Working remotely and managing remote workers

COVID might have pushed more companies to embrace working from home, but it’s been an undeniable trend for some time now, and for good reason. Working from home offers workers and companies some significant benefits which include increased profitability in many circumstances. Companies can also save money since they don’t have to upkeep large, physical offices. From a talent standpoint, offering remote work allows recruiters to attract top talent from anywhere, not just from within commuting distance.

For workers, remote work allows them to expand their job search past their zip code. It also allows them to save hours a week in commuting and create a more favorable work-life balance. In fact, many people are now saying they don’t really want to return to the office full time, but may prefer a hybrid model.

In spite of the benefits, there are still plenty of challenges for those working from home, as well for managers trying to adapt to a more dispersed workforce model. The following work from home tips for workers, and managers, can help your company make the most of remote work.

Work from home tips for workers

Working from home gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility, but it’s not without its challenges. Those with children can find working from home a constant struggle between home obligations and work responsibilities. There is added pressure for parents of school-aged children who are adjusting to distance learning.

Exactly how can you stay productive and engaged at work, while juggling your family’s needs? Here are a few ideas and actions you can take to strike a balance that works for your company and your family.

  1. Create some type of office space. You don’t have to have a dedicated room, but you do need a dedicated area of your home where you feel like you’re “at work.” This can be your kitchen table, a desk in your bedroom, or the corner of your front room. During office hours, set up your space with things you typically have around you at work.

  2. Maintain regular hours during the workweek. There is a temptation to stay up later and sleep in a bit longer when you don’t have to get up, get ready and drive into the office. This can make it more difficult to create a separation between worktime and non-work time. The easy fix to this is to maintain similar hours even if you’re working for home.

  3. Continue to take breaks and lunch breaks away from your computer. It is easy to ignore this when you work from home, in fact many people end up working longer hours when they are remote. It’s just too easy to stay in the zone when you don’t have to pack up and drive home for the day. This can lead to burnout though, so give yourself regularly scheduled breaks.

  4. Create a start of day and end of day routine to help you separate work life from home life.  This can be as simple as making coffee in the morning to get your day started, and ending your work day by putting your computer out of sight for the evening.

  5. Set limits with those around you during workhours. It’s easy for people to forget that you’re at work when you’re working from home, especially if you’re working in shared spaces like the dining room table. Setting limits on your time during work hours can help you limit distractions and project your ability to be productive. Let everyone know that you may be home, but you’re only available during your lunch break for non-work conversations.

Work from home tips for managers

Managers of remote teams face unique challenges compared to overseeing workers in the office. This is particularly true for companies new to the work from home format. If you don’t adjust your tactics, you risk creating a more stressful and less productive environment.

You can help your team manage their workload, stay productive and feel connected with by adjusting how you communicate.

  • Ask your team what challenges they face when working at home. This will provide insight into their unique situation so that you can help them overcome obstacles and stay on track.

  • Provide flexibility to workers dealing with new challenges created by COVID, such as parents juggling distance-learning demands for their school-aged children. This might include letting them change their active hours to more easily accommodate school schedules.

  • Make sure everyone has the technology they need to be productive. Extra monitors, a docking station or other tools to be comfortable working at home are an easy way to help your team be successful.

  • Resist the urge to micromanage. This can be a true struggle for some mangers, especially for those that have not been as accepting of remote work in the past. Unless someone has given you a reason to doubt them, trust that they are being as productive as possible.

  • Be mindful of the stress your team is under. Everyone has had to adjust their lives due to COVID, so your team is dealing with a lot of added pressure right now. As a manager, you’ll inspire confidence and encourage productivity by avoiding phrases that may imply that they are falling behind, not being productive or otherwise not on track.

  • It’s easy to read into emails and instant messages when you are remote because you don’t have the benefit of body language or tone help you discern meaning. One way around this is to use “can I help” language when inquiring about projects. So instead of asking “Where are you on Project A,” ask “Is there anything I can do to help with Project A.” 

  • People are often reluctant to admit their struggles openly, so check in on your team members individually. Let them know you’re interested in hearing about their challenges and obstacles. This gives them the opportunity to speak more freely. And always find at least one positive thing to share with them, a little encouragement can make a big difference.

  • In spite of the upside to remote work, it can be easy to feel disconnected. This is especially true with the limitations on gatherings and outings due to COVID. You can combat this by encouraging some fun remote interactions, like a virtual game night, happy hour or lunch chat

Watch for warning signs

While many workers thrive in a remote environment, others may find it to be a true struggle. Members of your team may be dealing with things you’re unaware of, from technology issues to health and personal problems unrelated to working remotely. For this reason, it’s important to be mindful of clues that may suggest members of your team are struggling to stay on track, such as:

  • Inability to summarize their daily to-do list.
  • Inability to summarize their weekly goals.
  • Reduced output, unless known challenges exist.
  • Falling behind on projects, unless known obstacles exist.
  • Lack of communication or changes in communication style.

Your success as a leader will depend on your ability to help your team be successful, so schedule a one-on-one if you notice any of these signs. You’ll be more effective if you approach the situation from a helpful, not accusatory, position.  And keep in mind, we are all dealing with an unprecedented situation right now. The challenges your team face are largely out of their control, and even your highest performers may find it difficult to stay on track.  Aim to understand and help them through their challenges and your entire company will benefit.

The material presented here is educational in nature and is not intended to be, nor should be relied upon, as legal or financial advice. Please consult with an attorney or financial professional for advice.