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Help your Employees Thrive in a Remote Work Environment with 3 Simple Steps

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Chris Mullen. Chris is a Director and Strategic Advisor at Kronos, assisting clients with their human resource strategies.  He was formerly Director of Human Resources for Housing & Dining Services at the University of Colorado Boulder.  Here he talks about making remote work work for your employees.

To say that day-to-day life around the world has changed in the last few weeks is an understatement. Change is never easy to accept, especially when changes are so extensive that they affect every aspect of our lives, from how we get our coffee to how we work. Speaking of which, those businesses that are fortunate enough to continue operations, have asked teams to work remotely. This specific transition from in-office to remote work presents some unique challenges, particularly for those newly remote employees who have families at home requiring care.

Some of the common challenges that employees are facing when transitioning to this new way of work are things like finding a good workspace, adopting new technology, feeling isolated, managing interruptions, as well as maintaining focus and productivity. Although it will take some time to adjust and overcome some of those hurdles, managers have a significant part to play in getting their teams in a place where they can thrive in a remote work environment.

Here are 3 simple steps that managers can take to help employees adjust to this new reality.

  1. Set clear expectations

It will be more important than ever to set clear, realistic, and timely expectations so that everyone is on the same page. Have an open dialog with each employee around what is expected of them and, in turn, what they expect of you. Remember, everyone is trying to navigate these new waters, so be empathetic to your employee's situation during this adjustment period.

2. Keep the channels of communication open

In these uncertain times there is no such thing as overcommunicating, as a matter of fact, it's quite the opposite. Open, honest communication is key when managing a remote team as it helps you avoid misunderstandings, build trust, and increase your team's effectiveness. Also, diversify the tools you use to communicate with your team because simply emailing employees may not be the best way of getting information to them. Technology is what makes remote work possible, so use it to facilitate communication through video calls, chat, text messaging, etc. One tip when using video call - let everyone know beforehand so they can be ready - because whether they tell you, or not, no one likes having a video call sprung on them.

3. Check in with your employees

Going from working in an office environment, where you can pop over to a coworker's desk to ask a question or strike up a conversation when you see someone in the hallway, to working in one room on your own at home is not an easy adjustment and can lead to feelings of isolation. It is important for managers to support employees both in their work duties and well-being. Sometimes as managers we don't know everything that is going on with our employees, for example, an employee's child could be ill or did not sleep through the night, they could be struggling with adjusting to working remotely, concerned with what is happening in the world, etc. A good leader is caring, empathetic, and provides support for their employees during this time of need and change.

With that said, I recommend setting up a 30-minute weekly meeting with each team member to understand what they might need and how you can support them as their manager. As a manger myself, I am upfront and ask employees how I can support them today, this week, and during this turbulent time. Support for employees can be as simple as helping them brainstorm ideas for a project when they are stuck, reviewing and providing feedback for what they are working on, or giving them the flexibility to change a deadline so they can care for themselves and their family. The following are some questions you can use to navigate the conversation about what you can do to help support employees.

  • With your work and life spaces now being merged together, how are you doing?
  • What does your daily work schedule now look like?
  • Do you have time set aside in your schedule for lunch and breaks?
  • Do you have the tools you need to be successful?
  • How can I help you overcome any challenges you foresee with any projects you're working on?

When having these one-on-one meetings with employees, be honest with them about your own challenges and how you are coping with getting work accomplished while being at home and having other responsibilities. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable, this allows your employees to also open up about what is going on with them and shows that you are in a similar situation, building trust.

Even in times of disruption and uncertainty there are ways to support each other and continue to deliver against business goals. By setting clear expectations, keeping the lines of communication open, and consistently checking in with your employees, you will be setting your team up for success. After all, your team's success is your success!

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