The New Normal: Managing Remote Employees For The Long Haul

COVID-19 is ushering in a number of worldwide changes – some of which will likely be permanent. One of the biggest permanent changes we are predicting will be the mass shift to managing remote employees.

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that more than half of the American workforce is currently working remotely – and between 25-35 percent of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.

While most of these newly remote employees may be temporarily working from home, there is a good chance that companies will need to restructure to allow for more flexible working situations long after COVID-19.

The Percentage of People Working From Home According to netskope, Since October 2019
Image Source: Netskope

There are countless benefits to hiring remote employees. Not only does it save you money on office space and supplies, but it can also make your employees much happier.

According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, 98% of people said that they would like to work remotely at least some of the time. Some of the most common benefits from WFH (work from home) options included flexible schedules, not having to commute, and the ability to spend more time with family.

However, employees understood the challenges, too. Loneliness and troubles with communication and collaboration topped the list, along with not being able to “unplug” or deal with distractions. Therefore, leaders need to know how to prevent these issues while keeping their remote team productivity levels high – whether it is for just the time-being or for the long haul.

What's your biggest struggle with Working Remotely?

So what are the best ways to manage newly remote employees and set the tone for a potentially permanent move to WFH?

Let’s discuss:

1. Offer Adequate Training

In order to accommodate remote workers, most businesses have started to use various programs for collaboration, communication, and data storage.

Tools like Zoom and Slack are fairly simple to figure out and operate. But some employees may need training on how to utilize more complex programs – especially if their remote working situation stretches on for months or years.

Employees working with new technology programs cannot rely completely on IT teams to help if they run into trouble. You need to make it a point to provide enough training as employees go remote.

This includes more than just basic explanations of how to navigate through collaboration programs or time-tracking software, but also best practices for data security.

Unfortunately, many hackers have been targeting newly remote employees whose software systems are not as secure as their company’s servers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, cyber-attacks have increased by 37% – with many of these attacks coming through phishing scams to hijack DNS routers (domain name system).

Most-Targeted Industries By Phishing Attacks
Image Source: Statista.com

Since most employees are using their personal Wi-Fi networks, it is typically easier for hackers to break in. And if these workers are accessing important company databases from their personal laptops and Wi-Fi connection, hackers can easily steal this information.

Managers need to layout data security protocols for remote employees, such as:

  • Teaching employees what to look out for (such as email phishing scams, unusual document attachments, download requests, etc.)
  • Installing firewalls and security software if they are using personal computers
  • Requesting password changes for email accounts and Wi-Fi networks regularly
  • Only sharing sensitive data through secure programs (i.e. not emailing data)
  • Offering virtual IT support in case of any technical issues

During the initial phase of transition, it may be useful to partner with a virtual IT group or an online training service to onboard employees and teach them the basics for online security.

2. Manage Without Micromanaging

Many people working from home for the first time often assume they can do whatever they want and still technically be “clocked in” – since their managers aren’t physically watching their every move. Unfortunately, many workers will use this to their advantage and do far less work while still getting paid.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some companies will over monitor remote workers by tracking keyboard strokes, idle time, or requiring multiple video check-ins to keep everyone on task. This can be extremely overbearing for some employees struggling to manage their new virtual workspace and their home life.

Managers need to find good middle ground and allow for some flexibility, particularly in the beginning stages of remote working situations. There are plenty of good tools for remote teams that can be used to keep employees productive without suffocating them with supervision.

Here are some programs that we at E2M Solutions have used to manage our remote employees:

  • Trello for project assignments and progress tracking.
  • Basecamp for team collaboration.
  • Clockify to track billable hours on specific projects.
  • Skype and Zoom for video conferencing, Slack, and Skype Chat for quick communications.

Ultimately, you need to be able to trust your employees to be truthful about their working hours. If you notice that their productivity levels plummet when they clock in remotely, then you may need to discuss other options or consider more thorough tracking systems.

3. Consider Realistic Expectations

If your team is now working from home for the first time, you have to expect that their productivity is going to dwindle a bit.

Remember that some things may take longer than usual to be completed. Employees may have a harder time getting a hold of people and other technical troubles. How many of us have had trouble connecting to a scheduled Zoom call because WIFI was glitching out?)

Now for some good news.

In the long-term, remote workers seem to actually be more productive than ones working in an office space. Employees who worked entirely remote actually worked a total of a day and a half more per month, which adds up to about three weeks of work every year. However, they did report that it was harder to stay focused and they also had higher levels of work-related anxiety than office-based workers did.

Remote Workers have Higher Levels of Work-Related Anxiety than Office Based Workers
Image Source: AirTasker.com

It is important that leaders set realistic expectations from the get-go – more particularly in a time where many of us are feeling quite anxious about the circumstances.

You may want to meet with employees individually (or have managers meet with their team members) to set realistic expectations for projects to be completed or the number of hours of work per day they need to be online.

In fact, you probably want to encourage employees to take short breaks during the day. According to a study, employees who even just took a lunch break every day reported they felt more efficient and even more satisfied with their jobs. Taking short breaks during the workday can also help to reduce stress and eye fatigue common with staring at a screen for hours on end.

The Lunch Break Survey Findings
Image Source: Tork Survey

Know that your first few weeks may need to be a “trial” period to see what they can realistically accomplish. If productivity is especially low, you may need to discuss other working options, like late-night hours or working over the weekend to find the best formula.

4. Focus On Engagement And Culture

Morale is probably a little low due to the circumstances. Be sure that you are still finding ways to engage through team building for remote employees. This could be something fun like hosting employee happy hours after work via Zoom, launching competitions, or simply creating a Slack channel for people to send funny memes.

You don’t need to try too hard here. Some engagement strategies can certainly come off as a bit cheesy. You certainly don’t want to distract employees from their work or require them to stay online after normal business hours.

Furthermore, remote employees do tend to be more engaged than their office-based counterparts. A study from Gallup even found that employees with flexible working situations who spent three or more days a week working from home had the highest engagement levels.

Engagement Highest Among Workers Who Spend Three to Four Days Working Remotely
Image Source: GALLUP.com

This is just another reason why allowing employees to work from home in the future is certainly something you might want to consider – even after people are allowed to return to the office.

Conclusion

Managers need to be able to figure out how to effectively manage their teams from afar – especially since there is no telling when things will return back to “normal.”

Thankfully, managing remote teams is easier than ever before with all of the technology that is available. But it takes a lot more than a few online tools to make it possible to have a remote workforce that is productive and successful.

Just like anything in a business, it takes a lot of planning, strategy, and trial and error to find what works best. Be flexible with your new remote workers and see how you can help them with this transition. Ultimately, managing remote workers could be a beneficial move in the long-run, so it’s best to iron out the kinks now.

  • Aakanksha is a brand strategist at E2M. She works on strategizing deliverables so as to bridge the gap between marketing and the potential customers. When she is not working, she is either dancing or reading scientific innovations and business magazines to understand the world and its dynamics. She can be reached on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.
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