Addressing the 3 Biggest Struggles of Remote Work
As businesses across the country begin to reopen, you may be among the growing list of companies that are planning to move to a full or partial remote model. As you transition from a temporary remote work arrangement and prepare for the long term, there will likely be challenges ahead. Now is the time to ensure your remote work continues smoothly and your employees remain productive.
Earlier this year, prior to the coronavirus, Buffer conducted their annual State of Remote Work study. One of the questions asked was, “What’s your biggest struggle with working remotely?” There were three primary responses. Proactively addressing these issues will allow you to create a remote work environment that works for you and your employees.
1. Collaboration & Communication
If your business was not accustomed to allowing employees to work remotely previously, it is unlikely that you had established rules and guidance. It is recommended that every company establish “rules of engagement” for remote work. This should address such issues as how employees are to collaborate, the expectation for updates and check-ins, and how flexible employees may be with their time.
A document like this ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding how remote work is expected to work at your company. Communication starts at the top and it is important that management lead by example and adhere to and promote these rules themselves. When they do, employees are far more likely to follow suit.
An additional way to foster open communication is to have managers at all levels conduct structured daily check-ins with all of their reports. This can happen one-on-one or as a team depending on the number of reports and the function of their positions. The key here is to keep these check-ins structured and short! The last thing anyone wants is another unnecessary video meeting but, a routine check-in ensures that everyone is doing what they are supposed to and keeps everyone on the same page.
Another way to promote healthy communication and ensure productive collaboration is to utilize the software options that are out there. Email, cloud storage, and video chat may not be enough depending on the nature of your work. There is a plethora of collaboration software on the market. There are many options that are highly customizable and can be built to your needs. There are others that are designed for specific industries. Most will offer free trials so you can make sure it will work for you prior to making the investment.
Although loneliness is not necessarily the fault or responsibility of you as an employer, it is a common issue reported by remote workers and there are things you can do to help ease this. One of the easiest ways is to encourage some small talk at the beginning of meetings. Simply encouraging this action allows employees to connect on a personal level and replace a bit of the “water cooler” talk.
Another popular move by companies with remote teams is virtual happy hours or pizza parties. This is a fun, relaxed way for your employees to feel valued and bring them together with a purely social intention. This may get difficult as you could have many people on a call simultaneously. If you have one employee who is particularly charismatic, funny, or admired, you may want to consider having them act as an MC of sorts, to ensure that everyone feels involved in the event.
3. Not Being Able to Unplug
As part of the “rules of engagement” or “code of conduct” for remote work, you should establish boundaries in terms of when employees are expected to respond. Especially if you allow employees to be flexible with their time, it is possible they will feel a pressure to always be “on” and respond immediately regardless of the time of the day. It is important that these expectations are not just expressed formally in writing but that the company culture supports this through their words and actions. Further, as obvious as this may seem, simply encouraging employees to unplug, especially on days off, can go a long way. Communicating and repeating this message also reminds them that as an employee you value their time and their work-life balance.
There are many other issues inherent in remote work, many of which you may have already encountered. However, identifying the key issues identified by remote workers and proactively addressing them can go a long way to making permanent remote work work. It will result in higher employee satisfaction and fewer problems for your business. These three key areas are an important place to start.