Although close to a quarter of the U.S. workforce was already working from home at least part of the time prior to COVID-19, many are now doing this for the first time. Companies of every size have recently been thrust into working remotely without much time to prepare for this change. Working remotely can bring employees to feel anything from being isolated to being micromanaged. Fortunately, there are some best practices that can create a human-centered remote workplace.
Establish Rule of Engagement for Communications
Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. For example, using videoconferencing for daily check-in meetings, instant messenger when something is urgent, email updates and text between teams and co-workers. J ust like traditional, in-office employees, remote employees should know exactly how to get ahold of the C-suite or human resources if they ever have questions, concerns or complaints.
Provide several communication technology options
Email alone is not sufficient for the virtual workplace. Video conferencing allows remote workers the benefit of many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face. Visual cues allow for increased “mutual knowledge” about coworkers and also help reduce the sense of isolation among teams. Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.
Create a virtual mentor program
Instead of foregoing the benefits of a mentorship program simply because your employees aren’t physically in the office, create a program that matches remote employees with a virtual mentor and encourages periodic video chats.
Employees are still looking to collaborate and connect with co-workers. The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items and conversation. Other options include virtual pizza parties (in which pizza is delivered to all team members at the time of a videoconference), or virtual happy hours. These events may seemed a bit artificial at first, but can go a long way to help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging.
Train managers to not micromanage
Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently (though research indicates otherwise, at least for some types of jobs). Creating a management training program centered around communication, compromise and workstyle acceptance will give your managers the tools they need to avoid micromanagement tendencies. Promoting a culture of employee autonomy and trust will make employees feel valued and boost employee morale.
No doubt, there will be creative learning during this time of transforming how we work. Possibly we will take some of this forward to improve how we work in the future. It is interesting that UpWork’s 2019 Future Workforce Report states that by 2028, 73 percent of all teams will have remote employees. Possibly, the recent COVID crisis will cause this to come sooner than later.