For several years now, remote work has been heralded as the future for many businesses and their employees. In the world of COVID-19, that future has arrived. It’s great that more people no longer have to waste time and energy on a daily commute, and teams still manage to collaborate and get things done despite lockdown measures in many areas. But even if remote work has proven to be a success for your organization, there may be things you can do to improve, especially for the workers.
Giving each employee the necessary devices, ensuring everyone has access to reliable high-speed internet, and working with a managed IT support company to move everything to the cloud—those measures cover the basics. Here’s what you can do to go beyond and strengthen your team of remote workers.
Create a sense of structure
For all the perceived negatives of working at an office each day, the environment carries with it a sense of proper expectations. Family members don’t feel free to drop by and interrupt you at any time. Office furniture hardly offers the same comforts as a bed or couch. And the presence of a supervisor tends to keep people focused on their tasks.
People who work from home don’t enjoy the clear separation of functions that we take for granted in an office setting. Being flexible is indeed a perk of the arrangement, and they don’t need to be working at specific hours so long as they get their tasks done within a set timeframe. But losing that sense of structure can hinder productivity for people who aren’t accustomed to working from home, or don’t have well-developed time management and task prioritization skills.
Take the time to survey the members of your team. Suggest improvements that can help everybody to set their home office apart from the common areas, and define boundaries so that other people in the home will respect their work hours. If the team agrees, you can even specify a window of time during which everyone should be working and available for meetings, chats, or email correspondence.
Improve all communications
Remote working arrangements wouldn’t have been a convenient solution to the pandemic without modern communications technology and apps. These have come a long way over the years to enable effortless collaboration and communication across time zones.
However, even if you’ve seen to it that everyone has the essential suite of apps, there are still areas in which communications can be improved. For instance, how many people in your team are aware of business email etiquette and observe it? In chatrooms, which are by nature a more informal tool, are there any who dislike the use of emojis, slang, or shorthand? When you collaborate across time zones, who has to adjust, and what are the acceptable hours for sending communications? And are any misunderstandings arising from the loss of nonverbal cues in messages sent through these platforms?
Your team may have proficiency with the apps, but few people deliberately work on their communications skills to bring it up to the same level. Now might be a good time to conduct a quick refresher or have everyone get on the same page and be on board when it comes to the way you communicate with each other.
Find ways to drive engagement
Even outside of the remote working context, people who interact mostly through social media are prone to missing out on the value of face-to-face interactions. Increasing loneliness and anxiety have been linked with addiction to social media.
Remote workers are not necessarily socially isolated; they may share homes with family and friends, or seek to increase their interactions with others in the community. But they also lose several hours each day filled with informal interactions with colleagues at the office, staff in restaurants and stores, acquaintances they meet on the way to and from work.
They also risk losing the sense of being part of your company culture—something that is built up over time by doing things together, whether it’s working long hours on the same project at the office, heading out for lunch, or going on a team-building activity.
Take steps to arrest that decline. Instead of scheduling only work meetings, try setting up a team lunch over Zoom, or have a gaming hour (or two). Technology allows remote teams to do these simple things together and remain engaged.
Remote work has proven beneficial and may make a lot of employees happy, but few have had the chance to study its effects in the long term, certainly not on the current scale. By working to support your employees in these aspects, you’ll help to keep them strong in an uncertain period.