Employees are now working remotely at least some of the time, and it’s imperative to evolve your workplace policies to accommodate this standard. There are ways to make the remote-work experience productive and engaging — for both employees and the organization.
“At most organizations, scenario planning focuses on the necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. Few of these plans address the ability or bandwidth of employees to focus on their work,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Research at Gartner.
To provide employees with the support they need to navigate remote work and remain productive and engaged, start with these nine prompts.
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No. 1: Look out for sign of distress in your employees
Use both direct conversations and indirect observations to get visibility into employees’ challenges and concerns. Use every opportunity to make clear to employees that you support and care for them. To facilitate regular conversations between managers and employees, provide managers with guidance on how best to broach sensitive subjects, including alternative work models, job security and prospects, impact on staffing and tension in the workplace.
No. 2: Equip teams with the right technology and tools
Make sure employees have the technology they need to be successful, which may be more than just a mobile phone and laptop. If you expect employees to attend virtual meetings, do they have adequate cameras? Even if you don’t have an extensive set of technology and collaboration tools available, you can equip employees to function effectively when remote. But don’t assume that people know how to operate with virtual communications — or are comfortable in that environment.
Acknowledge that virtual communications are different — and won’t be perfect — but should still be professional and respectful. Be mindful that they may be less comfortable and effective for some, and coach employees on when and how to escalate ineffective virtual exchanges. For example, if you haven’t settled an issue in six emails, the conversation may need to shift to a virtual meeting to get closure.
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No. 3: Promote dialogue
Two-way dialogue between managers and employees ensures that communication efforts help, rather than hurt, engagement. Gartner research shows that employees’ understanding of organizations’ decisions and their implications during change is far more important for the success of a new initiative than employees “liking” the change. Two-way communication provides employees with the information and perspective they need. It also enables them to express and process negative emotions and feel more in control.
No. 4: Trust your employees
“The best thing you can do as a manager is to put utmost trust and confidence in your employees that they will do the right thing — which they will if employers provide a supportive structure,” says Kropp. Managers may be concerned and even frustrated about losing the constant visibility of their employees they once had, but don’t respond by micromanaging. That will only disengage and fatigue already stressed employees. Don’t fixate on perceived performance problems; lean on established performance management systems if need be.
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No. 5: Reinforce organizational values
“Show employees that you plan to look out for them for the long haul,” says Kropp. Companies spend years building a set of values that describes how much they care about their employees, and how it's important for them to create great lives and experiences for them. Make sure to reinforce these values.
Also continue to model the right behaviors — and encourage employees to call out unethical conduct. During periods of uncertainty, employee misconduct increases by as much as 33%. Remind employees of the channels for reporting unacceptable behavior and highlight punitive measures for noncompliance. This will promote work well-being — which has a huge impact on feelings of psychological safety.
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No. 6: Use objectives to create clarity
Emphasize objectives over processes to create greater clarity for employees — and drive greater engagement levels.
“One of the top engagement drivers for employees is seeing their work contribute to company goals,” says Kropp. “Employees who feel confident about the importance of their job to the success of the organization feel less anxious about their job security.”
No. 7: Focus on outputs not processes
In the remote landscape, where many people are juggling work and family commitments in their own homes, enable employees to complete their work however is easiest and most productive for them. Your 9 a.m. team meeting may have to go or you may have to forgo a lengthy approval process. Schedule collaboration at a mutually agreeable time, and lean on virtual tools wherever possible. Flexibility empowers teams to complete their assignments in their own way.
“As a manager, you have to stop paying attention to the process and pay more attention to what things are getting done. Just talk to your team about what you want them to accomplish,” says Kropp.
No. 8: Increase recognition
“During periods of disruption, employees' desire for recognition of their contribution increases by about 30%,” says Kropp.
Effective recognition motivates the recipient and serves as a strong signal to other employees of behaviors they should emulate. It doesn’t need to be monetary; consider public acknowledgment, tokens of appreciation, development opportunities and low-cost perks. Take this opportunity to provide development opportunities to employees who normally do not have capacity.
Given the lack of visibility in a remote environment, improve your monitoring techniques and relationships with direct reports. Use simple pulse surveys to ask specific questions or track output to collect data and find areas for recognition. By meeting with employees virtually and asking what barriers they have overcome or how their peers have helped them, you can identify elements to recognize and thank and share the accomplishments of teams and individuals.
No. 9: Encourage innovation
Innovation and risk-taking are important for employee engagement and organizational success. Even when an organization has constraints on new investments, managers can emphasize the need and provide opportunities for incremental innovation or process improvements.
Provide opportunities to share successes and safety for potential failures. Make an effort to highlight the value of employees’ continuing to scale their activities, and ensure that any risks are worthwhile.