Remote Working

I still see businesses struggling with remote working. This becomes evident every time we have a spike in COVID cases and the need to work remotely starts taking priority.

I fully understand that working remotely comes with its set of challenges. The lack of face-to face interaction is surely felt. I sense trust issues from employers whereby they are concerned that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently (though all research indicates otherwise). Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done. Even communication is sometimes more challenging. For example, if you know that your officemate is having a rough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offense, or at a minimum to think poorly of your coworker’s professionalism. Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. It is thought that extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment. However, over a longer period of time, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organisation, and can even result in increased intention to leave the company.

And so? Is there anything in life which only comes about with advantages only?

As much as remote work can be fraught with challenges, there are also relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the situation. Actions that can be taken include:-

Establish structured daily check-ins: Many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls, if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you, and that their concerns and questions will be heard.

Provide several different communication technology options: Email alone is insufficient. Remote workers benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face. Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.There are other circumstances when quick collaboration is more important than visual detail. For these situations, provide mobile-enabled individual messaging functionality (like Whats App or Microsoft Teams) which can be used for simpler, less formal conversations, as well as time-sensitive communication. Hence my message is to make sure that your company has all the much needed technology tools in place with an appropriate level of data security.

Establish “rules of engagement”: Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means and ideal timing of communication for their teams. Managers would so best to establish these “rules of engagement” with employees as soon as possible, ideally during the first online check-in meeting. While some choices about specific expectations may be better than others, the most important factor is that all employees share the same set of expectations for communication.

Provide opportunities for remote social interaction: One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. A simple idea, that I find works well, is to allow some basic social interaction at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items (e.g., “We’re going to spend the first few minutes just catching up with each other. How was your weekend?”). This may sound artificial or forced, however doing so helps reduce feelings of isolation and promoting a sense of belonging.

Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to various situations. If a manager communicates stress and lack of agreement on the need of working from home and grudgingly accepts it, this will have what Daniel Goleman calls a “trickle-down” effect on employees. This is the least your employees and your business needs a this time. Your employees are in need of affirmation of the manager’s confidence in their teams. With this mindset, employees are more likely to work remotely with a sense of purpose and focus.

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