Let’s start this blog post with kudos for you for hanging in there during these uncertain and challenging times. That you’re taking the time to click on this post shows your commitment to staying engaging with and supporting your remote employees. So hat’s off to you for remaining curious and committed to bringing out the best in your staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a host of challenges to everyone and we are seeing that people are dealing with those challenges in different ways.
Maybe you already had remote employees at your company so your challenge was expanding that scenario to many more employees. Or perhaps you are like many companies who find themselves dealing with a remote workforce for the first time.
No matter where you are on that spectrum, there are ideas and strategies to help you support your remote workers and make sure they feel engaged and appreciated. We’ll address leadership during challenging times, new rules for remote work and finally, how to recognize remote workers.
Leading During Uncertain Times
In an article written for Forbes well before our current crisis, Glenn Llopis outlined some key concepts for effective leadership in uncertain times that still resonate today. In fact this quote seems particularly appropriate for these times:
“Most of the problems that leaders have with their employees have to do with knowing how to manage and communicate uncertainty to them.”Glenn Llopis for Forbes
Llopis advises that leaders:
1. Be Honest and Consistent — When asked a question, give an honest answer. Avoid dancing around the issue and show your employees that you have their back.
2. Meet Often and Evaluate Mindset — Try to minimize distractions and focus on sharing any insights you have. Consider staff meetings an opportunity to genuinely engage with your employees, not just a time for status updates and reports.
3. Listen and Pay Close Attention — There may be chatter and gossip about the current crisis and the future, take it all in through broadened observation — focus on listening and remain calm.
4. Create and Share Key Learning Moments — Employees seem to have a sense when leaders are mindful about their concerns. Look for the positive impact that might be gained from this trying time. Allow your employees to ask questions and extract learning. You might also be able to learn more about them and how they cope with uncertainty.
5. Reveal Your Executive Presence — Frame this as an opportunity to show your leadership style. How do you react to negativity and the effects of this challenge? By being present and compassionate and staying focused on engaging with employees you can shape the impression you make as a leader.
Empathy during this pandemic is vital. This quote from Llopis, written back in 2015, seems like sound advice for leaders grappling with the current Coronavirus crisis.
“Great leaders know that managing uncertainty is a matter of putting themselves in the shoes of their employees and delivering the compassionate leadership they expect. People don’t want good intentions from their leaders during times of uncertainty; they want their leaders to be not only strong, confident and decisive, but transparent and vulnerable enough in their leadership role to express a sense of genuine care and concern.”Glenn Llopis for Forbes
New Reality for Remote Workers
In an article for the Harvard Business School website, author Dina Gerdeman shared that prior to the coronavirus, 5.2 percent of employees in the United States telecommuted most of the time and 43 percent worked from home some of the time. These numbers are certainly increasing exponentially around the world with the closing of most workplaces.
Working remotely can come with its own challenges during more normal times, but currently employees are facing not just distractions, but increased responsibilities like child care, assisting school age children with virtual learning, assisting elderly or ill relatives, coping with technology like Zoom and Slack that they may not be familiar with, etc. be mindful that employees are also under the very real threat of a potentially deadly virus. The combination of these factors can cause unprecedented stress for employees.
Here are some things Gerdeman shared that you can do to support remote workers (she also recommends communicating clearly and decisively, leading by example and accepting that productivity will probably suffer):
Being More Flexible — If possible, ask employees which schedule works best for them and try to work around it. Communicate schedule changes to all team members and be clear that just because someone might be doing their majority of their work and emailing colleagues in the wee hours of the night, immediate replies aren’t expected.
Adjusting Expectations — Some employees may be feeling overwhelmed by their workloads, while others may be feeling that they need more work to show that they are integral to the team. Look at shifting projects and workloads and make sure those employee who seem to be busting out a ton of work aren’t doing it just because they feel pressured and certainly avoid throwing more work at them.
Rethinking Meetings — Since it can be harder to focus in virtual meetings, really evaluate the length and frequency of meetings and ask yourself if there need to be so many long meetings right now? Also ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary; could it be addressed in an email?
Moving to More Asynchronous Work — The world is starting to see that work in a company doesn’t need to be done at exactly the same time, with employees working in synchrony. It’s more important that the work is getting done than it is that everyone is working on a project at the same time.
Focusing on Outcome Rather Than Monitoring Activities — Speaking of work getting done…now’s probably not the time to spy on your employees by asking them to leave their webcam on during their entire shift, having them alert you when they take a short break, or making sure they are working until the clock strikes 5:00 pm. Trust that you have competent and honest employees who are doing their best.
Taking Time to Empathize — Give employees the time and space to talk to each other about their concerns, stress levels, fears, etc. and encourage a culture of support and active listening. Being vulnerable with one another during this time can actually bring people together.
Letting Workers Blow Off Steam — It’s been great to hear about how creative some companies have been about having some virtual fun to lighten the mood. Consider optional online social events like virtual happy hours, cooking and crafting projects and meet the pet sessions. Encourage employees to take breaks between meetings for a cat nap or quick walk and of course sharing the announcement that employees can call it a day a few hours early at the end of a hard week would be welcomed and appreciated.
Don’t Forget to Appreciate Remote Employees
While recognizing your employees’ hard work and effort is always a priority, now it is even more critical to show that you appreciate their flexibility and dedication during what is an extremely stressful time for so many.
In a blog post for Fond, writer Erin Nelson shared the following suggestions:
Reward Employees for Donating to Charities — Send recognition to those who have donated or volunteered. You can crowdsource a list of worthy organizations from your employees and encourage generosity.
Harness Technology to Share Good News and Kudos — just because you won’t be having a face-to-face meeting doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate wins via Zoom.
Provide Opportunities for Professional Development — You may not be sending employees to conferences and seminars but tap into online learning opportunities like webinars, courses and coaching for your staff to make them feel valued and keep them engaged by acquiring more skills and knowledge.
Buy Lunch from Afar — Support local restaurants offering take out and/or delivery services by ordering lunch for employees. If the logistics are tricky consider giving employees gift cards for third party delivery services like Grub Hub, Door Dash and Uber Eats.
Give Gift Cards to Local Businesses — Share your gratitude with your team with a gift card to a local business and make it a win-win for everyone!
Send the Gift of Food – Why not share a practical gift everyone needs? A gift card to a local food chain like Kroger, Publix, Safeway and more might be what employees would appreciate most. Major grocery stores now offer online ordering with pick-up and/or delivery. Instacart, an online shopping and delivery service that pulls from local grocery stores also sells gift cards.
gThankYou Gift Certificates are accepted in-store at major grocery chain stores nationally and are an easy and flexible way to provide the gift of food to a distributed workforce. Send Certificates for fun items like ice cream, pies and candy, wholesome options like fruits and veggies or simply the gift of groceries – good for any food items.)
Nelson closed with this apt quote: “…we must make an effort to cultivate inclusive, connected digital communities that thrive with recognition.”
Supporting remote employees during these challenging times will take creativity, patience and commitment. We hope these ideas help you in your efforts to have workers feel valued and supported.
The gThankYou! Team wishes you, your families and your work place families safety and good health.
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