Managing Your Employees When Working Remotely

Many businesses and universities have asked their staff to operate remotely in response to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Although about a quarter of the US workforce was already working from home at least some of the time beforehand, the ongoing pandemic has meant that many managers and their employees are working remotely and separate from each other for the first time. While there are a huge amount of benefits to working remotely, especially at the moment, it can throw up many challenges for the uninitiated. 

In an ideal world, working from home policies and guidelines would have been set up prior to anyone working from home, but sometimes, like with the COVID-19 pandemic, it takes us all by surprise and there is no time to prepare and train everyone. When this happens, it takes time for everyone – managers and employees alike – to find their feet and get into the swing of things. 

However, as time has gone on, we have learned to adapt and it has become the new norm for many. It is thought that employers have seen the many benefits that come with remote working, which we will explore briefly below, and will continue to adopt this way of working even if and when things go back to normal.

In this article, we will explore how to manage your employees when working remotely so that you can all be assured that you are getting the most out of the practice.

Benefits of remote working
Before we delve into how to make remote working more achievable and successful, let us take a quick look at the benefits, aside from keeping everyone safe during the pandemic, of working from home are.

  • Fewer overheads – your employees are not in the physical building so it costs less to run
  • Access to a wider pool of talent in recruitment – not limited to areas from which people can commute into the place of work
  • Often allows for greater flexibility which can make staff work more productively
  • Saves employees money – more likely to work harder
  • Better for the environment – you do not have all of your staff driving or traveling in by public transport to work

Common challenges of remote working
To begin with, managers need to consider uncertainties that can make remote work very daunting. Usually productive and high performing members of staff may not be as engaged or productive as they are usually are in the early stages of working remotely, particularly if there has not been the time to train and prepare them adequately. Some of the other challenges that face remote workers include:

  • No face to face contact: Both managers and their workers frequently share concerns about the absence of face-to-face contact. Managers fear that workers are not going to work as hard or as effectively – even though studies indicate otherwise. On the other hand, many workers struggle with diminished access to administrative support and interaction. Employees believe that remotely based managers are not always aware of or in touch with their needs and do not provide the support necessary to help them to get the work done.   
  • Reduced access to information: Workers who arew new to remote working are frequently surprised by the time and the work involved in locating even the most basic information that they need from colleagues. Answers to even the most basic of questions can be a huge hurdle.
  • Social isolation: This is something that many of us are experiencing at the moment, but it is particularly exacerbated by not having social interaction with colleagues. We often underestimate the power of saying hello over the coffee machine or water cooler, or the brief conversation in the break room. It is claimed that in the short term, extroverts may suffer more from solitude, particularly if they do not have opportunities in their remote work environment to interact with others. However, isolation can cause any employee to feel less tied to their organisation over a longer period of time, and can even contribute to increased plans to leave the company.
  • Distractions at home: Usually, remote working would only be allowed or encouraged when the employee has childcare and an appropriate space to work, to avoid the distractions that children can bring. However, the pandemic has thrown these sort of ‘rules’ out of the window, and many people have no choice but to juggle working from home around looking after their young children and in conditions that are less than optimal. It is important that managers and coworkers recognise the difficulties this can bring and allow some degree of leeway.

Communication with your employees
One of the key ways that a manager can support their remote working employees is through communication. 

Establish check ins on a regular basis, whether that is daily, weekly or as and when needed. It could be in the form of a standard voice call, a video call on a platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams or whatever works best for you and your team. The most important thing is that they happen regularly, preferably on a predictable basis and that your employee knows that they are on an opportunity to reach out, raise any issues that they may have and that as a manager, you are listening to the concerns that they have. Video calls in particular can be useful as they give you access to a whole range of visual calls, which can give you more of an insight to the staff member, particlarly if you need to discuss something of a sensitive nature or importance. 

It is also essential that you provide staff working from home a variety of different ways to get in touch. Sometimes a face to face video call is necessary, other times a quick email or messaging service is all that needed. 

You also need to make sure that your employees know exactly what it is they are doing and keep them in the loop. This is where workflow management platforms such as Asana, Slack and Trello, amongst others, can be useful. They allow everyone to see what is going on and means all the information is in one, central place. Applications such as Pipedream allow you to connect and integrate a range of useful APIs to your workflow management platform to make it even more flexible. 

If at all possible, try to encourage some social aspects to team meetings. Just a quick check in and five minutes of not work related chat at the beginning of a meeting can make the world of difference to someone who is feeling socially isolated. You could arrange things such as team pizza parties – arrange to have pizzas or the like delivered to your team members at their homes to coincide with a virtual team meeting. 

Offer support and flexibility
As an employer of remote workers, one of the most important things that you can do is offer support, encouragement and flexibility. This is an unprecedented situation, that many people have found themselves in. As well as having to learn how to work remotely, they have to deal with social isolation, having children around them, potentially homeschooling, worries about their financial situation, worries about their health and so on. Being aware of the worries and concerns that your staff have is important if you want to be an effective – and caring manager.

If an employee is struggling, look at the ways that you can support them. Can you take away some of their workload – perhaps cut out any unnecessary admin tasks, for example? Can you offer them a greater flexibility, so that instead of being expected to be online between the hours of xx and xx, they can work at any time as long as they put the hours in? This flexibility can be invaluable to remote workers and can actually make them more productive, which works out better for you and your business. It also shows that as employers, you care about your staff. This encourages greater loyalty and employee retention, which helps your bottom line in the long term.

Trust them
Finally, one of the best things that you can do is to trust your employees. You hired them for a reason: because you believed that they were competent and responsible to do the job. Nothing has changed. The more trust you put into your employees, the more likely they are to feel valued and put the work in. Through regular communication you will know if there are any issues, and it is important to deal with them as soon as they become apparent. It is a situation that no one thought that they would find themselves in so suddenly, without any preparation or warning, but as we move on through the pandemic and beyond, it is likely that remote working will become more and more common.

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