Working at Home: The New Normal

In a COVID-19 world, working from home is the new normal. While the workforce has been begging for flexible work arrangements for years, it has arrived in full force in the space of a week. Workers across the country have been sent home to work in an effort to stem the coronavirus. While working from home used to be a perk, it is now an absolute necessity.

Work from home circle

With this new arrangement comes great responsibility. Many organizations and leaders are not used to managed remotely and have to adjust their style, their communication and their expectations. Employees that have relied on daily contact with their team members are going to get lonely – fast. Organizational culture may take a dip when you’re not working in the same physical location; it’s harder to build the trust and comradery that develops naturally over time through daily small face-to-face interactions. Managing remote employees can also prove trickier, since traditional management often relies on in-person conversations, regular check-ins, and timely, in-the-moment feedback.

What can you do to make sure your newly  minted working at home (aka remote) employees are happy, productive, and engaged? We’ve got some ideas:

1. Empower them. Encourage autonomy and responsibility by empowering employees to work the way that suits them—this means letting go of how work gets done, and letting them determine their schedules (within reason). Set tasks and goals, make sure accountabilities and policies are clear, and articulate expectations for response times, availability, and updates. But once those parameters are established, get out of the way, and let them determine the details of how they will accomplish the work.

2. Keep them in the loop. Social time matters to employees. It’s those little catch-ups that happen before meetings that help solidify work relationships, build connections, and establish a culture of collaboration. Help your remote employees remain engaged in the social network of the organization by including them in the conversation whenever possible. This is where technology is so important. Start using video chats and collaboration tools to share information and keep everyone up to date.  Copy them on a humorous email update and conference them in early for pre-meeting chats or impromptu conversations that may impact them. At Engaged, we set up a “water cooler” chat room for people to pop in and catch up or to post recipes for their lunch menu.

3. Keep your 1:1 meetings going. Now is not the time to take a break from regular meetings. Your one-on-one time is where you will get a sense of how the employee is managing in this new world of working at home. Are they lonely? Feeling isolated? This is a good time to check in on the mental health of the employee and have some connection time together.  Video chat is better in this case than phone call or an email so that you can read body language as much as the written word or tone of voice.

4. Appreciate them. Up your appreciation game and be sure to make an effort to acknowledge your working at home employees. Make sure everyone on the team knows how everyone is contributing, and how what they’re doing contributes to the organization’s goals. Highlight what they bring to the team, and ensure their accomplishments and contributions are acknowledged (Hint: know their languages of appreciation to do this effectively!)

5. Keep doing fun staff. Just because you can’t eat lunch together in the kitchen doesn’t mean you can join a group chat and eat together. Implement wellness and engagement initiatives that allow for remote participation – connect in a chat room with some team members and do a 15-minute chair yoga class online to make sure that people are keeping movement going. It is easy to end up sitting at your desk for prolonged periods when no one is walking into your office to interrupt you.

6. Give them the tools. Out of sight can mean out of mind when it comes to remote workers. Be sure to check in regularly to make sure remote employees have the tools they need to work effectively. Giving them tools doesn’t stop at providing the physical equipment they need to do the work. It also means providing context, and making sure they have the same resources available to them as they had when they worked together in an office. Also essential during this time? Communicating your organization’s values, and articulating the vision and mission so that remote workers remember where you’re headed and can continue to build the culture you want.

Your Engaged Assignment: It might take a bit of conscious effort to adjust to this new normal, but the payoff is worth it. If you’re stumped on where to start, look at the list above and give yourself a grade for remote employee engagement. Think you could do better? Put these strategies into practice to encourage a happy and productive remote workforce.