As the world attempts to respond to the pandemic, more businesses are attempting to continue business operations online. However, remote work is not as easy as opening your computer and jumping online. You need to understand the environment, some of the pitfalls and the many benefits.
The Challenges of Remote Work
Some of your highest-performing employees might struggle to meet their usual targets when working from home. This could be due to stress, distractions, poor motivation or simply exhaustion. For some people working in a quiet space away from others is motivating, rewarding and productive. For others, it is lonely, challenging and difficult to manage. Some of the challenges people face include:
Lack of face-to-face supervision: Managers and their employees working remotely express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Many employees struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. Employees who often lean on others, and who are often less productive than they appear, can be easily exposed when forced to work alone.
You can solve the problem easily. Have your team join you each morning for an online meeting. You can discuss issues, assign tasks, touch base and even set up conferences for those who need to work closely.
Lack of access to information: Newly remote workers are often surprised by the time and effort it takes to locate information from coworkers. Even getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle to a worker based at home.
This phenomenon extends beyond task-related work to interpersonal challenges that can emerge among remote coworkers. Research has found that a lack of “mutual knowledge” among remote workers translates to a lower willingness to give coworkers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations. For example, if you know that your colleague is having a tough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offence or to think poorly of your coworker.
This isn’t as easy to overcome. You need to create the communication channel that all people are expected to use, set up any group chats for teams and establish response protocols. Communicate with your team the expected standard response time to questions. Even if the response is not an answer to a question, it can be an acknowledgement of reading the message, such as a thumbs-up, to let your team know you are paying attention.
Social isolation: Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work. Many employees miss the informal social interaction that occurs in an office setting. The other issue is a sense of belonging or worth. It can be difficult to understand how important your role is in a company without feedback.
Those people who need daily social interactions are going to find working remotely difficult. For many years, introverts and people who prefer quiet spaces to think and work have been forced to adapt to a noisy workplace with little privacy. Now it seems extroverts are going to have to adapt the way introverts have.
When it comes to helping your employees understand their worth, it can help if you provide simple daily contact, even just a ‘good morning’ message so your team knows you are thinking of them as individuals and that you are approachable.
Distractions at home: Remote work is often portrayed as a multitasking dream. However, people working from home need a dedicated workspace to ensure that they can focus on their tasks.
There is no avoiding the pull to throw on the laundry while you are working from home, but it’s also ok. Think about if your employee was in the office, they face numerous distractions there too, many of which are not productive to the company or the person’s personal life.
Offer encouragement and emotional support: It is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their staff. In this difficult transition time, people are facing challenges they might never have stopped to think of before. Many people are facing job loss, or wage cuts. Others are concerned for loved ones, while many more are just feeling lost as the world takes a monumental shift towards a different life which, most of us, cannot imagine.
Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations. While you might also be struggling, and it’s ok to share that with your team, you need to be the person showing up to online meetings on time, dressed and ready for work. You need to set the example and allow others to feel confident.