This spring has been a time of rapid changes as everyone across the world grapples with living in a pandemic. The workplace looks radically different for many workers, and everyone has needed to adjust quickly and find new ways to support employees. For remote workplaces, this means new communication strategies, filling the gaps from in-person work, and no small amount of flexibility and understanding.
Although remote work is nothing new, only 29% of Americans are set up to work from home according to the Bureau of Labor. That’s 1 out of 20 service workers and half of information workers. As such, certain sectors are having huge disruptions.
Creating a productive remote workplace requires intentional design by managers and leaders. While it may be tempting to simply try and recreate previous productivity as soon as possible, it’s necessary to take time to build the workplace everyone needs. Here are some tips for making remote work for your company.
Accept that Work is Different
It’s not realistic to expect employees to completely recreate the in-person workplace or production. Instead, find out what your remote employees need, and meet those needs where you can. Even if employees are set up for remote work, be prepared for interruptions, whether technical difficulties or family needs.
Keep in Touch Across the Company
Communication through the company should be frequent, supportive, and transparent. You may find yourself sending more emails to make up for in-person communication. Additionally, since this is a time of rapid adjustment, it’s important to keep your employees informed. This could be a weekly email with bullet points for how the business is handling everything, employee resources, and an employee survey.
You don’t want to keep your employees in the dark, which only breeds stress and lack of confidence in leadership. At the same time, don’t swamp everyone with communications. Be succinct with important information, and make it clear what items are actionable or need responses.
Strike the Appropriate Tone
It’s also important to have the right tone with company communication, which may be different from what you are used to. There is a balance to strike between taking the realities of the pandemic seriously, and increasing stress unnecessarily. Levity certainly has its place, but don’t force false positivity. You don’t know what is going on with employees at home, so it's important not to presume, or demand, their emotions.
Find Out what your Employees Need
Any leader in the workplace needs to know how their employees are coping and struggling, since you cannot necessarily assume what support they need. You could have a daily time for a conversational check-in, or a communication channel for sharing tips for working at home. An anonymous, short survey may allow employees to be more honest about challenges they are facing.
Make Time to be Social
The workplace is a major source of socialization for most workers, but for those who have gone remote loneliness is a big factor. Thankfully there are many ways to socialize virtually, and return some normalcy to everyone’s week.
Consider scheduling a daily morning coffee break in a video or voice call that employees can optionally drop into. Or, have a weekly happy hour. For something more engaging, consider a virtual party game like Jackbox games.
Balance Face-to-Face Communication
It’s important to see each other’s faces, but large video calls can be taxing for computers and phones. If you’re having technical difficulties, try limiting video time. While Zoom is the name on everyone’s lips, there are other video options to consider. The new Google Meeting has auto-generated subtitles, which is a must for HOH employees. Remotion is a program in beta that offers low-impact, small video calls that are great for jumping in and out of calls.
Video time can be a great opportunity to learn more about each other’s home life, and meet their families. For working parents, you could have kids meet each other (and give a parent a quick break).
Tips for Text Programs
If you don’t use a text forum as part of your workplace, now may be the time to start. Slack is a popular option, but there are others including Microsoft Teams, Hangouts Chat, and Chanty. The great thing about these programs is the ability to create multiple text channels. Reduce stress by having a dedicated conversation place for talking about COVID-19. Have a place to share tips about working from home, and something fun like a recipe exchange or pet pictures.
Employee Health and Stress Management Resources
The workplace is one of the best places to address the physical and emotional health of employees, since it comprises a majority of time spent during the week, and has existing structures in place. Managing stress and having accurate health information is more important than ever. Consider not only sharing resources for education and self-help, but 3rd party help lines, and partnering with short classes such as yoga or meditation.
No one has all the answers or can be expected to anticipate every challenge. Now is the time to share ideas within your industry and keep open, compassionate conversations within your workplace.