COVID-19 has changed our world in an endless number of ways.
For many organizations, one of the biggest adjustments has been the sudden move to a virtual workforce. With the pandemic continuing its wrath across the U.S., many companies now expect their staff members to continue to operate virtually for the remainder of the year. If this is the first time you are managing remote employees, and especially if telecommuting is also new to them, it can be unsettling. You can’t simply provide your team members with video conferencing tools and assume that business will go on as usual. Remote work environments have unique nuances that must be addressed. How you can ensure that your virtual employees are productive, engaged, and thriving?
In this article, we’ve compiled seven valuable tips to help you successfully navigate the managerial challenges that can come with remote work situations.
Start by recognizing that stress and isolation sometimes result from virtual working environments. When you’re accustomed to seeing your colleagues and clients every day and that face-to-face interaction is abruptly removed, feelings of isolation can crop up. For some staff members, these settings can hinder focus, teamwork, and creativity. And although it’s not often addressed, it’s important to recognize and manage the high stress levels that can also result from working remotely. If you want your team to stay healthy, happy, and productive, this awareness is a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
Make training and development a priority. It’s an ideal time to take advantage of the many e-learning opportunities that exist, and that includes you as well as your staff members. The HR Team recently created several new training modules, including, “Home Sweet Office: Coaching for Performance and Engagement”, a one-hour course designed to aid virtual managers in acclimating their teams to the potentially long-term remote employment scenario. “We actually started developing this training in March because we knew managers would be seeking guidance regarding the transition to remote leadership,” says Melissa Ferrell, SPHR, HCS, Managing Consultant for The HR Team. “As we created the session, we kept seeing changing experiences and circumstances, so the course continued to evolve. The final version captures the many critical aspects of coaching for performance in today’s unusual remote working environment.”
Don’t expect performance issues to vanish. Just because your team members are now required to work from home, it won’t magically make them all strong performers. “In our pre-COVID world, the ideal remote candidate demonstrated certain characteristics, such as reliability, initiative, and self-discipline,” says Ms. Ferrell. “The health crisis suddenly thrust many workers into a virtual situation, whether they are suited to it or not. If anything, this environment compounds existing performance issues. Distractions may be abundant and communication is impeded. It’s not the ideal setting for employees who were already faltering.” However, she cautions, that doesn’t mean job performance can’t be improved or that efforts shouldn’t be made to help every staff member to execute at his or her highest level.
Think of it as ‘work/life integration’ rather than ‘work/life balance’. In the move to virtual, no longer is the office physically separated from home. These two worlds must now exist together. Accept that traditional schedules might have to go right out the window. Busy parents may be tasked with teaching their kids. Workspaces may not be ideal. The inherent stresses of the pandemic are affecting people too. It means that this is time for flexibility. “Although it’s important to have a concrete plan in place, you should be open to adjusting strategies as needed,” says Ms. Ferrell, “Whether your employees choose to put in their hours in the morning or evening shouldn’t matter, as long as the work gets done and the quality is there.”
Kick micromanagement to the curb. You shouldn’t have to be looking over your team’s shoulders while they’re in the office, and you shouldn’t have to do it when they’re remote, either. If your employees are communicating appropriately and are meeting their goals and deadlines, what’s not to trust? Regular one-on-one check-ins can help you avoid micromanaging while still enabling you to keep a pulse on your team and providing them with opportunities to share their feedback. And while it’s important to track metrics and communicate with your employees, remember that too much oversight can signal mistrust.
Quality communication matters now more than ever. It’s crucial that you routinely communicate individually with your remote staff to keep them apprised of expectations, deadlines, work-related challenges, and to get their feedback. Also, consider which communication tool best fits your team’s culture—e-mail, texts, phone calls, video chats, etc. Keep in mind that the style and frequency of communication may differ among employees. “It’s best to ask each of your team members how they prefer to be managed while working remotely,” recommends Ms. Ferrell. “Zoom burnout is real! Extraverts who thrive on interaction may relish lots of video calls, while more introverted staff members may find that off-putting.”
Focus on building connections. It’s easy for employees to feel removed and disoriented in this new work reality. That’s why it’s so important to focus on building connections with your team members. “Be compassionate and keep an open dialog,” says Ms. Ferrell. “Your employees need to feel supported, informed, and know that you care about them.” Sharing positive feedback, playing remote games, enjoying virtual happy hours together—do whatever you can to maintain a sense of normality and solidarity.
The HR Team’s online sessions represent the gold standard in supervisor training.
To register for “Home Sweet Office: Coaching for Performance and Engagement” or any of our other available classes, please contact your consultant or register online. If you have questions or would like more information about our array of tools for managers, reach out to our knowledgeable professionals.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.