With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses who previously resisted work-from-home strategies are diving into the deep end of the remote work pool. In order to minimize COVID-19’s impact on the economy, workforce, and country generally, businesses of all sizes and industries need to adopt best practices for remote work quickly.
For many veteran supervisors, managing remote employees presents significant new challenges. With in-person check-in opportunities removed, it can feel hard to maintain an authentic finger on the pulse of ongoing work. In fact, that disconnection from the traditional work experience is why so many organizations (even in cutting-edge fields like technology and the sciences) have resisted remote work.
Our goal today is to provide a quick introduction and best practices guide for businesses and supervisors embracing remote work for the first time or scaling up their work-from-home program quickly. Moving forward we’ll:
- Introduce remote work enablement considerations businesses need to address to succeed
- Describe best practices for managing remote team members
What Can Businesses Do to Set Remote Workers Up for Success?
In the face of decentralization, we have to think about how we can replicate the “ideal” work environment right in each individual employee’s home.
Accessibility to Work Tools & Data
In order for remote workers to maintain their productivity, they need access to the same applications and databases that a traditional in-office worker would need.
At the same time, working from home or another remote setting shouldn’t feel like jumping through hoops. The more clicks, steps, logins, and downloads there are, the more potential points of frustration, disengagement, or breakdown are built into the system.
This is especially true for new remote workers. If someone is used to their in-office setup and has never worked from home before, they will likely experience IT or accessibility gaps. For example, many professionals can access their email at work with no problem thanks to repetition and shortcuts; but many of those same folks might find it far more complex to access work email from their home computer or a new device.
If you expect employees to do great work from afar, you need to extend the full functionality and accountability of the office to them. With that structure and consistency of experience in place, you can reasonably expect people to maintain productivity.
How Businesses Enable Remote Work
Any new or ad hoc remote work programs must account for and seek to minimize gaps in experience, navigational difficulties, and potential dead ends. Here are a few popular IT strategies businesses can use to extend the in-office experience to the home:
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): A
VPN securely connects users’ home computers directly to your in-office network.
Employees see things exactly as they would from their work computer.
- Advantages: Security; continuity of experience from the office
- Disadvantages: Navigation and download/upload can be complex or confusing, especially for new users
- Mobile Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Solutions: A mobile ERP extends the full functionality of your business’
work enablement, project management, and supervisor interfaces to a cell phone
or tablet, increasing accessibility from a variety of locations and devices
- Advantages: Agnostic accessibility; full in-office functionality; potential for customization
- Disadvantages: Price
- Microsoft Office 365: Office 365 provides
all the Office tools your workers are familiar with (Word, Outlook, Excel,
PowerPoint, etc.) in an accessible, cloud-based, easy-to-use form.
- Advantages: Well-rounded basic toolkit; provides apps people are comfortable with; enables document sharing
- Disadvantages: Lack of personalization/customization
The Power of Single Sign-On (SSO)
Regardless of which software solution you use to extend the office experience to your employees’ homes, it’s always a best practice to provide a Single Sign-On (SSO) experience. With an SSO system, your employees only need to remember one login and password, which means they can navigate your systems and get work done in a much more agile way.
As we’ve said before, the better you can streamline the process of getting to and completing work, the better work your remote employees will deliver.
Maximizing Visibility with Effective Communication
When all your employees are in one building, it’s pretty easy to spread a message. You can send a mass email, send runners around the office, or even make an open announcement. In a remote work scenario, that immediacy and visibility of communication can disappear without the right approach in place.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the best way to ensure decentralized workers all get the same message is through centralized communication. Centralized communication can take two general forms: either using a single official channel or embracing an omnichannel strategy.
Establishing a Single, Official Communication Channel
By establishing an official channel, you create a single, consistent expectation that everybody will use email, your online chat board, or whatever channel you have chosen to send and receive work-related information.
A single-channel approach creates consistency, but it also creates gaps in the experience. For example, Employee A might check hit refresh on her email every half hour and have her cell phone configured to send her immediate alerts about incoming messages. Employee B, on the other hand, might only check his emails every four hours when he is moving between projects or tasks. There’s a significant difference between the immediacy and effectiveness with which each of those employees will be able to digest and act based on that message.
Embracing an Omnichannel Strategy
When you create an omnichannel experience, you provide the same messaging and immediacy across a variety of channels. Emails, chat boards, SMS text messages, and even automated calls can be connected to ensure everybody is reached in the way that makes the most sense for them.
In the above example, an omnichannel strategy would ensure both Employee A and Employee B saw the message at the same time, even if Employee B was not a vigilant email user. An important message could be pushed to Employee B via text or an automated phone call to guarantee visibility.
As you acquire or transition new remote workers, it’s important to understand their preferred communication channels so that you can determine how best to communicate with them and hold them accountable consistently.
Management Best Practices for Remote Work
To a certain degree, management is management. The communication, incentivization, and accountability strategies you apply to the employees you see in person every day should be extended to your remote employees as well.
With that said, getting there can be tough, especially if you’ve been managing a traditional on-premise team for years and this is all new to you. Let’s explore a few best practices you can leverage to get the most out of your remote team members and turn yourself into a high-functioning remote manager:
Use a Formal Productivity Management System
By embracing remote work, you’ve given up your ability to stand over employees’ shoulders or get the constant informal check-ins you’re used to. However, that doesn’t mean sacrificing your own awareness of projects and teams you’re managing.
By using a formal project management or productivity system (like Trello, Jira, or Asana), you establish a framework for formalized check-ins, document sharing, and necessary conversations about project or team updates. With a productivity management system in place, you create a constant flow of incoming updates, feedback, and action items for your team, replicating the in-person work experience for remote team members.
Provide & Require Clear, Timely Communication
Communication is everything in management, but it’s extra crucial when it comes to managing remote employees. Expectations for each team member must be clear at the beginning of any projects as well as at every step along the way, or you’ll quickly find yourself stuck in pointless check-in meetings where there’s nothing new to check in about.
Whether you embrace email, an omnichannel strategy, or proactive ticket-passing using a productivity system, it’s absolutely crucial you proactively reach out to employees and encourage them to reach out to you so you can manage as an effective hub of operations.
Embrace Remote Conferencing While Minimizing Meetings
When they’re used right, conferencing apps like Zoom and Citrix GoToMeeting are ideal for managing and communicating with a remote team. Using an eConferencing app, you can open a lobby for a weekly whole-group check-in, embrace opportunities to review materials together using screen sharing, or recreate the lively feel of office work for temporary remote team members who might be missing it.
At the same time, however, meetings over conferencing bridges can get long, repetitive, and tangent-ridden if you’re not careful. When that happens, it eats into your remote team’s time for actual productivity and hurts their buy-in (because nobody wants to sit there in a meeting with headphones on for over an hour!). Conferencing applications are powerful remote management tools, but it’s crucial each meeting has a clear purpose and goals going into it and team member-specific action items going out.
Remember: Remote Workers are People Too!
Unfortunately, the thing that often gets lost in remote work is the humanity. As we increase the physical distance between supervisors and employees, we decrease our ability to see each other as people.
That means, regrettably, it’s easier for remote workers to see their managers as pesky or distant, and it’s easier for managers to see their remote workers as unresponsive or lazy. Preventing that breakdown requires a consistent effort by everybody to treat the team as a true interdependent community, not just a lose collection of people around a region, country, or planet.
Forge & Build on Authentic Relationships with Remote Workers
When you have a new employee in your office, you usually put in effort to get to know them. The same must be true for remote workers. Too often, remote workers miss out on the candor and personal connections that occur in a physical office environment.
The stronger your relationship with your remote workers, the more honesty and candor you’ll get from them. That translates directly to the best possible understanding of what’s going on, where it needs to go, and how you can help guide and support the work from a management perspective.
You can’t let your relationships with traditional office workers erode while they’re working remotely for public or personal health. While you may not be able to have the same personal interactions, you can at least drop them a friendly email occasionally to check in and show them that even though you no longer see them on a daily basis, you still think about their wellbeing regularly.
Don’t Let High Team Function Hide Individual Struggles
When you’re managing a decentralized or remote team, it’s easy to fall into the trap of tracking overall progress but forgetting to check in with individuals frequently. This can lead to a situation where an employee is feeling overwhelmed and burnt out while hiding in plain sight.
Being a great remote manager is a little like being a great engineer: you have to consider both the whole system and its individual pieces very closely. Managing proactively requires attention to detail, open channels of communication with all team members, and an understanding that, just like folks in the office, remote workers are people who experience day-to-day fluctuations and struggles as well.
Remote work is the way of the future, but thanks to the aggressive spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, businesses across America are getting a taste of remote work’s true capabilities right now. In the short-term, remote work best practices can help businesses navigate this crucial moment in history and maintain productivity. In the long term, embracing these strategies in a proactive way will help progressive organizations succeed for decades to come.
- Remote workers need access to their work applications, tools, and databases
- The more it feels like the traditional in-office experience, the better
- VPNs, mobile ERPs, and other IT solutions can help close those gaps and enable great work
- Communication is especially important to being a great remote manager
- Set expectations, establish clear channels, and monitor progress closely
- Formal productivity management systems create a framework for success
- It’s crucial you focus on the humanity of your remote workers and treat them just like you would employees in your office
How to Learn More
If you’re an HR or business leader searching for guidance to help you navigate the COVID-19 pandemic with an eye towards public health, productivity preservation, and employee benefits compliance, you should join Launchways on Friday, March 20 for What Employers Need to Know About the COVID-19 Outbreak.
This one-hour webinar will deliver insight from Launchways’ all-star team of HR and client success experts. Discussion topics will include:
- Understanding the new legislative updates and agency guidance
- Actionable human capital management strategies to address social distancing while maintaining productivity
- HR best practices for pandemic policy and employee communications
- How COVID-19 connects to/affects your employee benefits offerings
- Regulations and compliance expectations from OSHA, COBRA, FMLA, etc.
Our team is updating their webinar plan throughout the week to reflect the latest news, statistics, and federal and local guidance. That means this session will be the definitive source for HR and operational recommendations based on the progression of the pandemic. To save your seat at What Employers Need to Know About the COVID-19 Outbreak, sign up today!