The transition to the new remote work reality was gradual, then sudden. Since the dawn of the web, a certain percentage of the working population could work full-time from home or on the road, but it did not become commonplace for at least another decade.
Now, in the wake of Covid-19 and widespread restrictions, we’ve seen an entire generation of workers make the switch over to full-on telecommuting- with mixed results.
On the one hand, remote work is a major time saver for workers at all levels, and has financial benefits as well. All that cash saved on transportation, lunch downtown, and after-work drinks can add up quickly. Some people are just naturally better suited for productivity in their home offices, so for many, it’s a dream come true.
But remote work comes with its downsides, as well, especially for workers who thrive on interpersonal connection and strong office culture.
Managers are presented with a new set of challenges to ensure team members feel included, connected, and recognized, despite not being able to engage face to face.
Here are a few things that team leaders should keep in mind as they manage a remote workforce and aim to make working from home a positive experience for all.
Open New Channels of Communication
With in-person meetings out of the question, managers need to double down on communication across the board. That means more emails, more messages, more phone calls, and more video conferences, even if it feels like overkill at first.
“After almost a full year of remote work, employers and employees alike have discovered the possibility of functioning at full capacity from the comfort and safety of their homes,” said Daniel Shapiro, Founder and CEO of Fourlaps. “This drastic change in our lives has changed our outlook on what we understand is actually necessary to run a business.”
Remote work is impossible without the technology to support it, which explains why so many startups are now aiming to address the challenges of a remote workforce.
From live project management to instant collaboration tools, recent software advancements have been astounding, and early adopters stand to benefit greatly from their use.
Be More Organized with Meetings
We can no longer walk over to a coworker’s desk and ask a favor or opinion about a project. These tiny interactions are what glue teams together on key projects, and that dynamic needs to be replaced with digital engagement.
Team meetings are crucial in this time, so learn some ways to effectively collaborate online and keep everyone engaged.
“For starters, you always want to organize the meeting’s content into slide decks so that everyone can follow along,” said Jeff Goodwin, Senior Director of Marketing at Orgain. “This also helps stay away from digression and tangents that prolong the meeting. You want to include a slide for the agenda that outlines who and what will be addressed and approximately how long to keep on topic and on time.”
There are many apps available to keep the dialogue flowing, so use them all and never hesitate to over communicate.
Combat Burnout and Offer Guidance
Remote workers can easily fall into the trap of overworking, since their desks are just around the corner from their beds, kitchens, and relaxation areas.
While bottom-line productivity may see a boost, burnout can happen if they don’t set boundaries. Managers may need to step in and remind everyone to stay balanced during heavy bouts of work.
“Hopefully, as companies give more attention to the importance of work-life balance, more and more people will be in a better position to decide and act more holistically on what’s important to them,” said Entrepreneur and Queens College President Mohamed El-Erian.
There are apps that track how much time employees are spending on work, and managers can keep an eye on unusual patterns like late-nights and early weekend mornings. If workers start to slip on responsibilities or make mindless mistakes, it could be signs of hitting the brick wall.
Rethink Financial Education
It’s been a tough run for everyone, financially speaking, and remote workers might feel overwhelmed about their uncertain futures.
That’s why some companies are launching financial wellness programs that help employees stay on top of their budgets and savings during tough times.
“Financial wellness is often overlooked where wellness programs are concerned,” said Roy Ferman, CEO and Board Chairman for Seek Capital. “With unemployment and a shaky economy looming over our heads, it is so vital for everyone’s livelihood to get counseling on the best money moves.”
Even if most employees are relatively savvy on the topic of personal finance, they’ll appreciate the gesture and surely find some value in the programs offered.
“The average person is likely to just be coasting through their finances without direction so employing a financial wellness coach into your wellness benefits will be very advantageous for your team,” Ferman continued.
Rethink Remote Onboarding
Just because remote work is now the norm, doesn’t mean you can loosen up on standards when onboarding new employees. This is the time to revisit your protocols.
“The main goal of an onboarding process is to set clear expectations and introduce job responsibilities,” said Dr. Tim Shu, Founder and CEO of VETCBD Hemp. “In a virtual environment, these expectations don’t change. It’s especially important to emphasize to your remote employees how beneficial their jobs are while working from home.”
Give employees a full range of tools to work with and position them for success in the company, and they will get with the program far faster.
“Virtual meetings are a must for new employees, and setting a time for them to meet up with the people they are going to be working alongside is crucial to set the tone and expectations of their new job,” Dr. Shu continued.
Onboarding remote workers doesn’t have to be a headache, and these guidelines will help you make it as painless as possible.
Create Social Opportunities and Support Structures
It’s crucial to maintain a semblance of social activity while everyone is telecommuting these days, and this can be done via video chat hangouts or online games.
It may not be the same as beers at the bar, but it’s better than nothing. Some companies are spending a bit of extra time and cash to make sure everyone knows each other and feels involved. A little goes a long way.
“Begin by encouraging employees to form personal relationships within the company,” said Eric Wu, COO and Co-Founder of Gainful. “It’s bizarre to join a company where most folks haven’t ever met in person, so we try to have small virtual social events to encourage people to feel more connected. In addition, we’ve provided team members with a remote work stipend that they can use on everything from a new desk chair to a houseplant to beautify their workspace.”
Every organization will have a unique approach depending on culture, so managers have to find the sweet spot between formal and casual that works best for them.
Constant Connection: Pros and Cons
For better or worse, remote workers are “always-on”, meaning they tend to work outside normal hours and stay connected with teams at all times. It’s a tricky balance that managers and leaders are trying to maintain.
“We’re seeing much higher levels of productivity within our organization,” said Rishi Kulkarni, Co-Founder and CEO of Revv. “With fewer options to engage socially, employees are turning to that one network that’s still actively connected, their workplace. Because of this, we find ourselves more fatigued as work is our main focus while in isolation.”
It’s important for team leaders to check in 1-on-1 with workers throughout the month to make sure that pressures and priorities are in proper order.
Keep an Eye Toward the Future
Working at home can really make the days blend together, and it’s important to keep setting goals for team members at every level of the organization. This could mean planning out new projects, talking about promotions, and discussing bigger aspirations within the company and beyond.
Simply speaking about the future in a positive and intentional way can help keep the monotony of remote work at bay, and give everyone something good to look forward to, even if it isn’t a groundbreaking new concept.
“Keeping employees motivated is all about putting out the same energy you expect in return,” said William Schumacher, Founder and CEO of Uprising Foods. “If we enter Zoom meetings and I bring a positive and uplifting energy, the employees will likely return that energy to you.”
With these tips in mind, managers will have a much easier time navigating unexplored territory and making the best of this new remote work paradigm.