The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the systems in place at companies around the world by forcing many businesses to quickly adopt a work-from-home policy.
Transitioning to virtual work from an office setting is a drastic change in employees’ professional and personal lives even under normal circumstances.
In addition to adjusting to a new work arrangement, business owners and employees also face heightened levels of stress and anxiety over health concerns as the novel virus is sweeping across the globe.
To ease the stress of these uncertain times, there are some ways you can support your remote employees during this COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Establish a system to follow
A significant contributor to stress about remote work situations is employee uncertainty.
They may be unsure how to structure their day, distribute deliverables, or communicate in this new environment.
You can ease this uncertainty by establishing a clear system for remote employees to follow.
One tactic for outlining workflows or tasks is to create a resource or information hub and distribute it to your remote employees in the form of an eBook.
Similar to crafting an employee handbook, the eBook can serve as a guide for employees to transition to this new way of working.
Here are some things to cover:
On the top of the list in any successful remote team is communication. Make sure to outline how, when, and how often your team will need to communicate.
Everything is going to depend on technology in a remote environment. Make clear what communication tools your team will be using like Slack, Skype, Zoom, messengers, etc.
You also may want to consider investing in collaborative project management software.
Set expectations for when you want your team to be working. Does your business need to have a hard start and end time? Or can you be more flexible as long as the work gets done?
The answers to those questions will be different for each business, but it needs to be clearly communicated in your guidelines.
In normal times an emergency can cause chaos in an organization. During a global crisis, you have to be extra prepared to handle new challenges. Prepare your employees by including protocol for emergencies upfront.
2. Organize one-on-one meetings
It is easy to get lost in the shuffle of a group video conference, especially if your team is not used to having meetings over Zoom or Skype.
The slight delay in all connections makes communication feel choppy and broken. The brain has a tougher time picking up on non-verbal cues (body language, etc.) in a video call.
Establishing regular one-on-one meetings with your team members is crucial to maintaining a healthy, positive employee culture. It provides a safe environment for goal setting and problem-solving that are difficult to address in a group call.
Harvard Business Review outlines the following dos and don’ts for your one-on-one employee sessions:
- Start each meeting with a positive “win.”
- Prepare employees with a few key points you want to cover. This is especially important for goal setting or personal development.
- Actively listen and be genuine.
- Cancel. This sends a message that these meetings aren’t important. Make the meeting a priority.
- Be rigid. Planning is important but allows for flexibility in the conversation so that your employee can address their issues and/or needs.
- Forget to thank your employee. Professionals need to feel valued for their contributions.
3. Support a healthy work-life balance
One of the biggest challenges for work-from-home or remote employees is finding a healthy work-life balance.
When you are at your home all day, distractions are plentiful. There are dirty dishes in the sink. Pets, kids, or spouses are vying for your attention.
As the employer, it is critical that you establish and stick to boundaries to help yourself and your remote employees stay sane.
Outline office hours and encourage employees to log in and unplug at a certain time each day.
Support these boundaries by avoiding the temptation to email them outside office hours and setting realistic expectations for how long a project or task should take to complete.
If your remote employees have previously relied on you to provide structure to their day, it might be a challenge for them to prioritize and organize their time around the most important tasks.
You can help by sharing some productivity hacks that will help employees manage their time effectively.
Keep in mind that some employees will also have to juggle family and work, and the previously established schedules may not work anymore.
Some productivity methods focus on the complexity of the task at hand, while others require you to block your time in specific increments.
Let employees experiment with various methods to see which one suits them and the nature of their work best.
Keep in mind that not all methods will work for all employees and all businesses alike, so encourage them to try and see what method yields the best results.
4. Adopt a regular schedule for video calls
Putting a date and time on the calendar to periodically meet helps keep order in a chaotic time. Remote employees then know they can save their updates, questions, and issues for a designated time.
The trap of being “always available” via messenger or phone isn’t productive for anyone. Establish a daily, weekly, or whatever-works-for-your-team meeting where everyone can check in with each other.
Not only is this a good touchpoint for project status, but it also helps maintain the social connections in your team. Humans need to connect with each other to collaborate effectively.
5. Provide necessary equipment
It is the employer’s responsibility to set their team up for success, and this starts with the right equipment.
You will need to help your remote employees assess whether their devices (laptops or desktop PCs) are suitable for work. Don’t forget that the lockdown means that their spouses and children might need to use a shared PC to do their own work as well.
Consider sending a laptop home with each employee and offering a stipend for their internet connection if necessary.
Your team will probably need to exchange more data and files than if they were in the office, or use some cloud-based services that require specific bandwidth, so make sure everyone has the right infrastructure to work obstruction-free.
Do your employees spend a lot of time on the phone? They’re going to need a reliable mobile connection to continue.
If your budget allows it, consider even loaning out or renting furniture to employees who don’t have it at home. An ergonomic chair and desk could make a significant difference in employees’ happiness, health, and productivity during remote work.
Conclusion: Support remote employees during pandemic
Transitioning to remote work when you didn’t have sufficient time to prepare can be stressful both to you and your employees. They are bound to have their doubts and challenges adapting to this new work arrangement.
Keeping the communication channels open and staying honest and transparent with your remote employees will help alleviate at least some of these challenges.
Above all else, remind yourself frequently that these are stressful times. Be gentle and understanding with your employees.
Even more important, be gentle with yourself as you try to lead in an unprecedented environment. There will be challenges, but if you stay connected and focused, your business can still thrive, even during a pandemic.
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Ashley Wilson is a digital nomad writing about business and tech. She workes remotely as a content creator for various SMBs. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking homemade treats and trying out new flavors. You can get in touch with Ashley via Twitter.