- As part of the sustained efforts to stop the COVID-19 virus outbreak, remote work has now become the new norm for employees all over the world.
- It is up to the executive management of the organization to establish remote work protocols that will improve the engagement of employees, even if there is little time to be prepared.
- Executives need to understand the challenges that make remote work physically demanding for employees.
Following the rapid outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) all over the world, the work from home setup has been something that employees had to get accustomed to very quickly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already disrupted global supply chains, film openings, along with trade shows and conferences of various business industries. It is expected to continue to disrupt so many aspects of life and work as the uncertainty about its spread and severity continues.
Today’s global health crisis has driven most companies to cancel immediate plans of business travel and to mandate their employees to work from home. As part of the sustained efforts to stop the virus, remote work has now become the new norm for employees all over the world.
Effects of work from home to remote staff
New data released by NordVPN, a virtual private network (VPN) service provider, noted that major global businesses have adopted to remote working in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19.
Thus, business VPN usage has skyrocketed, and a majority of professionals who are now working from home clocked in an extra two hours outside their allotted working hours.
“The analysis of our clients indicated that tens of thousands of corporate employees that have now started working from home within the past week, and are typically working 11 hours a day, some of the longest hours in the world at this time,” said Daniel Marcusson, Digital Privacy Expert of NordVPN Teams.
Heightened anxiety around productivity is a crucial factor that has increased the working hours for employees who work from home. Workers today are now using the time usually allocated to commuting and getting ready for work to continue working.
Meeting the demands of working from home
Ideally, it is preferable to establish clear remote work policies and training in advance for employees. However, in times of crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, adequate preparation may not be feasible.
It is up to the executive management of the organization to establish protocols that will improve the engagement of employees, even if there is little time to be prepared. Executives need to understand the challenges that make remote work physically demanding for employees.
Even high-performing work from home employees cannot sustain working for 11 hours every day for an extended period. Here are several common challenges of remote work, according to the Harvard Business Review:
Lack of face-to-face supervision
During a remote work setup, both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. The management may worry that their employees are not working as efficiently as possible. Consequently, their employees also struggle with reduced support and communication with their supervisions.
In some cases, employees may feel that their managers are out of touch with their remote work setup. They may eventually feel that the management is unsupportive and unhelpful in getting things done.
Lack of access to crucial business information
Remote workers are often startled by the prolonged period and effort it takes to locate and relay information to their coworkers. Even getting answers to simple queries and concerns seem like a substantial obstacle to employees who are new to the work from home setup.
Loneliness is one of the most common challenges of remote work for employees. Extroverted employees often miss the informal social interaction of a regular office setting. Such employees may suffer from social isolation if they do not have the opportunity to connect with other people in a remote work environment.
Distractions at home
A sudden transition to remote work means that there is a higher chance that employees will have a less than optimal workspace setup at home. Due to unexpected parenting responsibilities from the quarantine, family and home demands can be a distraction on remote work. Managers should expect these distractions to arise and be prepared to help their employees adjust to their unplanned work from home transition.
Here is the University of Pittsburgh’s human resources guidelines for motivating remote staff to stay engaged and be productive during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Think AHEAD: Both for strategic and long-term plans for the organization.
Executives need to establish risk assessment plans and updated timelines for the organization. The management also needs to come up with updated metrics that they can use to track the progress of their employees. The reduced face-to-face interaction from a work from home setup also requires new KPIs to assess output-based productivity.
Think DEEP: Make a plan to dive deep into the protocols that are currently in place.
Make use of the new remote work setup to organize and catch up on backlogs. Even simple things such as “spring cleaning” your email account and organizing your email folders can be a great motivation to be productive in a remote work setup.
Think ACROSS: Brainstorm ways on how remote work can impact others.
Keep in touch with other managers and executives by staying informed with the local and national news to keep the firm’s efforts aligned with the constantly changing safety protocols from the government. Executives can also take the initiative to brainstorm ways to help the community through volunteering and donation efforts while still prioritizing everyone’s safety.
Think GROWTH: Downtimes are ideal for giving space for teams and employees.
The new remote work setup can be an avenue for employees to learn new skills and develop their craft. Executives can encourage their team to engage in professional development through free online resources such as LinkedIn Learning, TED Talks, Massive Open Online Courses, webinars, podcasts, etc.
Think WELL-BEING: Sustain the physical and mental health of your employees.
Find ways to creatively maintain social interaction with your employees by staying in touch via phone, email, Skype, and other virtual methods. Executives can also encourage employees to maintain or even enhance their normal levels of physical activity but still keeping social distancing protocols in mind.
Think NOW: Prioritize tasks based on importance.
Draft the appropriate announcements, press releases, and memos for organizational stakeholders. Make sure to have the proper business continuity plan in place. This will assure employees, including all internal and external stakeholders, that there is a protocol in place amidst the uncertainty of the global health crisis.
An article from the Harvard Business Review also highlighted several concrete and practical tips on how to executives can motivate the newly-established remote workers:
TIP 1: Establish structured daily check-ins
Remote managers know that establishing a routine for their remote workers is essential. It can be in the form of one-on-one calls or group calls if the team works in a highly collaborative environment. Regular check-ins should be done to provide an avenue for employees to consult with their supervisors. This will ensure that all their concerns and queries will be addressed.
TIP 2: Provide various communication options
Communicating via email alone is insufficient nowadays. Remote workers benefit from using various video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or Slack. It gives participants “visual cues” to allow employees to reduce their sense of isolation in doing remote work at home. Video conferencing is also useful for sensitive business-related conversations, as it feels more personal than written or voice calls.
TIP 3: Establish a clear work from home protocol
Remote work becomes more productive and efficient when executives set expectations and provide the ideal timing of communication for their teams. As such, the management needs to establish a clear protocol for remote work. Ideally, this should be done during the first online hands-on meeting. Employees need to share the same set of expectations for communication protocols for their team’s work from home setup.
TIP 4: Provide opportunities for remote social interaction
One of the most critical roles that executives need to do for their remote workers is to find ways to help their employees interact socially. This is particularly important, especially for employees who have been transitioned to remote work abruptly. Management can conduct team calls and virtual events that feature non-work related items. This will give their employees a few minutes to catch up with each other and help reduce their feelings of isolation.
TIP 5: Offer encouragement and emotional support
Executives need to listen and acknowledge their employees’ anxieties and concerns. More importantly, they need to learn how to empathize with their struggles. With the sudden transition from remote work, there will be employees who may need to take some time to adjust to the setup. Listen carefully to their concerns and find ways to alleviate their anxieties regarding the new setup.
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A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers. (2020). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 29 March 2020, from https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers
COVID-19 Pandemic: Supervisor Tips & Tools for Motivating Remote Staff to Stay Engaged and Productive | Human Resources | University of Pittsburgh. (2020). Hr.pitt.edu. Retrieved 29 March 2020, from https://www.hr.pitt.edu/news/covid-19-pandemic-supervisor-tips-tools-motivating-remote-staff-stay-engaged-and-productive
Grapevine, E. (2020). The shocking effect remote working is having on staff. Executivegrapevine.com. Retrieved 29 March 2020, from https://www.executivegrapevine.com/content/article/2020-03-24-the-shocking-effect-remote-working
Rasmus, D. W. (2020). COVID-19 and Collaboration: A Quick Start Guide to Remote Work. EWeek, N.PAG.