A TIME magazine headline in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic declared, “The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Become the World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.”
Now that many employers have announced that remote work will continue indefinitely, managers who expected it to be temporary must now consider how to adjust their practices for the new work-from-home “norm.”
Here are six tips for managing remote workers for the long haul.
Tip 1: Understand the Importance of Frequent Communication
“Remote workers are three times more likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their manager at least a few times per month. So, communicate,” says Gallup, a global analytics firm based in the United States.
The firm also urges managers to ask employees what their communication preferences are. “Don’t make it a guessing game,” Gallup says, “make it a conversation.” Communication becomes even more important during times of increased uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tip 2: Set Clear, Objective Work Expectations and Productivity Standards
Employers must establish and communicate criteria that specify when remote employees are expected to be working and available. For instance: “Employees must be available for meetings and calls daily during core hours.”
Also, productivity standards must spell out specifically what employees are expected to get done during work hours. For instance, a companywide policy may state that all customer emails and phone messages must be answered by the end of the workday.
Of course, it’s the manager’s responsibility to reinforce expectations and hold remote employees accountable.
Tip 3: Establish Structured Check-Ins
Schedule a daily check-in or “stand-up,” which is a simple, short, 15- to 20-minute meeting at the same time every morning.
Just gather around whatever digital platform you normally use, and starting with the manager, give every team member no more than two minutes to answer three questions:
- What did you get done yesterday?
- What will you get done today?
- What impediments are hindering your progress?
Allow some discussion, particularly if other team members can help resolve impediments. But keep to the time allotted and don’t get bogged down with any one team member. Take a note to schedule a one-on-one to discuss individual issues or problems.
Tip 4: Set Expectations for Urgent and Routine Communication
Even if managers schedule regular one-on-ones, it’s helpful to set “rules of engagement” specifying how and when to contact the manager given a range of situations. For example:
- When something is urgent: Send a text to the manager’s mobile phone.
- For non-urgent matters during the workday: The best times for impromptu calls or video chat with the manager are early in the morning and late in the day.
- To schedule a virtual or in-person meeting: Check the manager’s calendar for open times. Please limit duration to 30 minutes, but if more time is needed, please email the manager before scheduling.
Managers should also encourage communication among team members to ensure that information about work is shared within the team.
Tip 5: Schedule Virtual Social Events With Remote Workers
Managers need to include remote employees in social, non-work activities. For instance:
- Add a few minutes to the stand-up once a week just to catch up. Let everyone offer a personal update. Allow people to say “pass” if they choose.
- Throw a quarterly virtual party and have pizza delivered to remote team members before the start time. A variation is a quarterly virtual birthday party with cupcakes delivered. Recognize those with birthdays during the quarter.
These types of activities can help remote employees feel more connected and less isolated.
Tip 6: Don’t Be Concerned That Remote Employees Aren’t Working
Remote workers put in “an average of 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days per year,” notes a survey of more than 1,000 full-time employees reported in Inc. Magazine.
Further confirmation comes from Gallup, which says that remote work can contribute to higher employee engagement and productivity.
While taking good care of remote workers means a little extra work for a manager, the effort can pay off with higher engagement and productivity.
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