by: Remie Longbrake | published: Oct. 19, 2020
Trying to manage workers remotely has been a challenge, but it’s certainly not impossible. In these COVID times, working from home has become a daily reality instead of an uncommon occurrence, we’ve been able to build better remote work strategies for employees. While it took a week or two to get our bearings, the right tools has made remote management easier and more efficient.
If your short-term plan for remote work has suddenly become a long-term strategy, you’re certainly not alone. A study from Global Workplace Analytics states that 80% of managers expect at least 3 days of remote working even after social distancing mandates end. So indeed, COVID-19 has made all business owners rethink the way they run day-to-day operations to protect employees while still maintaining a profit.
Some of the challenges working remote are obvious. Such as accountability factors, access to files, and social interaction. Those all play a large part in our day to day work flow. When we think of working from home, some employees will flourish, however some will not. It’s hard telling the long-term impact on business will be but also that of our greatest resources, our employees.
Use these steps outlined below to better interact with those working remotely, so you can manage effectively and still produce quality results to will impact your bottom line and those your manage.
1. Promote a Harmonious Work-Life Balance
The first thing we want to address is a functional and productive Work-life balance. This has been the most affected part of employee health after the world has gone remote in the these COVID19 times.Stress and worry is a huge concern. We all want our employees to be safe, and working from home certainly allows for this, however, companies still need to be productive and profitable in order to retain our employees and keep the work flow continuous.
Remote work certainly enables us to spend more time with our families. On the other hand, remote work can leave us with no boundaries between personal and professional life. Your employees may feel like they need to be available for work the whole day. This may leave them frustrated without having a proper work-life balance.
To combat this, you should promote work-life balance among employees. You can do this by offering flexible work hours. You should connect with your employees, understand their workloads, and ensure that they are not overworked. Small gestures like these can take your company’s productivity and profitability to new heights.
2. Set Expectations that Advance Collaboration
Clear expectations help your employees stay focused when working from their home offices. Working remotely automatically fosters a more casual environment, but you should still set boundaries so your employees know exactly what you expect. Be realistic and acknowledge that it could take time to settle into a new work-from-home routine. Send out a work-from-home guide that helps answer frequently asked questions about issues like:
As you create guidelines, you create a clear path to work-from-home success for employees who might be nervous about keeping up, or even those who could unfairly take advantage of the arrangement. Clear expectations are key in maintaining trust and managing workflow.
3. Focus on Delivererables and Key Performance
You expect employees to be at the office and focused on working during business hours, but working from home might not be the same case. Home offices are convenient, but they come with distractions, other household members, and family schedules. Expecting a full, uninterrupted 8 hours per day might be setting your employees up for failure and yourself up for frustration.
Instead of focusing on making sure each salaried employee fulfilled their 40 hours per week, we started tracking performance as the main metric. That way, an irregular schedule or disruptions won’t completely derail at-home employees. In this arrangement, the hours worked are less important than what was delivered that week.
Consider what tasks need to be completed and track them to completion. That way, you know exactly what’s being done and don’t need to micromanage your employees’ time at home.
4. Manage Time and Payroll Effectively
Even if you decide to make deliverables your focus, you’ll still need a way for both salaried and hourly employees to track their time in order to submit hours for payroll. The tricky part is ensuring that time reporting is honest and accurate. It’s not just to ensure clean accounting, either: Time management apps can help you identify potential areas of concern and address those trouble areas to increase efficiency and save money.
5. Rethink How You Communicate
It’s important to maintain daily check-ins to keep employees on task and foster good communication. We had a quick 15-minute Zoom call at the start of each day where each employee would update us on what they were working on and any issues they needed to address. Making a point to connect was an effective way to start the day, on time, and maintain workplace relationships.
Zoom, Skype, and Teams make conference calls much easier on your remote workers, but they’re not the only way to stay in touch. Experiment with different services and see which work the best for your group.
6. Reduce Length and Time of Meetings
While you’re rethinking communication, evaluate when and why you call a meeting. Working from home could be complicated for your employees, and as a small business you have the opportunity to reduce work-related stress. It might seem counter-intuitive, but fewer meetings could be the best way to encourage a healthy workflow so employees aren’t stopping work for lengthy calls each day.
Perhaps you could send an email instead of calling a meeting or send a quick message via chat if you need clarification. That way, remote workers can work around family schedules and reply when they have a spare moment rather than waiting for a face-to-face meeting or getting caught up talking about other things. If you do require a video meeting, consider using a transcription service so that those who were sharing work spaces with kids or spouses can catch up when they’re able.
7. Stagger In-Office Schedules
It’s possible to run the design firm mostly online, but there are still times when employees need access to our printer or to drop off plans for clients. During the height of the coronavirus shelter-in-place, we used a staggered schedule to allow employees access to the office and its equipment without violating social distancing guidelines.
A staggered schedule meant assigning “office days” to employees based on their location in the office. Employees who shared an office would come in on opposite days to keep 6 feet apart, and we scheduled face-to-face client meetings on a specific day so the office could be otherwise empty and clients could maintain a healthy distance.
The staggered schedule works on a long-term scale if you have employees who don’t feel comfortable working in an office setting. It’s not just for equipment access; it also maintains a sense of workplace connection and morale for employees to have a day or two of normalcy each week. Just make sure that you have the chance to sanitize high-touch surfaces before the next employees come into the office for their assigned day.
8. Use Accessible Technology
Employees probably won’t have the same setup at home that they do at the office. Still, even if they’re working from their kitchen or tucked away in a closet, their success depends on accessibility. Making sure that your employees have access to a computer, reliable Internet, and shared files makes all the difference in productivity and efficiency.
Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and SharePoint make it easy to collaborate on and share files, while access to tech support helps smooth out any bumps your employees might encounter along the road. It might also be a good time to invest in new devices for the company. If new laptops or tablets help your employees work more effectively at home, they’re worth the upfront costs, and double as write-offs for this year’s taxes.
Phone lines are also a concern if you have fewer employees at the office. Arrange to have calls forwarded to the appropriate employee as your phone service provider can help you with this. Be sure and give clear guidelines surrounding when employees need to be available to take work calls. If you have the budget, consider offering a reimbursement for a percentage of employees’ cellphone bills.
Finally, avoid the temptation of implementing new tech and services before you really need them. Whenever possible, employ the tools your employees already use on a regular basis. If they’re comfortable using Google Drive, for example, there’s no reason to suddenly switch to a new file-sharing service. Sticking to the same old reduces training time and lets your employees go straight to work at home.
9. Be as Flexible as Possible
Offer options to those employees who don’t want to come into the office or need additional times to care for loved ones. In these times we need to find creative balance between being a manager and a human, one that puts real issues at the forefront and then offers solutions. This is not always easy to do, especially in management, where metrics and accountability play a critical part. But there are times where we need to step back, see situations for how they are, and then be supportive. If that means extra time away from work, then offer ways to make up time and provide the extra time needed. Cross training employees can help a lot to fill in extra gaps. Each employee is facing a slightly different reality, but we are in this together, and that’s how we can all prosper moving forward.
10. Support Emotional and Mental Wellness
Remote work, lack of work-life balance, combined with the uncertainty around these challenging times, can put your employees in a dark place. They may feel mentally and emotionally exhausted. This, too, has an impact on your company’s overall growth. Being genuinely empathetic towards your employees should be your foremost priority.
You can start by regularly checking in on your employees, not on the professional front, but solely for establishing personal connections. Have a heart to heart talk and evaluate their current situation. You can even recommend your employees to virtual counseling sessions if they are not in a good place.
You should encourage physical well-being by educating them on ergonomics and holding fun contests that promote physical health. You can offer emotional and mental support by conducting discussions on stress management and sharing mental well-being resources.
11. Don’t Forget to Celebrate Wins
It’s really crucial to show gratitude and stay positive throughout these times. Work together and share successes in my opinion is even more important now. We don’t get to see coworker as much, if ever, in person these days, and being summoned to not leave our homes (in many cases), that can weigh on us all. Take every opportunity to share moments of success in the workplace. We can do this via the same online channels we use for work. You can take a few moments before end of the week to review and thank staff for efforts. And you might need to create a reward, something for these employees to work for and find enjoyable from a often difficult time.
As a small-business owner, you know that every employee, every client, and every hour really counts. Whether a work-at-home workforce is a short-term solution or you’re gearing up for the long haul, smart strategies ease the transition and reduce disruptions in workflow. Take the time to evaluate and implement better policies and allowing your employees to work from home ensures that a reduction in in-office work won’t mean a reduction in success.
If you need assistance with creative scheduling, development of leadership in this highly challenging environment we can help!