Home is where the work is

Managing distanced workforce a tall order after mass adoption of remote work

Home is where the work is

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to change the way they do business. One of the biggest changes —brought on by the need for physical distancing — has been the mass adoption of remote work. While the concept of employees working from home and telecommuting had already been on the rise with developments in technology that make such practices more feasible, no one anticipated the necessity to have most, if not all, employees work from home so suddenly.

Having employees work remotely has its challenges, some of which can discourage employers from fully embracing it. However, the sudden transition brought on by the pandemic has brought these challenges to the forefront and employers have little choice but to face them.

Having most of the workforce set up for remote work all at once rather than a few individuals has its own difficulties. First of all, there are the practical concerns related to ensuring all employees have dedicated work spaces and functioning equipment that will allow for high productivity, says Lori Casselman, president and CEO of Wello. With people confined mostly to their homes, employers also have to recognize that employees can be faced with an environment that can be distracting if they have children, spouses and pets with whom they’re sharing their home.

In addition to the pace and equipment needs of remote workers, employers face the reality that remote work means less connection, making it tougher to build meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients, says Casselman, who adds that it can be difficult to properly identify and support employees who are disengaged or not performing optimally.

Some of the challenges can be exacerbated by how employers handle remote workers. If employees aren’t productive enough, it could be caused by a lack of clarity on timelines and expectations.

“This often goes back to the manager —the onus is on the leader to ensure the accountabilities, expectations, timelines and deliverables are very clear,” says Casselman. “Without these parameters, the trust and autonomy that is paramount in remote work models may be impeded.”

Employers may also be making a mistake if they fail to recognize that individual employees may have varied work requirements and complexities in their particular circumstances. “Personalization is important in considering remote work optimization,” she says.

Smoothing the transition
What can employers do to facilitate the smooth operation of a remote workforce when there’s uncertainty over how long it may last? Casselman points to the importance of developing tools and tips to aid social engagement and interaction between employees, as well has helping employees and leaders have an open mindset about how to work collaboratively and effectively in a virtual setting. This may involve rethinking priorities and timelines along with formal training — for leaders on how to manage remote workers, and work requirements for employees.

However, despite the challenges, the fact that so many are in the same boat is helping ease the transition to a certain extent.

“In some ways it’s easier because expectations have aligned somewhat globally,” says Casselman. “Pressure to be ‘perfect in the execution’ is down, as adoption [of remote work] dramatically escalated over a very short period of time.”

For more discussion on managing remote staff during a crisis, Wello will be presenting a free webinar on May 19 @ 2:00 PM (ET). For more information on this webinar, HR professionals can register here.

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