The COVID-19 outbreak has caused tectonic shifts in the way most companies and industries across the world are doing work. Many organizations have shifted to a 100 percent remote work model while shelter-in-place orders are still in effect.
If you’re among the leaders and managers scrambling to put together a work-from-home program for your team, you’re not alone. And while the work-from-home solution has arguably saved hundreds of companies from catastrophic profit loss, the fact of the matter is that after a few weeks, remote work can lose its appeal and lead to disengaged employees—especially among employees unfamiliar with this way of working.
So here are five ways you can engage your remote workers.
1. Don’t Micromanage.
It’s hard not to worry when your workforce is suddenly decentralized—especially since the new social distancing mandates were implemented with little warning and made for a jarring transition.
“When a traditionally in-office workplace goes remote, company managers often feel . . . powerless and disconnected with their employees, and these feelings sometimes cause them to micromanage,” says Lior Ohayon, CEO at Hush Blankets, as reported by Brian O’Connell on SHRM.org. However, he also notes that putting extra pressure on workers who are already under stress could also diminish productivity.
To combat micromanaging, it’s helpful to know the telltale signs. Typically, micromanagement rears its head when supervisors don’t realize precisely what their roles and jobs are,” O’Connell points out. So when you feel the urge to start hovering, take a deep breath and remember that as a manager your primary responsibilities are to:
- tell your team what to deliver and how and when to deliver it;
- answer your team’s questions; and,
- manage and provide resources to your workers.
In other words, your role hasn’t changed. But given the current and unprecedented circumstances, there are a few ways to make things easier. First, make sure you adjust your expectations. After all, your workers are quarantined, too, and many have families. Therefore, kids may be in the background, or dogs barking, or video calls coming in from the backyard. Take it in stride and do your best to be empathetic, especially if they’re meeting their daily and weekly goals.
Second, don’t be afraid to trust your team. After all, 39 percent of remote workers complete their tasks more quickly than in-house workers. So if you’re taking steps to set them up for success, you may even notice some improvements in their performance.
Additionally, it’s essential to set clear expectations about how you expect your team to behave while working from home, including when they should be online, how quickly they’re expected to respond to communications, how to come across professionally during video calls, and more.
2. Find Ways to Give Team Members a Sense of Belonging.
For teams used to working on-site, group coffee breaks and happy hours are often an essential part of the culture. Encourage your team to bring those good vibes home with them by recommending they take five- to ten-minute video-call coffee breaks together to chat and decompress. This allows your team to spend time with their colleagues that doesn’t necessarily involve talking shop.
You can also go one step further and establish Slack Channels or Google Hangouts dedicated to decompressing, where employees can pop in and converse on work-appropriate topics to break up their repetitive days at home.
3. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Your Team with Surveys.
Now more than ever, it’s critical to get feedback from your employees on how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and if or how and where they’re struggling. You can do this by sending out weekly or biweekly pulse surveys. Typically, these surveys include a few multiple choice or yes/no questions about where your employees are, workwise and otherwise. Best of all, they only take a couple minutes (if that) to fill out.
This is a great way to gauge employee morale and strategize based on the feedback you get. For example, if you find your employees are struggling with time management, you can then consider implementing employee tracking programs like TimeDoctor or Timely to help your team stay on-track.
4. Keep Your Team in the Loop.
One of the best ways to reduce the stress among your team and keep them engaged is through consistent, transparent communication. “Prepare powerful presentations to keep them engaged and motivated and provide them with all possible updates through communication channels,” advises Nina Krol, outreach manager at Zety, as reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In times like these, where things change day by day and sometimes hour by hour, it’s also critical to be honest about what’s going on with the organization. Additionally, make sure you have multiple ways to contact your employees, including chat, phone, and email.
5. Engage in High-Touch Onboarding for New Workers.
During these times of unprecedented layoffs and furloughs, many organizations are turning to freelancers and on-demand talent to fill in the gaps on their teams. Along with the rest of the work getting done by your team, onboarding recent hires will also be a 100-percent remote process. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure you’re engaging not only your veterans but also any new workers you’re welcoming to the team.
What’s more, it’s critical to determine both culture fit and quality of work. One way to evaluate the quality of work among new freelance hires is to engage them in a short-term project that lasts anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on how much time they can commit. This lowers the risk for your company, allowing you to get a sense of whether or not this worker will be a good overall fit for your team and your project. Additionally, be sure to inform them about any hardware reimbursements or coworking allowances they might have access to.
Remember, new team members often rely on over-the-cubicle-wall questions to get ramped up in their roles. Without face-to-face interaction, it’s much harder for new workers to determine whom to go to for guidance or where to find company policies.
Also, be sure to assign new workers a dedicated mentor, or to participate in daily one-on-one check-ins to ensure they’re getting all of their questions answered.
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6. Keep Calm and Carry On.
Perhaps the most important strategy of all is to practice patience with both your team and yourself. If you can, try to set boundaries and resist creating an “always on” work environment by only responding to communications during the workday and encouraging your team to do the same. Ready to step up your game managing remote teams and on-demand talent? Talk with the experts at Stoke to learn how you can easily manage freelancers and offsite workers.