The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic defined most of 2020, and as we enter 2021, it is still an issue we must contend with on a daily basis.
Many people hoped the new year would bring our old ways of life back, but the pandemic does not care for our wishes. To keep everyone safe and slow the spread of the disease, millions of workers will continue to work from home into the new year and beyond. The emergency work from home solutions have shown many businesses that remote work can be successful, but it takes work to set up and maintain an efficient work from home system. Shifting from an office environment to remote work might sound simple, but managers must put in the necessary work to ensure employees have what they need and are handling the change. Employees are now balancing a new work environment, an ongoing pandemic, and personal life issues, so it is up to good managers and effective implementation of guiding systems like instructional design and clear communication to make or break a work from home system.
In a traditional office setting, all the gear, technology, and equipment you need to do your job is provided in the office. Most employers will never ask for a new employee to supply their own desk, chair, or any other essential materials for the job. However, working from home takes away the given assumption that everything an employee needs will be provided. Remote workers were and are asked to set up their own workstation at home. If employees used laptops in the office, tell them to take the laptops to work from home, so employees don’t need to buy a new computer. Workers already have to adjust to remote work, so try to limit their related expenses as much as possible.
Webcams, headsets, and other remote work tools have become commonplace, but that doesn’t mean every employee has that gear already. When millions of people switched to working from home, many of these now essential pieces of technology were out of stock for weeks. Telling an employee to buy a webcam for required video meetings might not be as easy as you think it is, especially for someone who is not used to technology beyond a smartphone. Some technically inclined employees may have a better setup at home than they did in the office, but other workers may need help adjusting to running new technology on their own. Talk with employees to see if they are missing anything or having trouble with the change. At the end of the day, whether an employee is working from home or in an office, all successful managers will make sure employees have the equipment they need to do their jobs best.
Communication Must Be A Priority
In a typical office setting, anyone can pop over to a coworker and talk about something, but that is much harder to do while working remotely. Communication apps like Slack and Discord can make communication more manageable, and video and or phone calls also help, but it is still not the same as talking in person. It can be harder to read tone or intention through text, connection issues can make calls tricky, and a myriad of other issues can make communication harder during remote work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work.
The distance from coworkers can make any confusion or gaps in instructions a much bigger issue. Instead of working in your regular siloed teams, try to create smaller interdepartmental teams to keep the communication going. Set clear objectives and goals per person and team, so everyone knows what they are working towards. A weekly meeting and or schedule can help keep teams organized and flowing in a healthy rhythm.
Adjusting to remote work is hard for everyone, and managers must prepare to adjust as well. Weekly meetings and daily check-ins might not be part of regular office life, but communication is too important when working from home to ignore or leave on the backburner.
One of the most important things for a manager to remember right now is that everyone is going through more than usual; everyone is stressed, scared, and tired. It is only normal to be a bit fried after last year only to have many of the same issues carry into the new year. People might be going stir crazy isolating at home for almost a year, or having the kids home 100% of the time, so it is a good idea to be understanding if something comes up. Employees have personal lives, and if issues arise, you should be understanding and reasonably accommodating. These are unprecedented times, so being understanding and flexible with employees will help their ease state of mind rather than add more stress.
Managing a group of employees working from home is not easy, but there are ways to ensure the system works as intended. Start by making sure every employee has what they need to do their job just as they would in the office. Emphasize communication so issues don’t fester, and instructions are not missed. However, not everything will run smoothly, but when issues do arise, try to be understanding as we are all more stressed than usual right now.