The past year has shown us how we needed to adapt in our personal and working lives as the pandemic progressed. While the concept of remote working has existed for a while, it was suddenly thrown upon us on a global scale during the pandemic. As a result, we had to find ways to deal with the unsteady and uncertain nature of the change. For a brief time, we were allowed to return to offices, but new variants keep placing us right back home. This is not only affecting our own work, but the way we manage others. With this in mind, we want to take a look at some of the ways that HR managers can continue to successfully support remote employees.
1. Create clear structures
Allowing employees to be flexible is going to continue to be important and necessary. It does not, however, mean that clear structures are not still needed on both sides. Even though hours can be worked flexibly, there should still be clear communication about the amount of hours or certain core times. When do you need to be able to reach your remote staff and when can they reach you? When are meeting times set?
A benefit of remote work for your employees is that they can manage their own schedule more freely. Yet meetings are still important to nurture collaboration and togetherness. This is especially true when people are working on projects together, and it’s important to have mechanisms in place that facilitate this.
Tools like Trello or Monday allow you to create task boards for your staff, enabling you to assign tasks and projects to employees and allow them to work together. The chat functions and feedback options simplify collaboration, helping teams to track progress or jump in with ideas.
Part of setting clear structures with the help of these tools is also setting clear targets, objectives, and goals. It does not only help you to be aware of everyone’s progress; it also helps employees to understand each other and what tasks are being worked on across the team.
2. Promote dialogue
Although there are tools to facilitate communication, remote working can still make some employees feel out of touch. Or specifically, that their managers are out of touch with them. Just like you, your employees are most likely sitting at their desk alone rather than in an office with other people. While this may feel more comfortable for some, or less distracting, it can easily feel isolating.
Having virtual face-to-face meetings can partly make up for the lack of in-person supervision. Be sure to communicate that clearly, too! The way you manage your remote employees should show them that they can approach you with questions and ideas. One idea could be to schedule a time for daily (or weekly) check-ins.
You need not only ask yourself, but ask your employees actively: What are their concerns or challenges? What is working well for them? Which processes can be improved or what do they need in order to work better? Gathering feedback right from the source helps you to gain actionable insights.
Be sure to incorporate several communication channels and designate clear purposes for each. For instance, you can use video calls for the check-ins and provide survey templates for gathering feedback. You could use email for general communication, and tools like Trello or Monday for questions and ideas on the specific tasks / projects at hand.
3. Provide everything your employees need
A 2020 poll by Gartner showed that 44% of people saw the introduction of additional employee benefits as something worth keeping. This does not just mean childcare leave / services, but also additional help like mental health leave and care services.
While the pandemic has helped to work against mental health stigma and open up conversation, it can still be a topic employees might be too embarrassed to approach. Here, we hark back to the open communication mentioned above. Be sure your employees are comfortable talking about their concerns. Only then can you help accommodate needs and increase employee engagement and productivity.
Have your employees got a dedicated space to work from while at home? Do they have caring responsibilities for a sick relative or children who also live in the home? Do they have access to all the digital tools they need – laptops, phones, camera equipment for meetings, etc.?
Managing remote employees thus means gathering feedback, which can help you find ways to improve working conditions and nurture appreciation among your staff.
4. Provide professional development support
Although we have all settled into remote working in may ways, we shouldn’t underestimate how overwhelming it can still be. As mentioned before, securing access the necessary technology for your employees is important. But it’s just as important that they are able to use it.
Managing remote employees is therefore not only about providing emotional support. It might also entail providing training or upskilling opportunities to provide technical support, as well. This is where actively showing you care and listen is important: Erase taboos or embarrassment, whether that’s about taking time off or using new technologies.
When introducing new technologies– or even if you have already introduced them– consider holding company-wide of team-specific training sessions. This will help to make sure that everyone is comfortable using new software to facilitate working remotely.
5. Focus on togetherness & teambuilding
Although many your employees are partly returning to the office, don’t forget that feelings of isolation can still arise for those who are not fully returning– or not returning yet.
Focus on promoting togetherness, building strong teams, encouraging and incentivising collaboration. Be sure to also provide opportunities for teambuilding outside of work hours. These can be about virtual teambuilding, or they can take the form of socialising events in the digital space – like virtual after work drinks, for instance.
6. Trust your employees!
Most importantly, managing remote employees means trusting your employees. This means focusing on the outputs more than the processes. Some established schedules may need to go, but it will help allowing your employees to complete tasks in their own time and manner.
Not only will they be able to do their work in the form that is easiest / most productive for them, but, as mentioned before, the feeling of being trusted and contributing to the company in a meaningful way actually helps with engagement and productivity.
This trust allows your employees to fit their work around their personal living arrangements or concerns. Don’t forget, some have to accommodate chronic illnesses, disabilities, caring responsibilities, etc. – flexible remote work allows them to channel time frames and processes that work best for them individually, allowing them to tap into their full potential at work.
The benefit of remote work here is that employees can flexibly fit their working within the 24 hours of a day. To still have clear structure, it makes sense to introduce some core hours like setting the times for daily check-ins, as mentioned before.
You also shouldn’t be afraid to recognise your employees’ efforts and accomplishments – nurture positive feedback systems both ways! Trusting your employees then also helps them to trust one another. Create an environment that is understanding of everyone’s personal challenges and it will help also ease interpersonal conflict in your teams.