How to Effectively Manage a Newly Remote Workforce
Part II of a three-part series of timely workplace advice articles from the Hawaii Employers Council
Many offices have been working remotely since mid-March, giving supervisors and employees time to develop routines, adjust expectations and communicate feedback to improve their work process. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to overcome certain pitfalls of working remotely. Traci Manalani, director of organizational effectiveness at Hawaii Employers Council, shares her tips for improving communication, productivity and engagement among remote teams.
My employees aren’t as productive as in the office. How can I increase productivity?
First, recognize that many employees do not have an ideal work-from-home situation. With schools closed and spouses also working remotely, your employees may struggle with juggling their regular workload while helping their children with schoolwork. Some employees may not be available during typical office hours, while others may not have a quiet space to work in a small apartment. Be as flexible as you can to accommodate different situations with empathy and kindness.
Second, consider how you are measuring productivity Are you comparing employees’ current output to what they typically get done in the office? Remember that working from home means your employees may not have the same access to resources they have in the office, and communication with colleagues and clients is slower than usual – employees can’t just stop by a co-worker’s desk to ask a question or have an impromptu brainstorm.
Instead of looking to increase productivity for productivity’s sake, establish reasonable goals and deadlines with your employees based on what’s workable for your business. Clearly communicate those expectations and how they align with your overall organizational goals in light of the current situation.
How can I keep morale high when employees are worried about potential layoffs and furloughs?
There’s so much uncertainty around when we’ll be able to resume our “normal” lives, and for some industries, there may be no normal to return to. Employees are understandably worried about their future. Remote employees may feel isolated and disconnected, while those who have to go into work may harbor resentment or fear. If your company hasn’t prioritized open communication, morale can suffer.
Companies are especially recognizing the value of internal communication during this pandemic. Communicating consistently with employees can help build trust and engagement, even when you’re apart. Bring your team together on a weekly video call and make yourself available by phone, text or online chat to answer your employees’ questions. Talk about how your team’s work fits into the company’s long-term outlook to ensure employees maintain a sense of purpose and commitment to their role. Keep those lines of communication open and be transparent if bad news must be delivered – it will be better for morale in the long run if you can alert employees to potential layoffs or pay cuts ahead of time, rather than springing this news on them without warning.
How can I show appreciation to my team while we’re working remotely?
Employee appreciation is so important to morale, engagement and well-being — and when your team is physically apart, it’s even more important for managers to proactively show gratitude. There are many ways to do this: by recognizing an employee’s good work in an email to the team, or bringing it up during a weekly video call, or giving them a gift card.
I encourage employers to be creative in showing appreciation to their employees. Try to create a formal structure that allows colleagues to recognize their peers and managers to reward their direct reports. But also give feedback informally, in real time. Simply saying, “Great job on that report – I didn’t have to change a thing,” can go a long way toward boosting your employees’ confidence and making them feel appreciated.
My remote team struggles with miscommunication and follow-through. How can I increase accountability and make sure projects move along?
It can be difficult for newly remote teams to get into the groove and develop processes that work for them. Some employees who excel at face-to-face communication may not be as thorough when working remotely. Collaborate with your team to create standard workflows, approval procedures and ways to report on progress, and make sure everyone is on board. Delegate responsibilities and make sure employees are clear on their roles and authority to carry through the next task so there are no bottlenecks. Make sure employees know that expectations for communication have changed, and that in absence of daily office meetings or informal check-ins, they need to communicate what they’re working on and what they need by email or whatever communications tool is most effective for your team.
Read Part I about legal issues concerning worker safety during the COVID crisis and Friday, read Part III about wellness for remote workers.