Photo: Franceso Gallorotti
Before any of us had even heard of the coronavirus, the remote workforce was already expanding. In fact, according to Global Workplace Analytics, it’s been growing about 10 percent every year for the past decade. But with our current situation, more and more of us are being pushed into remote work faster than ever. In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that 74 percent of CFOs anticipate taking previously on-site employees fully remote in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Remote work has long been a point of contention. For those who haven’t had the option, it sounds almost too good to be true. Meanwhile, those who do work remotely are quick to point out that there’s a big difference between a day in a home office and a day off. Turns out there are valid points on both sides. Remote workers do enjoy perks like increased flexibility and time saved by not commuting. However, research has found that remote employees work an average of 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts. That adds up to three additional weeks of work per year! While remote work can increase productivity, it often leads to consistently long hours, which can have an adverse effect on mental health. That’s just one reason why managing a remote workforce can be a challenge. You need to inspire and motivate your team to do more than just their best work; you need to motivate remote employees to take care of themselves too.
Burnout is real. Even before this crisis, 29 percent of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31 percent said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health. To really manage, motivate, and protect your most important asset — your people — consider these four suggestions.
Communicate Frequently and With Purpose
Working remotely, employees often feel disconnected. If they don’t receive information from leadership, they turn to other sources, formal and informal, and that can cause confusion and even panic. It’s important to ensure that the entire organization — onsite, on the road, or at home — understands the priorities of the business and exactly where they fit in. Creating a clear roadmap helps employees understand the ultimate goal of their work, making them more productive and reassured that their efforts contribute toward a positive outcome. Gartner Research highlights this as one of the most important parts of a remote work strategy.
That said, good communication goes both ways. Successful companies have leaders who embrace a culture of collaboration and continuous learning; one where listening means giving consideration and adjusting to the thoughts of subordinates, peers, supervisors, and across departments. When employees across an organization agree that there is something to be learned from everyone in the room (even if it’s a virtual room), you can surface more diverse perspectives, foster more effective communications, and achieve greater goals.
Establish a Routine
For my team at Skillsoft, one of the ways we’ve managed to stay connected is by making standup meetings and check-ins part of our daily rhythm. This gives teams more opportunities to communicate and has been key to providing a sense of normalcy even in these not-so-normal times.
Furthermore, Harvard Business Review emphasizes how important it is for weekly routines to include more than just tactical work. Make sure you also prioritize rituals that focus on social connections, whether it’s a virtual welcome lunch for new hires or a Friday afternoon snack break. This will help you maintain the cadence and culture of your organization.
Of course, it’s key for managers to be available to their teams for emergencies. But, they should also address the need for rest, lunch breaks, and “shutting down” for the day. Clearly communicating this across your team will help level-set and establish a routine that’s more holistic, including work time and downtime. These natural breaks will keep days from fading into one another, a complaint we’ve heard a lot of in recent weeks.
Be There for Each Other
It’s so easy to feel alone right now. Being entirely remote can add stress, regardless of a person’s role or level in the organization. Leaders can often feel that the fate of the company rests solely on their shoulders, but they need community just as much as everyone else. We all need mentors. We all need people who can give us a “reality check” and help us rationalize.
This kind of culture can’t be fostered overnight, but it’s crucial for businesses to begin to build a supportive, collaborative environment as remote work becomes more common. In fact, Forrester Research highlights culture as one of the most important elements of a successful work from home strategy. Employees that feel they can bring their whole selves to work, who feel that they are on a team that supports and represents them, are more likely to feel motivated and get more enjoyment out of difficult tasks, according to research from Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton.
Pay attention to — and course correct — any challenges that arise. For example, according to research from A. Joshi and R.S. Gajendran, virtual communication can sometimes discourage team members from speaking up. But, when you establish your work environment as a place for open collaboration, this hesitation tends to fade. Strong virtual teams are built on a foundation of trust. Start from a place of shared humanity and send your team a message of solidarity: we’re all in this together. When employees feel a sense of comradery and belonging, the impact can be incredible.
We’re living — and working — through a time of uncertainty. But it’s important to stay optimistic and supportive in all your interactions. Think about some of the silver linings. Personally, I’m thankful for the extra time spent with my family. Working from home has given us opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have had: catching up over lunch, doing morning workouts, and spending evenings cooking together.
Working from home also offers workers and managers alike an incredible chance to broaden our horizons and push ourselves toward new goals. Companies that tap into the power of learning will see increased engagement going forward. Motivate employees to embrace this time; make learning core to your company’s culture. When employees are given the resources to engage with information they truly care about, they will develop competencies and confidence that can be applied throughout their experience – both on the job and in their lives.
Businesses that adhere to these four simple tenets of leadership will quickly realize that it really comes down to one basic principle: be human. During this time, the best thing we can do is demonstrate empathy, compassion, and concern for each other. Embracing genuine understanding and positivity is the best course in times of uncertainty. You’ll reap the benefits and so will your team.
This post is sponsored by Skillsoft.