5 Tips to Help Managers Shorten the Distance Caused Through Remote Work Within Their Companies
Two months ago, COVID-19 transformed the world into a place we’ve never experienced. And never could’ve imagined. Many workers have found themselves working from their kitchen table. College campuses have shut down, allowing students to join live online classes from almost anywhere in the world. Pieces of tape and arrows line grocery store floors, keeping people 6-feet apart at all times.
As the world is beginning to open back up, and people are eager to return to a healthy life, there is a new question of what is normal? What aspects of “normal” need to return, and what elements need to be revamped?
The “New” Normal
Transition is always tricky, but as companies are finding new ways to work from home effectively, the question remains: Is this our new normal? Do all employees need to return to the office? Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University professor, is quoted, in an article written by the Harvard Business Review, How To Convince Your Boss to Let You Work From Home, stating that “The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule has its “origins in the Industrial Revolution” and that “times, … are a-changin'” (Knight).
A silver lining of COVID-19 and social distancing for many has been the realization of what’s essential. With new practices in place, the pandemic has proven, the standard 5-day, 9-to-5, routine does not have to be the forever norm. Companies especially have bent over backward to continue to move their work forward and have found many new ways to connect their employees, even with a physical distance. If remote work is done correctly, with the right management and the right mindset, research suggests that “working from home [will] increase productivity, efficiency, and engagement” (Knight).We should be excited about remote work! Managers and leaders, it’s vital for you to take the lead. Don’t be absent. Enable employees to be productive and effective from wherever their workplace is.
“I think companies have the opportunity to do a “trial run” of work at home and are finding there are many benefits,” James Agnew, CEO of Blaast explains, “you see companies like Nationwide and Twitter leading the way with their announcements of their “permanent” work from home policies.”
The Future of Work
As Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced on May 21, 2020, Facebook hopes that “in the next five to 10 years, about 50 percent of its employees can work from home.” Transitioning Facebook to a high percentage of remote work will decrease the over-concentration of the population in certain hotspots. Many companies will follow. Not only does this solve proximity problems, but it also helps alleviate rate-spike and other adverse conditions in Silicon Valley.
Remote work is the future. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impact on many generations to come. The transition period is beginning to come to an end, and now it’s time for managers to use this new way of work to their advantage. Many companies are using remote work as a “trial run,” but there are still many remote work challenges that need to overcome.
By working at home, an unintentional distance within companies has been created. Knowing how to help employees work from home and how to shorten this gap can be difficult. Below are five tips for managers to improve the manager-employee relationship with this new employment paradigm.
One: Establish Communication Expectations
Communication is key. Explicitly laying out expectations for communication will allow for less misinterpretation of information and disappointment down the road.
- Establish platforms where communication is appropriate. Current platforms include Slack, Google Docs, What’s App, or email.
- Create reply norms. Establish how long it is expected to receive a reply and what hours of the day are appropriate. In a Harvard Business Review Article called How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote, authors Erica Dhawan and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic shared how a company called Merk “created acronyms for their digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that bring predictability and certainty to virtual conversations.” This is an excellent idea to establish communication norms within the company.
Setting reply norms ensures that expectations will be mutually understood and met. Remote work requires boundaries. Managers and employees alike need to establish an understanding of when it’s an ok time or not an ok time to send an email.
- Create individual norms where applicable. Some people work better with detailed responses, and others prefer shorter. Some employees enjoy participating through video chats, and others may feel intimidated by it. Where possible, allow employees to share their communication ideals and honor those.
“Management is all about communication. There are communication challenges when working face to face, and working remote adds a whole new level of challenges,” continues Agnew, “for instance, without being able to see the employees’ body language could lead to misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Setting clear expectations upfront will help avoid these conflicts.”
Two: Keep A Schedule
With the possibility of working any hour of the day, it is essential to create a schedule. A schedule creates a structure within the company and will ensure that work is completed effectively.
- Where applicable, enforce a schedule where many employees can work at the same time. Schedules allow employees to feel connected and create fewer gaps in communication and response time.
- Limit the use of phone calls and emails and replace them with live video chats. Schedule online video chats through Zoom (or other platforms) just as you would hold an in-office meeting. Require attendance.
- Avoid unnecessary meetings. Many people have discovered that in the past, there have been too many meetings. Keep video meetings concise and to the point. No one wants to join an excessive amount of sessions each week.
- Allow for flexibility where possible. In reality, we are trying to move away from the standard 9-5 workweek.
Three: Make Explicit Goals and Deadlines
As a manager, it is important to vocalize the company’s weekly, quarterly, and other company goals. All employees need to work in line with the company’s vision. Along with goals come deadlines. As employees work from home, it’s easy to push for deadlines to later dates.
- During video chat meetings, check-in on the progress of each employee’s work.
- Set hard deadlines for employees and expect finished work by those deadlines. Communicate with employees who are having difficulty meeting these deadlines and work out a solution.
- Establish a means of communicating these goals and deadlines. One way is to send an email immediately after a meeting to recap and remind employees of upcoming deadlines and current projects.
Four: Create Ways to Virtually Connect
People enjoy the shift to remote work, but many miss the social interactions that come from being in an office environment. Don’t forget to create new ways to connect virtually.
- Start each meeting with a question that allows people to think, share, and learn from each other. Once again, no one wants to sit in a meeting that feels too long, so keep these short by setting a time limit or allowing different people to participate each time.
- Find ways to celebrate. Whether it be a birthday, a promotion, a milestone, all of these different moments deserve to be celebrated.
- Use technology to make connections that matter. Reach out to people and create impromptu conversations. Invite employees to do the same.
Five: Check-In on the People, Not Just The Work
With the lack of personal connection and in-person meetings, it is now more important than ever to check in on how each employee is doing. Many people have experienced sickness, heartache, and let down. Physical and mental health is a huge concern, and if managers aren’t checking in, there will be no way to know how each employee is doing. While working from home, we can’t physically see our employees and their body language cues. Instead, we need to rely on new ways to understand how they are really doing. As the pandemic subsides, there will continue to be problems that each employee faces. They need to know that their manager cares about their wellbeing.
- Set up a weekly schedule to check-in with each employee. For these meetings, leave work-related conversations to other scheduled meetings and focus on the person.
- Listen carefully. Be attentive. Create a safe environment for conversation. Slow down and take pauses to gather thoughts when needed.
- Share your own experiences. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable will enable employees to share experiences as well.
“A recent study showed that after 60 days into the stay at home period, only 40% of managers had checked in with their employees and asked how they were doing”, Agnew explained, “we need to do better. We should be checking in weekly with our employees, and a portion of that time should be asking how they are doing in general and working on personal development. The manager is in such an advantageous position to really impact their teammates and help the employee not only cope in these conditions but thrive.”
Now Is The Time
Managers are now more visible to their companies than ever before. Managers have a unique opportunity to make an impactful difference among employees. The transition to remote work has proved many challenges. The physical distance has created new problems in communication, unity, and connection. It has also provided many benefits and provides a new way for the future. Employees have a unique opportunity and freedom to work from where they want to. We can not overlook these opportunities. Even after the pandemic subsides, we can expect this new employment paradigm for quite some time. A new dynamic to the workforce will be created that could’ve never been expected.
Be present. Establish communication norms. Create stronger relationships. Expect greatness. As the remote work environment stays, more productivity, efficiency, and engagement within your company awaits.
What Do You Think?
Do you think remote work is here to stay? What challenges has your company faced from switching to a work at home environment? What benefits have you enjoyed? How do you plan to make remote work more permanent in your company? Let us know what you think!