7 tips to help manage a remote workforce

For businesses that can operate remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, the rapid shift to a remote workforce has also forced significant changes to the way we manage employees and work schedules. From implementing new technology to finding new ways of communicating, here are a few tips to help managers and leadership make the most of this challenging situation.

1. Establish consistent two-way channels of communication

With a remote workforce, none of the usual “informal channels” of communication like breaks, water cooler chat or hallway conversations are available. Communication channels have changed, requiring organizations and their management teams to be creative.

By understanding the challenges and issues employees are experiencing, managers are in a better position to provide their teams what they need to be productive. To do that, it’s important to define upfront how teams will stay connected and establish clear channels and timing to connect.

Paramount to these communications is asking questions to understand what’s going through the minds of your employees. Ask them how they are doing, what they need, and what you as a manager or the company could do better. Acknowledging that this is a new process and one that staff can contribute to allows for improvements as everyone gets accustomed to this new way of “work” life.

2. Set clear expectations with teams

Ensure each staff member understands what his or her role is within the team. Clearly lay out how and when work will be completed. This could be an opportunity to flex the work day for some who may prefer to start their day a little later or others a little earlier. It’s important to check in regularly with your team to set priorities and discuss any obstacles or hindrances that may prevent them from hitting their goals.

3. Be available

While you may have standing team meetings and 1:1 meetings with each staff person, keep in mind that working remote offers less opportunity for you to catch someone in the hall or for your staff person to do the same. Let your team know that you are available if someone needs to talk.

As noted earlier, this move to remote working may cause stress (e.g., parents who now have children at home or individuals who depended on the office for needed social interaction). It’s important to promote an “open-door” policy, and let your team know you are only a phone call or instant message (IM) away. This is also a way for you to stay on top of issues that may interfere with production or meeting set deadlines.

4. Use video to engage with your team

Dialing in by phone is all right for many meetings, but the use of video brings the virtual office to life and can help remote workers feel more connected to their team and organization. If you’ve not entered the foray of video conferencing, there are many easy-to-use and reliable tools available. Every organization’s needs are different and also depend on what existing software is available. It’s a good idea to choose the ones that folks are already using. Platforms like Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts are being used widely with short ramp-up cycles. For the longer term, organizational solutions might include Slack or Microsoft Teams.  

When leading a meeting, keep in mind that video meeting etiquette is different and may be more challenging to manage the conversations of all the participants. An agenda helps guide the discussion, and pausing throughout the meeting allows staff to ask questions or comment. It’s good common practice to give each person in the meeting a chance to speak through a roll call.

5. Create a sense of community

It’s especially difficult to create a sense of community when people are being told to social distance. Working at home can be isolating, especially for those who may not have others in their household. This can have a negative effect on someone’s mental health and well-being, and may lead to shortfalls in productivity. Consider a daily video “coffee break” or a virtual “after hours” hang out. This allows your team members to step away from “shop talk” and engage in social conversation beyond work.

Christine Trodella of Workplace from Facebook offered up a “work where you want” day where employees send a photo that could be posted on a company forum to showcase all the different places and ways colleagues work. It could also serve as a vehicle to share best practices or work-from-home hacks.

Other creative examples can come from your own employees. For example, an AllWays Health Partners employee invited colleagues to participate in a free yoga class she was offering outside of work hours through video conference. Solicit ideas from your staff – they will appreciate it if you ask for their suggestions on ways to interact as a team, in spite of social distancing.

6. Promote access to behavioral health programs available through your health insurer

It’s important for managers and leadership to recognize that staff may need additional support to navigate this new normal. As described in our Working from home during COVID-19: Tips to reduce stress blog, the realities of working from home involve dealing with new stresses, distractions and loneliness.

Many health insurers offer access to programs that can help members deal with stressful situations. AllWays Health Partners recognizes that these times are challenging and is taking action in conjunction with Optum, our behavioral health partner, to make sure its members have the support and resources needed. This includes free emotional support by trained mental health specialists, trainings on how to cope during difficult times and virtual recovery services for individuals seeking support for substance use disorders.

Insurers also often have robust online wellness platforms that provide opportunities to improve health and wellness online. For example, AllWays Health Partners offers the CaféWell platform through WellTok, which provides a myriad of programming, including webinars like "How to set up your own home gym” and "The health benefits of gardening.

You are encouraged to check out the resources available through your health insurer and share with your staff how to access them.

7. Recognize that this experience could change the way you operate over the long term

While you may experience some ups and downs as you engage in these new work practices, some organizations may use this period as a testing ground to offer flexible work arrangements for their staff on a longer term basis. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year. These savings are largely the result of increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness.

Employees also experience a savings of between $2,500 and $4,000 a year due to reduced cost for travel, parking and food, plus the time saved in commuting time. The savings to the employer alone may be enough for them to consider continued shifts from office-based to remote work once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us.

While we're self-isolating, it can be hard to maintain a balanced diet. But, supporting your immune system is more important now than ever.

Join AllWays Health Partners for 12 Strategies for Supporting a Healthy Immune System, a Northeast HR Association (NEHRA) webinar. You'll get practical food shopping tips along with effective strategies for strengthening your immune system and reducing stress.

Register for free with the code allwayswebinar.

Date: Thursday, April 23, 2020
2 - 3 PM

Tricia Silverman, Registered Dietitian, Wellness Coach, and Fitness Instructor
Lisa-Beth Doyle MS, RD, LDN - Manager, Health and Wellness


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