For many full-time employees, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to a remote work environment. This represents a major change for many Americans: As of 2018, only 24 percent of U.S. employees did some or all of their work at home. Now, 42 percent of the U.S. labor force is working from home full-time.
By now, your organization has likely started the process of switching to remote work—and you’ve probably realized that this isn’t an easy transition for many of your employees. Rather than just snapping your fingers and creating a productive virtual office, this transition requires you, as an employer, to be highly intentional and supportive of your employees.
Examine Your Infrastructure
Is your company equipped to handle this transition? It is important to balance the number of remote employees so that your company can manage them effectively and efficiently. Allowing more employees to work from home is best to slow the spread of COVID-19, but you need to make sure your organization can handle more remote workers on a practical level.
Check in With Staff
Your employees come from a variety of backgrounds and living situations, which all present their own unique challenges when it comes to working from home. Check in with each and every one of your employees to make sure they have what they need to be successful in a remote work environment. For example, do they have adequate internet access? Are they caring for a loved one? Do they have young children who are also stuck at home?
It goes a long way to check in with your employees on an emotional level. How are they feeling with regard to working from home and work in general? Consider sending the occasional survey, which can be answered anonymously to encourage expression of their honest feelings. Show your employees that you want to know about how they are truly feeling and any struggles they may be facing, so that you can better serve them as an employer.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communicate often and thoroughly. Make sure employees feel comfortable communicating with you as well as their colleagues. During these difficult and unprecedented times, leaning on each other is one of the best things we can do for our well-being.
Don’t forget to regularly communicate the vision and goals. Since your employees don’t have the usual experience of going into the office, they might need a refresher course to boost morale and remind them what you’re all working towards. Make sure management is exemplifying and encouraging these values.
Distribute resources and links regarding health, exercise, nutrition, and ways to improve the work-from-home experience. Offer courses on effective virtual communication, written communication, body language, and videoconference meetings. It’s important to give extra attention to these topics, as miscommunication and misinformation are more likely to occur in a virtual environment where tone and body language aren’t always there to help.
Make Time for Fun
Most of us are craving social interaction right now, and we can gain many of the same benefits of face-to-face interaction through virtual communication. Make time for employees to kick back and have fun during virtual meetings. You might try a virtual water cooler, scavenger hunt, trivia, or chat questions.
Since we all enjoy chatting with those who share our interests, create groups based on your employee’s hobbies and passions. Start by surveying them, then create smaller groups so that employees who share common interests can get together and talk about what they love.
Set times for staff to get to know each other better. Perhaps you could set aside 15 minutes for a virtual “fun” meeting consisting of people who never interact with one another. Not only is this a fun way to socialize, but it can also improve current and future teamwork.
Encourage your team to establish at-work hours and off-work hours to ensure a healthy work-life balance. This is a common challenge for employees working from home, especially those who are new to the virtual work environment.
The key is to communicate effectively while being flexible and present in a supportive way. This will maintain or increase employee engagement, reduce stress, and help people enjoy their time at work, ultimately leading to improved morale and productivity. You should strive to create a culture that makes employees feel confident in sharing their ideas and speaking up when something isn’t right.
If you look out for your employees, everything else will fall into place. No company is perfect, but if you’re working hard to make things better, you’re headed in the right direction.