Managing remote and office employees - be flexible
As the pandemic unfolds, working ‘online’ has become the norm for many and that too, so suddenly. Bringing along challenges we have all faced and are still facing – to name a few; work life balance, caring responsibilities, mental wellbeing, motivation, and job security.
A hidden fear that is also a challenge that HR and Business Leaders have embraced for line managers is - remote people management. With or without a policy, it may have been the first time they actually have been separated from the team, and without any preparation too.
For Organisations before this unprecedented time, working from home, if the roles permitted it, was probably limited to a few, and not the majority. As you are aware, it was not the norm or the ‘novelty’ was not a total given. Traditionally, the ‘stereotype’, as such, is to have a physical presence at work from 9-5 - which was deemed to be more manageable. But to what extent? Why? And for who?
With the lockdown rules, Managers were thrown straight into the deep end, in particular a fearful time for those newly appointed first time managers. With no time to digest and/or discuss their concerns – swiftly adjusting to no physical visibility of the team and to only an online presence.
And most importantly coming to terms with ‘trust’. Trusting their employees to fulfil their role behind their screens.
The current state
Now, a further challenge has arose along with the phase staggered approach to return to work preparations. In line with the Government guidelines, this means managing and leading both a remote and office team.
First and foremost, it is crucial to remember we have all come to terms with flexible working not referring to micromanagement. Flexible working has evidently taken a turn – a shift in the working culture.
Whether we work from the office or from home, it must recognise how and when employees work.
How to support both remote and office based employees?
Everyone experiences different challenges, and these challenges vary depending on situations. When planning around work design, staff rotation, health and safety, and re-engaging furlough employees, compassion and understanding should be vital components that need to be included too.
Below is a guide for managing and leading both a remote and office workforce. These discussions and points need to be continuously monitored as well as be mindful of - as it is often said, employees “don’t leave companies, they leave managers”.
- Communicate regularly and have regular check ins
More now than before, regular check ins are a must especially enabling a healthy culture. With the ongoing changes, work isolation and adapting to work life balance, a simple how are you needs to be shifted to tell me about your experience in the lockdown to do you have all the right tools will go a long way. Schedule and try different mediums of weekly communications: video calls, chat messages, and even calls (avoiding embarrassment of children or household members popping up) on a 121 basis and with the whole team. Don’t leave interaction to only work related duties, be social, involve others and have online quizzes and virtual tea breaks.
- Set clear expectations
Set time with the employee and mutually agree expectations. This means to discuss and clearly define the expectations, break it down, give examples, set deadlines, and regularly give and receive feedback. This will minimise any miscommunication, and encourage employees to complete tasks proficiently and to their full potential. The last thing you want to do is demoralise an employee for making them redo a task for not meeting expectations or objectives.
- Be flexible
Remember it is not a one size fit all approach – we all have different challenges. It may be worthwhile discussing varying staggered start and finish times for the team. This will not only support the employee’s wellbeing and work life balance but it will increase productivity and maintain business continuity too.
It is also important to encourage employees to take regular breaks, this will aid in cultivating healthier habits – whether it’s a exercising, getting fresh air, time for breackfast/lunch, having a nap, or minimising health and safety risks (i.e. DSE).
- Be encouraging and offer emotional support
Employees need to feel safe in their work environments, and more so now with the uncertainties and the news fuelling further to their anxiety. Managers need to be encouraging and offering support - be optimistic, empower them, emphasise on their strengths and motivate them. Through times of crisis we all learn new skills, and this is when we become aware of strengths we didn’t know existed.
And, don’t forget those that have disabilities too, ask them how they are coping and what they need. Organisations are investing more now than ever into employee health and wellbeing, and this needs to be shown; be an assertive listener, explain the tools and platforms that are available, signpost them, and tell them who relevant points of contact are, i.e. Mental Health First Aiders.
- Share ideas
When we are all feel engaged it infuses what we are doing – gives us purpose and fills us up with bursting energy. Keeping employees updated with arising projects, not only in their discipline but informing them on the Organisation’s affairs, and getting their feedback and input too. This will support battling their anxiety of feeling disengaged and employees will feel a profound connection to their work and the Organisation