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How to Manage Remote Workers: How to Lift Both Productivity and Spirits

In the United States, remote work has risen by 173 per cent between 2005 and 2018 and 55 per cent of U.S workers believe remote work will succeed in their industry (Review42). 

This year has pushed millions of employees to work from home, including many who never had before. A number of these remote-work arrangements were implemented abruptly, leaving employees and managers alike to steer a new work reality alongside personal anxieties and concerns about the public health crisis.

Without strong efforts from both workers and management, remote work—especially during this tense, uncertain situation—can leave staff feeling isolated, distracted, unmotivated and very stressed. Luckily, there are ways to make the remote-work experience productive and engaging for both employees and the organization.  

Common remote workplace challenges

Despite all the perks remote work brings, there are a number of challenges that arise from working at home. People working from home or on the move face their own unique set of challenges when it comes to getting things done and fitting work into their personal lives. These issues obviously impact the employee but they also have an effect on the team they’re a part of, too. Some of the most common issues arising from remote work include:

Overcoming distractions

Distractions are a huge productivity killer that can turn remote working into a headache and compromise any team progress. There’s no shortage of distractions when working from home, and some days those distractions definitely seem to get the best of us.

Maximizing productivity

Poor productivity is one of the worst things for remote workers and also can be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome. The longer it takes for an employee to complete a task, the more they take time out of their personal life and the less effective team member they become. Things can quickly start to snowball and fall apart.

Staying motivated

Without the presence of team members and supervisors, there is much less pressure to get things done. A lack of group satisfaction where employees work together and come to a final solution is missing with remote work, replaced by messaging or emailing and loses the gratification of the job.

Unplugging after work

This is listed as one of the worst challenges associated with remote working, with many reporting it impossible to switch off after the day is done. It is impossible to maintain productivity if employees are feeling like they never get a genuine break.

Isolation and loneliness

Employees miss out on so many opportunities when working remotely from connecting with colleagues and managers at Friday happy hours to leadership recognition. Loneliness is also a big factor among remote workers, who can feel isolated from their peers and colleagues.

Remote Work Statistics

  • The amount of people who work remotely at least once per week has grown by 400 per cent since 2010. (GetApp)
  • 42 per cent of employees with a remote work option plan to work remotely more often in the next five years. (Owl Lab’s State of Remote Work 2019)
  • 98% of people would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. (Buffer)
  • 41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time post-pandemic. (Gartner)

How to manage your remote workers

Communication

Communication is an obvious challenge when managing remote employees, making it really difficult to sense intent in messages between team members. 

When compared to face-to-face communication, it is a lot harder to understand a message when it is in text format, especially if employees aren’t used to working together. A quick fix is to install a customary transition to phone calls when the conversation is prolonged.

This can save an abundance of miscommunication and misunderstandings, helping employees align with one another and understand each other better. Having longer one-on-ones with employees can be a quick solution in giving your remote employees a place to communicate their thoughts and feelings and provides for the conversations lost in the office. 

Asking remote specific questions to build more rapport will help in identifying problem areas. Some of the questions include:

  • What are your favorite and least favorite parts about working remotely?
  • Do you feel included in our team decisions? Why/why not?
  • How could I better support remote staff like you?
  • How are you feeling and what is your energy level?
  • What wins, big or small, did you have last week?
  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What do you think could help us improve daily communication?

Ensuring Accessibility and Convenience

With employees working from home, they need to be provided with materials and tools that will give them a positive work experience. Automating processes like pulling data, contact information, even connecting to the company network can make a remote working employee’s life so much easier. 

Ensuring your employees can easily connect to wifi, access the documents they need and are comfortable in their workplace can go a long way. There are a lot of different tools like Microsoft Teams or M-Files, a tool that helps find, share, and secure documents and information for the enterprise. 

Even going as far as to ask if they need any additional technology like a monitor, headset, or computer mouse can go a long way in showing support for your employees.  Connecting employees to technical support to remove any unnecessary stress can establish a smooth working experience for remote workers. 

Establish trust

Building trust with every member of your team is essential. Rapport is what will help you work through the problems each team member has and give them the trust they can come to you with things important to them or if they mess up. Building this trust does not come from just talking about work, it comes from getting to know them as people, not just employees. Asking about their families, what they like to do for fun, even small talk about their weekend are all easy ways to demonstrate that you care about them. And remembering this information is even more important! This will assist in understanding their motivations and help them in their own productivity. 

Be on the lookout

Using direct and indirect observations to get visibility into employees’ challenges and concerns can be a way to identify any distress among them. It is important to use every opportunity to make clear you support and care for them, facilitating regular conversations between managers and employees. A lot of employees can be going through a lot while working remotely and managers need to be extra attentive to mood and behavior.

Increase recognition

Effective recognition not only motivates the employee but serves as a strong signal to other employees of behaviors to emulate. Recognition doesn’t necessarily need to be monetary, it can be a public acknowledgment, a token of appreciation, opportunities to grow, or low-cost perks. A healthy mix of all of these will show an employee they are appreciated. Managers previously identified employees’ work and contributions within the traditional office space, but they are now required to recognize more with less visibility as employees work from home. 

Remote workers and managers have very limited unintended interactions and fewer group interactions where colleagues can meet and share stories about progress. Given the lack of visibility in a remote environment, improving monitoring techniques and relationships with direct reports is important. 

Using simple surveys to ask specific questions and track output consistently can help find areas of recognition and allow employees to tell you what they are proud of. By meeting with employees virtually and asking what barriers they have overcome or ways peers have helped them, you can identify elements to recognize, thank, and share the accomplishments of teams and their members.

Remote team building ideas

Every team relies on meaningful interaction as it helps strengthen relationships, build trust, and creates support. The goal is to have all of your employees be more than just coworkers, you want everyone to be understanding and supportive of one another. Creating a bond like this can be especially difficult with remote workers but team-building exercises can help!

  • Virtual Games

 There are many virtual games that can be adapted to play over a virtual team meeting like Pictionary, Charades, or Words with Friends. These are quick, easy ways to have some non-work-related fun with your employees.

  • Virtual Happy Hour

This will give employees a set time to turn off their work and just connect with their employees. This can be supplemented with a pizza party or even a fun menu to send out beforehand.

  •   Virtual Book Club

An enjoyable way to connect with employees on something particular and will build conversation without focusing on work.

  •  Virtual Coffee Time

 A great and laid back start to any morning, connect with employees before getting the workday started.

  • Bingo or Trivia

These are such easy and enjoyable ways to connect with employees and encourage participation all around. Everyone can relax and enjoy themselves and the company can even provide incentives. This is also a great way to include remote and on-site employees and get some healthy competition. 

How to Monitor Remote Employees

Whether it is a few missed deadlines, disorganization, or disruption at work, there need to be guidelines to follow. The following four strategies can help slacking employees get back on track:

·       Check In

Employees can be facing a lack of work, not enough challenge, or they simply don’t understand what they are working on. They need to be checked in by a manager and asked to communicate what they are working on and why. Even asking about the reasons why they have been distant from work can provide an accurate assessment of what to do next.

·        Set Expectations

Managers should set clear expectations per the company’s standards on a consistent basis.

·        Delegate Tasks

 Delegate tasks accordingly. If the worker is assigned more responsibilities, they will have less time to be unproductive. But this doesn’t mean the person should be overburdened with meaningless tasks. They should see that their actions provide value for the company.

·        Keep them Accountable

 If there is no one around to hold employees responsible, they will divert away from their commitments and deliverables. It is proper to check-in periodically and inquire about the status of a project, not to overdo it.

Conclusion

Vast numbers of employees are now working remotely, more than ever before, and it’s too late to develop a set of remote-work policies if you didn’t already have one. But there are ways to make the remote-work experience productive and engaging — for both employees and the organization. Learning to understand and support employees during remote work can establish a strong organization. 

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