Nearly a year into the monumental workplace transformation, it seems clear that remote work is here to stay. Dozens of studies suggest that once the health crisis has passed, employers and employees alike would prefer to maintain a hybrid workstyle in which they can rotate between home and the office.
For all the success of work-from-home operations, challenges remain. Managers and supervisors say they struggle to guide, motivate and evaluate employees who are not under their direct, physical supervision. Remote employees, meanwhile, report feeling isolated, undervalued and micromanaged.
To resolve such challenges going forward, organizations should take steps to foster a culture of trust, connection and shared purpose.
Here are a few simple ways to help remote workers remain engaged, motivated and productive.
Because organizations had to rush to enable remote operations last year, they often didn’t have the time to craft formal policies and procedures for workers. In one global survey, about half of remote workers said they weren’t fully aware of what was expected of them in terms of working hours, availability and productivity.
In the absence of regular, face-to-face conversations, it is essential to create open lines of communication with remote workers. Collaboration and video conferencing platforms are great tools for making connections, but there’s a danger in becoming too reliant on these solutions. Too-frequent team meetings can become off-topic time-wasters that only frustrate participants. Sometimes a direct phone call or text message will do far more to keep someone engaged.
Provide Positive Feedback
Everybody likes an acknowledgement that they’ve done a good job and that their work is valued. Such praise is particularly important for homebound workers who may already be feeling a bit isolated and disconnected from the team.
Scores of studies demonstrate that compliments from a direct supervisor help create a healthy work relationship, inspire loyalty and encourage employees to keeping growing in their work. Don’t wait for the annual review to dish out kudos, either. A quick email, a phone call or a shout-out in the company newsletter can do wonders for someone’s attitude.
Resist the urge to micromanage remote employees with overly detailed instructions, requests for unnecessary reports and focusing on procedural details. Exercising too much control is demoralizing and can make workers feel their work will never be good enough. Instead, delegate work, set expectations and then give employees the autonomy to determine the best way to get the job done.
This approach creates trust and encourages remote workers to find new and possibly more effective ways to work. Accept that your way isn’t the only way, although you should still provide constructive feedback if changes or adjustments are required.
Provide the Right Tools
Remote work is highly dependent on technology, so make sure employees have the IT tools they need — as well as training in how to use them properly. In one recent survey, more than half of remote workers reported they were not sufficiently trained on the communication, collaboration and work management platforms they are supposed to be using.
Of course remote workers need a PC or laptop and a reliable Internet connection, but they also need a secure wireless network, robust collaboration tools and trusted access to cloud-based applications and data. They’ll also need strong tech support to help resolve software issues, hardware failures, connectivity problems and other IT issues.
Have Some Fun
Traditional team-building activities such as company picnics, holiday parties or outings were also casualties of the pandemic. It’s important to have some occasional “virtual” team-building events to help establish a sense of culture.
Virtual scavenger hunts, online bingo, fitness challenges or the occasional Zoom trivia contest are all silly but fun ways to break up the monotony of remote work while giving everyone a chance to see the lighter side of their colleagues.