The dust has barely settled after the move from office to home. And the complaints are already piling up! Welcome to the new challenges of managing a remote workforce.
Some issues are related to HR policy and procedure. Many are an extension of the personal conflicts and office dynamics that already existed.
But all of the concerns give leaders a unique opportunity to help employees who are working from home for the first time.
“While we’re all facing different remote work situations, there’s something that really unites us all: at one point or another, remote work has been hard on all of us,” says Jeniffer Strub, Senior Manager of Human Resources for Vyond. “For some, it’s been harder than others.”
Here are four of the biggest difficulties HR leaders and front-line managers hear from their remote workforces – and several tips for handling them.
Issue 1: ‘Employees with kids get away with everything!’
Everyone working remotely has faced major challenges. And many employees with school-aged children are extra taxed with online learning.
So most employers have been flexible with workers who need to oversee kids. And that has caused tension with childless employees, who feel slighted because they don’t expect the flexibility and might even be doing more work to support colleagues with kids.
Just like on-site, HR pros want to create an inclusive, equitable culture for the remote workplace. You can balance needs and handle tension if you:
Tip 1: Highlight your options
Remind everyone in the remote workforce about your flexible schedule and leave policies.
“All of our leave options are for everybody,” said Karen O’Neill, Director of People Growth at Facebook in the HRMorning Culture & Community Masterclass: Augment Your Existing HR Plan To Fit A Post-COVID World. “It’s important to make that clear to everyone. Some employees have to be caregivers to others.”
When employees know there are options for leave and/or flexible work so they can care for others, or even themselves, they’re less likely to resent others who use those benefits.
Tip 2: Encourage empathy
If there’s one mantra people have adopted through the pandemic, it’s “We’re all in this together.” It’s especially important in the remote work environment where everyone has limited understanding of the challenges their colleagues face at home.
Experts at Vyond recommend practicing and sharing these empathy tactics:
- Open and close email with a thoughtful message – such as “I hope you’re having a good day” and “Stay safe and well.”
- Ask colleagues how they prefer to meet, rather than demand a video call.
- Be consistent with your preferences, so colleagues know what to expect with your communication.
Tip 3: Create a classroom
If employees are on-site part-time or full-time, you might consider this innovative tactic to help them manage work and remote learning.
At i2M, company leaders created a dedicated educational workspace for employees’ children who are distanced learning. The “school” is two conference rooms with socially distanced seating. They hired a teacher to support students as they navigate their individual classes and school work throughout the day.
They even brought in a fitness instructor to help the kids get exercise – all the while, employees can get their work done with less stress.
Issue 2: ‘No one seems to care about how I’m doing now’
Some people in the remote workforce feel like it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” They miss formal and informal recognition. Just 25% of employees say someone recognized them for good work in the past week, according to a Gallup survey.
They even miss opportunities to give shout-outs to colleagues for great work or extra help.
Tip 1: Bring back recognition rituals
Gallup researchers suggest front-line managers schedule and stick to these tactics:
- Weekly, recognize someone who did exceptional remote work when you start meetings.
- On Fridays, call and thank three people who helped you or colleagues this week.
- Every two weeks, mail several thank-you notes to employees’ homes.
Tip 2: Give employees tools to recognize each other
Many companies have created Slack channels or Workplace From Facebook Groups just for employee-to-employee recognition. Employees call out co-workers for great work, extra help and personal or professional accomplishments. That opens the floodgate for others to join in the praise.
“Focus on building community, where everyone feels they have an equal opportunity and a sense of belonging,” says Sameer Chowdhri, Global Head, Workplace for HR at Facebook. “How we work matters more than where we work.”
Issue 3: ‘I feel so disconnected’
Almost half of remote workers said they feel disconnected from colleagues, the Vyond researchers found.
Many are frustrated and stressed with back-to-back video meetings clashing with personal and professional demands. Some say they feel isolated by the lack of real-time, personal interaction with colleagues. And employees in the remote workforce aren’t the only people feeling the pressure. HR leaders and front-line managers like you feel it, too.
“As a leader, you can start by asking yourself – what are some things that could help me through this tough time at work?” Strub says. “Think about the answer. They’re likely things that can help your employees, too.”
Tip 1: Remember to be present
Part of the reason people feel disconnected from colleagues is because they aren’t fully present when they interact. Instead, they multi-task, looking at social media during phone calls. Or they read email on video conferences.
The best practice is to avoid multi-tasking when you’re on the line with colleagues – much like you’d do if you were in a room together.
Tip 2: Bring employees together
Many employees miss the organic opportunities to connect with other people – water cooler chats, impromptu team collaborations, coffee breaks and happy hours.
HR leaders and front-line managers can try to recreate those events with video meetings that include more time to talk casually and less time to talk business. Some managers have done music trivia happy hours, cooking classes and exercise instruction. You can find lots more ideas here.
Issue 4: ‘You really don’t want me to come back into the office, right?’
Many employees thrive at home and don’t want to come back into work. Many companies need employees on site again, even part-time or at varying times.
Most employers don’t want to force anyone back on-site. But you need to make decisions on things such as who comes back first, how many come back and when.
“Get a handle on the overall effort,” said Attorney Max Muller, Consultant and Principle at Max Muller & Associates, at the recent HRMorning Masterclass. “Seize control so there are no ad-hoc decisions.”
Tip 1: Create a flexible plan
To create a fair, equitable and reasonable Return to Work Plan, Muller suggests these steps:
- Form a planning team. Include employees from across functions, experience and departments for a wide variety of insight.
- Develop a flexible plan that takes labor employment, workplace safety, and wage and hour implications into consideration.
- Return to work in phases. Ideally, get volunteers to be first people back.
- Be vigilant. Monitor return to work. Keep an eye on government regulations. Test, trace, report and isolate infections. Continually communicate with employees. Engage, motivate and get feedback from employees.