Organizations across the globe have had to manage a sudden shift from working primarily at the office to a fully remote workforce in response to Coronavirus (Covid-19). Some organizations found themselves unprepared to make such a massive shift. While remote work has its conveniences, research shows there are consequences from both a manager and employee perspective that organizations need to be prepared to address.
Certainly, there are advantages that remote working can provide, such as greater productivity, lower absenteeism and turnover rates, greater organizational commitment, and improved organizational performance.
However, there are a number of potential pitfalls as well that organizations need to be aware of. Consequences of remote work for employees and managers include social isolation, communication issues, lower chances of career development, difficulty of supervisory control, and technical problems with at-home equipment. Research shows that remote workers may also be affected by the absence of physical and psychological boundaries between work and home. In order to combat this sense of boundary loss, remote workers may end up working extra hours, leading to additional stress. The physical separation from work may also result in fewer career development opportunities for workers leading them to feel isolated and disengaged from their jobs. Research also shows the top reported challenges of remote workers were face-to-face communication, interdependency of teamwork, and managing and monitoring remote work performance, which includes mentoring and other career development opportunities.
In many ways this is a training issue. According to a WorldatWork 2011 survey, only 21% of managers reported being formally trained on how to manage remote workers, while only 17% of workers reported being trained to remote work effectively. An organization’s most powerful tool in combating remote work issues is to have a formal remote work policy and training in their onboarding process. A pro-remote work culture is exemplified in an organization by ensuring that all employees view remote work as a standard operating process and adhere to a written remote work policy. Managers should stress the importance of using technology to facilitate remote work and communication. The same training should cover the importance of creating physical, temporal, and psychological boundaries between work at home and regular non-work home life.
Organizations can start building their remote work policy and training by ensuring the company has different technological options to help workers communicate with one another and their managers. Remote workers benefit from varying technologies depending on the type of communication required for their jobs. Video conferencing is a great way to connect with groups by allowing workers to intake visual cues such as body language and micro expressions on camera. It also helps remote workers feel less isolated in a time of social distancing. Sometimes, employees need to ask a question that warrants a quick response, which is where technology like Slack and Microsoft Teams can have a huge impact. Slack and Teams are useful in sending quick, mobile-enabled instant messages from one team member to another, allowing for instant responses! With the increased reliance on technology, it’s also important to have the appropriate remote tech support available to your employees.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests organizations should have managers establish rules of engagement so that remote workers understand what the expectations are for remote work communication. Managers should explain how frequently check in calls will be made, what technology they will be carried out on, and the specific time. This will allow remote workers to plan their work day. This conversation leaves room for remote workers to ask for flexibility in the time and technological tool for daily check-ins and meetings. It’s important for managers to be flexible and compassionate during a time of massive work shifts like our current state as a consequence of Covid-19. Managers should ensure their employees’ issues and concerns are heard, understood and, most importantly, addressed.
HBR also suggests allowing opportunities for remote workers to interact with one another informally. It is important for managers to show compassion and possess empathy when engaging with their employees. According to a 2017 United Nations report, 41% of socially isolated remote workers reported high stress levels, while only 25% of office workers reported the same high stress levels. We can expect these numbers to rise during our shelter-in place and lockdown orders, as many workers will be at home along with their children and worry about the health and financial security of themselves and loved ones. Forbes recommends establishing emotional check-ins, preferably at the beginning of virtual one-on-one and group meetings. This can begin with managers asking a simple, “How are you today?” and allowing employees ten minutes to speak informally as managers acknowledge their stress and offer encouragement. Some companies like to host virtual happy hours where remote employees are invited to have a drink on a video conference call and chat about non-work-related things like their home life or weekend plans. Remote work teams can even try playing online games together as a team!
“Business as usual” has taken a new meaning within the past two months. Remote work has become a global standard operating procedure for organizations. Adhering to the above guidelines should provide organizations with enough to get started on their own remote work policy and aid in the massive remote work shift and future remote work opportunities.
As a Talent Management Intern at Objective Paradigm, Jazmin applies industrial and organizational psychology principles for training and blogging about the latest trends in the recruitment and IO space. She is always looking to connect top talent to their chosen career path and share industry knowledge. Connect with Jazmin on LinkedIn.