March, 2020

Managing During a Pandemic: Make Working From Home Work

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As coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads, encouraging employees to work remotely seems like a sensible thing to do to keep them out of harm’s way. But business leaders must have a clear plan on how to best manage their employees, and factor in the possibility that remote work could go on indefinitely. They must also be flexible in their approach and consider the working styles and needs of individual workers.

Here are some practical tips to keep in mind.

Have an individualised approach

Ensure your managers understand their staff members’ working preferences and concerns about working remotely. Some of them might not have an ideal workspace at home, while others might need constant interaction. Managers must be able to work out a solution or setup to ensure each member can continue to perform optimally. 

Set expectations

Not all employees might know exactly what’s expected of them, so it’s important for managers to provide guidance. They must set clear expectations about the work employees need to do, the level of quality they must meet and their deadlines.

On a higher level, lay down your expectations on how everyone can or should contribute to meeting the company’s objectives in this period of uncertainty. This could include engaging customers more actively, improving standards of quality and service, and exploring new business opportunities.

A fundamental change you have to consider is how you will measure employees’ productivity and effectiveness. In a remote work arrangement, you can’t assess performance based on the traditional ‘visibility’ approach. Gartner recommends focusing on outcomes in your performance reviews – and clearly spelling out to your employees how they’ll be assessed.

Beware the downside of working remotely

As attractive as working from home may sound, there’s a downside: loneliness from lack of engagement. A global study found that two-thirds of surveyed employees who always or very often worked remotely weren’t engaged. And this made them more likely to quit – only 5% expected to work at their organisation for their entire careers compared to 28% of those who never worked remotely.

Communicate

To avoid feelings of loneliness and disconnection, regular communication with employees is important. This means frequently organising conference calls and encouraging your managers to diligently check in with their staff members.

And as fears over economic uncertainty increase, you must keep the lines of communication open. Send updates via email or post about your plans and expectations on your company’s social media platform. And don’t forget to get your managers’ thoughts.

Your employees can also take simple steps to avoid feeling down and isolated, and to remain productive. Psychologist and career coach Davide Donghi recommends the following steps.

  1. Changing places

Working from home day in, day out can be isolating, and for employees with children at home, distracting and stressful. A change in environment every now and then could be good for employees, but they might not have any alternative if they want to avoid their community library, coffee shop or other public places. It might be worth providing a safe space, such as a rented property, where they can work while maintaining social distance.

  1. Setting clear work–life boundaries

Without the physical boundary of a typical office, it is easy to mix work and personal life, which can be frustrating and counterproductive. Sticking to normal work hours and eliminating distractions by, for example, having a quiet and dedicated workspace can help.

  1. Keeping in touch

Finally, urge your employees to proactively and intentionally reach out to their team members, friends at work and even clients. Video chats, instant messengers and social media platforms for businesses are just some ways employees can stay in touch with their colleagues for work and socialising. Encourage them to take advantage of whatever technology is available.

There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, but with early and effective planning for remote work, you can help ensure your business goes on as usual.