s not like the “old days” when you could walk down the hall to get what you needed.
Employees transitioning to their home office may be frustrated in several facets. One, they may detest the time it takes to find the information they’re looking for. And two, they may stress over how long it takes to communicate with other team members. Providing plenty of training and guidance during this transition period can help prevent employees from becoming frustrated and disengaged.
Put your team members’ wants and needs on your agenda for your next video conference. Each person will be different. Listen carefully, take notes, and make a plan to follow up with each team member.
2. Establish Ground Rules and Expectations
Start by spelling out clear expectations. This should include everything from roles and responsibilities to how the team will communicate and celebrate. Be direct and specific. It’s easy to forget that team members can’t read your mind. And now that they’re working remotely, it’s nearly impossible for them to read body language or pick up on visual cues.
Other questions to ask include:
- What tools and technologies will be used to facilitate communication and teamwork?
- How can staff reach you throughout the day, and when is the best time?
- When and how often will the team meet, and what about one-on-ones?
Regularly scheduled video meetings with individual team members are a great way to help remote employees—even if it means you’ll be spending a big chunk of your day on camera.
3. Regular and Frequent Communication
Habitually check in with your team at least once every day. And if you have a larger company, consider meeting with team leaders once a week. Email still has its role but warmer, more human technologies like video chat are more effective—especially for smaller groups.
If you have sensitive information to convey, videoconferencing is a better choice because it is more personal and intimate. Conversely, sending an email or voicemail always leaves room for misinterpretation. Moreover, instant messaging and chat are appropriate for conveying urgent information. Informal and less time-sensitive information can be communicated via project management and collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Basecamp.
4. Create Opportunities to Connect
Many people tend to like working at home, as it provides several benefits, including a feeling of independence, a better work-life balance, and less time in rush hour traffic. But we are social beings, and over time, loneliness and lack of physical connection can take its toll. Social isolation can also affect job satisfaction and morale, causing some employees to leave the company.
Another integral aspect for managers is to promote opportunities for social connection, albeit virtual. This could include informal, spontaneous conversations about topics outside of work to more formal events like after-work virtual happy hours. If your company has a tradition of celebrating employee birthdays, don’t let it fall by the wayside just because you’re out of the office. Convert it to a video call.
5. Develop and Emphasize Soft Skills
According to research by Gallup, employees have four basic needs that must be met in the time of COVID: trust, stability, compassion, and hope. While the hard business skills that you take pride in maintain importance, soft skills like empathy and emotional intelligence will take on greater significance. Being authentic—and even vulnerable at times—is important because it shows empathy and builds trust. Be transparent and candid. Share what you know and what you see from your vantage point—the good, bad, and ugly.
Reach out to your employees as a collective and individually to offer your support. You might ask them, “How are you all adjusting to this new situation?” Be real and they will respond similarly. At the same time, be careful not to paint a picture that is too negative or bleak. Find that balance between empathizing with your team members’ anxiety and acknowledging the difficult road ahead, all while conveying optimism and confidence in the ability of your team to rise to the challenge. Your employees want candidness and authenticity from you. But they also don’t want to lose hope. As a leader during COVID, part of your job description is to keep hope alive.
Being able to effectively guide your team members as they transition to working at home requires a different set of skills: the important but underappreciated soft skills. In fact, as more companies institute remote work policies, interpersonal skills—including managers’ ability to communicate effectively and show empathy—will take on greater importance than ever. If you have cultivated these skills over the course of your career, then you’re ahead of the game. If not, consider seeking some training.
Gary Valkenburg is the CEO and founder of World Manager, a platform that allows every CEO to train, track and communicate with employees, plus control company compliance nationally and globally.
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