While it may have seemed like a fleeting trend at one time, virtual and remote work have proved in recent years that they are far from temporary. That is truer than ever, as companies across the globe have shifted to remote work strategies to keep employees and clients safe during COVID-19.
Companies and leaders around the world have enacted work-from-home protocols, many of which are lasting longer than initially expected. And while some regions have begun to slowly reopen economies and return to offices, many organizations will have to manage remote workers for the foreseeable future. If you’re managing virtual employees, here are some helpful tips on ways to promote engagement and business continuity during this challenging time.
System Access & Equipment
If you don’t have the right technology in place, working virtually is not possible. So ensure each person on your team has the equipment necessary to work effectively at home. Make sure your teams are also equipped with the applications they’ll need to work from home, such as messaging apps like Skype or Slack or video conferencing software like Zoom or GoToMeeting.
Additionally, ensure that everyone working from home is clear on your organization or your specific team’s preferred methods to stay in contact. If employees have any questions or issues related to access and equipment, be sure that your IT and support teams are prepared to deal with what could be a greater demand during this time.
Meanwhile, when managing virtual employees, ensure your communication is effective and consistent. Set guidelines for how your team should communicate with you, each other, and those who they support inside or outside your business.
It’s also important to continue holding any meetings that you would have held prior the switch to remote work. This includes both one-on-ones with direct reports, as well as ongoing team meetings.
During the meetings, it may be helpful to discuss the following:
- How are the tools you use as a team working for virtual workers? Are you handicapped by poor audio on Skype or do you struggle using any tools the team uses?
- How could I better support you while you are working remotely?
Specifically, use a mix of structured and informal communication methods. For example, blend structured communication approaches – such as weekly checkins via phone or video chat – with informal, real-time communication methods, such as Skype, Yammer, Teams, Google Hangouts, Slack, etc.
Structured communications ensure that there is dedicated time to discuss the ongoing needs of direct reports. This can include the need for time off or modified schedules during this time when things are changing day-to-day and employee health is paramount. Conversely, informal, real-time communication methods can address immediate needs, like updates on tasks and deadlines.
When working remote:
- Consider using video for one-on-one check-ins and coaching – especially if your team is used to meeting face-to-face.
- Encourage camaraderie through team communication. Remote workers may miss the opportunity to interact with teammates on a regular basis.
Keep your virtual employees informed about your business, the current situation related to both COVID-19 and the working from home policy, or other issues that may affect them during this time. At the same time, continue recognizing anniversaries, birthdays and team wins, especially if working remotely might become a long-term plan.
Expectations & Accountability
While your team is working virtually, it’s critical to establish clear expectations and accountability for each person. For example, let your team know that everyone should be available on Skype (or your preferred messaging platform) during their regular work schedule. Depending on the role, you could also request that each person posts an away message on Skype when they are taking their breaks.
Other ways to set clear guidelines around virtual work expectations include opportunities to:
- Encourage employees to create a dedicated workspace in their home that will maximize productivity and ensure professionalism (free from noise and distractions)
- Set expectations with your team on how you would like to review work and when, such as on a conference call or Skype, by a specific due date, etc.
- Track work output by focusing on goals, not activity. Determine how you will measure ongoing productivity and provide feedback during your virtual one-on-one sessions.
- Schedule regular check-ins to gauge progress. Many teams may find daily stand-ups – also known as daily scrums or huddles – are essential for productivity, transparency and collaboration. And, they also hold everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects.
- Ask hourly employees to continue to take lunches and breaks, just like they would in the office.
Finally, be understanding that employees are navigating a new way of working, schedule and routine. For instance, many employees have children at home, spouses or roommates could also be working from home, or an employee could have pets that are not used to having their owners at home or on the phone during the day.