Most of us have been working from home for over a month, some longer. We’re all living with the challenges of remote work alongside our entire families. Twitter is full of stories of our new normal. A woman, accidentally unmuted, talking to her cat during a large conference call. Unsuspecting family members walking into the background of video calls without appropriate attire. Children are interrupting meetings to show their new success in Minecraft or ask for help on long division.
The days are blending together and the appeal of working in my PJs is long gone. The Coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way most industries work. But with no end date yet announced for us to return to our offices, uncertainty still looms.
And while a LinkedIn study from October 2019 found that 82% of workers wished they could work from home at least part of the time: it’s not as easy as it looks. Working remotely brings unique challenges. And those challenges are only amplified when you have a household full of family around. And those challenges are only amplified when you have a household full of family around.
As a manager, it’s vital for you to stay on top of things and continue to care for your employees as they work remotely. Even if you feel like you’ve shared every remote-work tip in your toolbox, you can turn to these four work from home best practices to make managing remote employees easier.
4 Best Practices for Managing your Remote Team
Tip #1: Set Expectations Early and Often
Gallup found that, outside of this new remote reality, about half of all U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Expectations are hard to set. How do you create goals and job descriptions that foster the behavior you want from each person? That’s tricky enough. But, when everyone is in their own homes, trying to work and collaborate, how do you make sure that each employee fulfills what’s expected of them?
Working from home can allow for greater productivity. In fact, a recent survey found that 77% of workers report they are more productive when working remotely. That being said, that productivity will only happen if employees have ample lead time to know what’s expected of them and how they’ll be measured.
Managers must make their expectations crystal clear while managing remote employees. What is the work you want your employees to spend their time on? What are the priorities to focus on? What’s the standard for quality? When is our deadline?
Executive teams should provide high-level expectations so each employee can align their goals toward the company’s mission in this time. How are we caring for our customers? What are our adjusted revenue goals?
More than ever before, team KPIs and individual metrics play a vital role. Use adjusted metrics to guide your employees to know the goals they’re expected to hit. Set clear daily goals and expectations for each employee. Decide early how you’ll divide and conquer and be clear in showing your employees how they’re progressing.
Tip #2: Over Communication is Key
One of the hardest things about working from home, especially if you’re used to an office environment, is the sense of loneliness and isolation that can set in. That’s especially true considering that many people are practicing social distancing.
When you’re remote, you can’t walk over to your co-worker’s desk to ask a simple question or to explain the Slack you just sent. It’s more likely for you to miscommunicate or convey the wrong message. And, when employees feel isolated, these blips in communication only add to the stress.
As a manager, be diligent and intentional in communicating. Since you don’t get the chance conversation in the hallway or the opportunity to stop by your agent’s desk to coach them. Take advantage of technology and find ways to coach employees virtually.
Employees who are accustomed to working in the office may feel cut off from the resources, information or relationships they need to do their jobs well. It’s important to communicate often with your team. Plan for more video chats. Meetings may eat up your day, but these moments of conversation are important. More 1:1 meetings and daily standups will keep the lines of communication open.
Be ok with padding your meetings with some socializing too. Or, have virtual coffee buddy chats or happy hours to catch up with one another. It might be vital for your extroverted employees to get some time to chat just to stay motivated.
Tip #3: Watch for Signs of Burnout
One of the most wonderful things about working from home is that you get to enjoy the comfort of home all day. If you’re like me, I feel more freedom to take breaks or walks when I need them. Without a commute, I sleep a little more in the morning and have more time to prepare meals in the evening.
But, working from home can also be tricky. I find myself checking my email more after hours. Mentally, I can’t get a break from feeling like I should be working still. Home doesn’t feel quite as restful when it’s also your office. When working from home, it can also be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day, to snack more, or to flip on the TV while you complete a task.
A 2013 Gallup poll found that remote workers actually log an extra four hours per week on average compared with their counterparts in the office. Since you don’t have eyes on your employees, they feel added pressure to prove they’re being productive. Employers may see these outcomes as positive, as this translates to higher short-term productivity and better workplace citizenship.
Florida International University professor Ravi Gajendran and his colleagues found that remote workers often go above and beyond. One example being that they respond to emails outside of work hours in order to demonstrate their organizational commitment.
But experts say that without firmer boundaries, employees can experience exhaustion and burnout.
Routine is incredibly important for your employees at home. Make sure you’re not requiring more time than normal from them just because everyone’s at home without evening plans to run off to.
During the day, give yourself some physical distance from your workspace by taking a lunch break – even if that means you’re sitting at your kitchen table or listening to a podcast for 30 minutes. Set clear times for employees to start and end their day and ensure that your WFM strategy allows employees to take these kinds of breaks, too. Be respectful and don’t set up meetings outside of normal work hours just because you can.
Tip #4: Treat your Employees as Individuals
When you go into the office every day, maintaining individual relationships with each agent is easier than when managing remote employees. Organically, you share thoughts, collaborate and have meaningful conversations when you’re physically present with one another.
In the office, it’s also a lot easier to have established rules for everyone to follow. You can make blanket statements like, “Everyone needs to be in the office by 9:00 a.m.,” and can hold your employees to that standard. But, with many agents working from home, without an office space, children home from school and daycare, and internet service stressed to the max, you have to adjust for each individual.
Managers have to figure out where structure is required (e.g., no crying children during client calls) and where it is flexible. Perhaps it’s shorter meetings by 5 or 10 minutes to allow people to transition between calls. Or, allow employees to put in extra hours in the morning so they can log off earlier in the evening to help children with homework and dinner.
Accommodate flexibility in working hours, available hours, or when you close up shop. And, work with each employee to plan shifts around their unique needs right now (with your customers in mind). Some employees may be most productive if they take a few hours off in the afternoon and work from 8 p.m. to midnight to fit the needs of their family at home. Send out surveys to see who has more flexibility at home, and who needs to stick to predetermined shifts. Then, use WFM to schedule based on your agents’ unique needs (and your busy periods). These are unprecedented circumstances. Meet your agents where they are and see success in managing remote employees.
Managers need everyone to give their best and positively impact the organization. It’s important to be agile and create space for your employees to be successful in the uncertainty and stress of (this kind of) remote work. Be prepared to support your team and business’s well-being with the right tools and policies to care for your fully remote team.