In response to Covid-19 we at Couno have been asked by many businesses to setup their employees to work remotely. The Office of National Statistics believes that 50% of UK employees will be working remotely by 2020. What’s more, up to 90% of staff say they’d like to work remotely at least part-time.
Whilst there has been a clear rise in remote working over the years, the sudden need to work remotely has left many employees — and their managers — working out of the office and separated from each other for the first time.
Although we would always recommend establishing clear remote-work policies and training in advance, in these types of circumstances, this level of preparation may not be feasible. We have put together a number of research-based steps that you can follow to improve the performance and productivity of your remote workers, even with little preparation.
Common Challenges of Remote Work
It is important for managers to understand the challenges that employees may face whilst remote working and attempt to mitigate these as much as possible. Otherwise in the absence of preparation and training you may experience a decline in performance, even with the most capable and high-performing teams. These common challenges typically include:
Lack of face-to-face supervision
The lack of face-to-face interaction is a concern for both managers and their teams. Managers are often concerned that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently (though research indicates otherwise, at least for some types of jobs). Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. It can be easy for employees and teams to feel isolated and a lack of support.
Lack of access to information
Those new to remote working can be surprised at the approach and effort needed to obtain information from colleagues. Sometimes getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel arduous and drawn-out.
Research has found that a lack of “mutual knowledge” among remote workers translates to a lower willingness to give colleagues in your team the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations. For example, if you can see your colleague in the office is busy with an important document, you could forgive an extended delay in a reply to your email. However, if that same colleague is remote, you may be less forgiving and get frustrated that they are not replying, and perhaps, not working.
Loneliness is an inherent problem to remote working and a common complaint that remote workers feel they miss the social interaction of an office. What is more of a problem to managers and ultimate the organisation, however, is that over time, isolation can cause any employees to feel less “belonging”. This can create a problem with productivity and cause the employee to consider roles elsewhere.
Distractions at home
Managers and teams usually encourage employees to ensure they have both dedicated workspace and adequate childcare before allowing them to work remotely. However, in the sudden need for remote working, there is a much greater chance that employees will be using substandard working spaces and juggling other household tasks during the working day. These distractions during unplanned remote working can have a detrimental effect on performance.
How Managers Can Support Remote Employees
As you can see, there are many challenges that managers and businesses face with remote working. Thankfully there are also relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the transition. Actions that you can take today include:
Establish structured daily check-ins
Many successful remote managers establish a regular, perhaps daily or twice weekly call with their remote employees. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls, if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you, and that their concerns and questions will be heard.
Provide opportunities for remote social interaction
One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.
This isn’t an easy task to undertake, however we have seen this work well using remote games at the end of team meetings. These can appear “stiff” at first, but over time it helps the team create understanding with each other and improve performance.
Provide team working technology solutions
Email alone is insufficient. Remote workers benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face.
Video conferencing has many advantages, especially for smaller groups: Visual cues allow for increased “mutual knowledge” about colleagues and also helps to reduce the sense of isolation among teams. Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.
Microsoft Teams and more
Couno are well equipped for these situations and have supplied and installed many solutions for remote working. Mobile-enabled collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams allow your team to chat, share, call and video in a secure environment which protects your business and its data. Allowing employees to use ad-hoc communication methods can put your business data, effectiveness and communication flow at risk.
To learn more about remote working and the technologies you can use, including Microsoft Teams, contact our team.