Teleworking is not a new concept. According to 2018 telecommuting statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, 4.3 million employees work remotely in the U.S., 3.2% of the entire workforce. With the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. and the resulting stay-at-home orders, that number has grown exponentially with millions of employees worldwide teleworking. While the accelerated implementation of teleworking for some businesses is not ideal, it could lead to a complete change in the way we view working arrangements. As necessity is the mother of invention, might “remote work” become just “work” with teleworking being the new norm? Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, has an interesting perspective:
We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic, will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices. For those who were new to remote work until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption. Our best estimate is that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021.
Whether or not this is the case, at least for the time being, managers need to know how best to support their remote workers as teleworking requires significant shifts in management practices, communication methods and workflow processes. The following guidelines can help managers through the current COVID-19 pandemic and after should businesses decide teleworking is a better way to work.
Establish a Teleworking Policy
If your company lacks a teleworking policy, now is the time to develop one, particularly if employees are currently teleworking during this pandemic. Issues to address in the policy include eligibility, performance and work hours expectations, safety of the workplace, timekeeping, equipment, cybersecurity, communication channels and situations in which the arrangement will be discontinued. For more information on issues to consider when developing a policy, see Smart HR’s Telecommuting 101 blog. Don’t wait until your next employee handbook to give this policy to your employees. Disseminate it now so everyone is on the same page about expectations.
For those businesses without remote employees prior to this pandemic, equipping employees to effectively do their work from home has possibly been the most challenging hurdle to overcome. Among the many tools, equipment and resources needed are laptops, videoconferencing solutions, collaboration tools, broadband access, cybersecurity measures, access to critical documents and tech support.
Technical issues can completely incapacitate your remote workers. A responsive IT support team that is available 24/7 is critical to ensure smooth workflow. If you don’t have in-house IT support, you can contract with a managed service provider (MSP) whereby your employees can engage with the vendor’s techs directly who have access to your IT systems.
Set and Keep a Daily Interaction Schedule
To combat feelings of isolation, maintain personal interactions and keep employees focused, arrange opportunities for daily interactions with teleworking employees. By having a standing one-on-one and team meetings through virtual platforms like Slack, Skype and Zoom, you can make employees feel connected to you and the organization. Create opportunities for purely social interactions too like a virtual happy hour or coffee break.
Be Responsive and Available
Not being in physical proximity to remote employees makes timely and regular communication that much more important to building effective relationships. Check in with your remote employees at regular intervals erring on the side of too much communication than not enough. Don’t wait to respond to their emails, instant messages and phone calls. If nothing else, acknowledge receipt of a communication if you are not able to handle a request or provide information immediately.
Foster Collaborative Teams
It’s easy to become siloed if you only reach out to remote employees individually. In addition to those one-on-one communications, set up team meetings regularly to promote transparency, collaboration and productivity. Consider using a work and project management cloud-based tool like Teamwork to keep team members on the same page and automate the team’s workflow. For Microsoft users, MS Project is popular for its ease of use and ability to mimic how projects evolve in real time. Remember that there is a learning curve when introducing and mastering new software collaboration tools so be patient and supportive with your teams.
Trust Your Employees
Trust is at the heart of every successful remote working arrangement. Teleworking may have been slow to catch on among some company leaders for fear that performance would suffer if employees are not closely watched. Traditional employment models viewed employees as commodities that needed to be handled, supervised and monitored. The paradigm is shifting as employees are now appreciated more for their individuality, talents and unique traits they bring to the workplace.
When managing remote workers, control must be replaced with trust. Does it really matter if a remote employee begins working at 8:00 a.m.? What if she feels more alert, creative and productive after her morning jog? Isn’t the final product what’s most important? By giving remote employees more freedom and leeway in how their work is performed, you are also freeing up your time to focus on other management objectives. Consider establishing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Timely) goals used to accurately assess an employee or team’s performance. Focus on the output not necessarily the activity. Set and communicate clear expectations and provide remote employees the tools needed to achieve them.
Be Flexible, Patient and Keep Evolving
For many, managing remote workers is an entirely new concept. Understand that the arrangement is fluid and processes will need to be changed and tweaked. Employees and teams need time to get accustomed to new software, virtual platforms and other communication means. Making the transition to working from home presents other challenges like effective time management and setting boundaries between work and family. Anticipate that situations will arise and be patient with your employees as everyone gets accustomed to the new norm.
Be Smart and Call Smart HR
Smart HR has been helping clients set up and manage remote workers for a long time and can suggest innovative ways to make your remote arrangement successful. Remember you will still need an HR presence, albeit virtual, with a remote workforce. Smart HR can handle your benefits administration, recruiting, onboarding, employee relations, performance management, compensation and employee communications. Call Smart HR today for more information.