Solving Small Business

Managing your workforce remotely

Covid-19 has fast-tracked us into a new business paradigm that was, just a few months ago, only slowly infiltrating our business lives. A Gallup poll recently showed that by the end of April, 63% of people had worked from home in the preceding seven days. A Global Workplace Analytics survey shows that between 25% – 30% of the U.S. workforce will be working from home post-pandemic for multiple days of the week. Interestingly, some 77% will want to work from home.

This “new norm” will require managers to rethink, not only their management approach and practices, but also learn new skills. Here are 8 things you should bear in mind if some, or all of your workers are working from home.

  1. Trust is going to be a bigger issue than it was when you could talk face-to-face every day. You need to be able to trust your employees and they need to trust that you will do right by them. Yes, it is a two-way street.
  2. If only some of your employees are working from home you need to bear in mind that those remote workers may feel less important, less valued, less trusted. A recent survey reported in the Harvard Business Review found that they may have concerns that their onsite colleagues or managers are talking about them behind their backs. It doesn’t matter if this fear is unfounded, it will still damage morale.
  3. When remote workers have issues they are more likely to sit on them for longer, rather than trying to resolve them. In their article, A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out; authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield discovered that 84% of remote workers said an issue dragged on for a few days, while 47% admitted that they let issues drag on for weeks. Imagine the loss of productivity during that period.
  4. Often, people working from home miss the camaraderie of the workplace, the water-cooler effect if you like. As a manager try to engage your remote workers in a conversation that spans more than work. Ask about their family, what their plans are for the weekend. It doesn’t have to be extensive nor intrusive but a little conversation that isn’t focused on work will demonstrate that you care. It may also allow them to feel comfortable in bringing up issues or concerns that might be affecting their productivity.
  5. It’s important you familiarize yourself with new technology such as video-conferencing. Sure, you can simply call your employee by phone, but it will be far more personable, not to mention real, if you make it a video-conference call. It’s surprisingly how much better face-to-face management is than talking to a disembodied voice. Plus you have to get out of your PJs and so do they!
  6. Learn to video-conference effectively. Look at the camera frequently, not just at the person’s face on the screen. Think how disconcerting it would be if in person you never made eye contact. Videoconferencing is no different – eye contact is important. And, focus on the call, don’t start reviewing your email, or checking a document. Mute your phone and close your email browser.
  7. Be clear about workload, your expectations, and the deadlines you set for remote workers. Be specific not vague.
  8. Remote workers often complain about being ignored – out of sight out of mind. Be there whenever your employees need you. Communicate often and reply within hours not days. The bonus is that if you communicate quickly and efficiently they will too. Win-win.

Early surveys are beginning to indicate that people working from home are actually more productive when working from home. Of course, the quality of management will have a lot to do with those figures. One thing is certain though; remote workers will become increasingly common. We as managers face a “new norm” it is our responsibility to rise to the challenge.

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