By the end of March 2020, businesses around the globe had to make a quick shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, with the release of multiple effective vaccines, many organizations are slowly making plans to migrate back to the office either full-time or on a hybrid basis. More than 12 months of remote work has taught us many lessons to carry forward into the new ways of working. In this Astronology®, we will discuss some of those lessons and action steps moving forward.
Transitioning to Remote Work
The initial concerns during the quick switch to remote work were the fears of a possible reduction in productivity and lowered engagement among staff. In fact, according to a Harvard Business Review survey, 40% of managers surveyed expressed “low confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely.” Another 41% were doubtful that they could keep their remote staff motivated over an extended amount of time. Once the “dust” settled organizations noticed a few challenging trends:
- Lack of human interaction became a threat to workplace culture: It was difficult for organizations to keep company culture going with no human engagement. For instance, TINYpulse found in their own internal research that due to less employee face time, worker – to – worker engagement dropped by 20% on a year – to – year basis.
- Zoom and technology fatigue became a threat to employee morale and wellbeing: The concept of work burnout is not new. In order to mitigate work burnout, organizations offer benefits such as vacations and paid time off. However, during this global pandemic, many workers faced burnout from frequent use of digital devices and video conferencing services. Some symptoms include
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones
- Frustration and irritability with co-workers
- Physical symptoms, like muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia
- Work/Life Balance became harder to maintain: Peter Sosnowski, VP of People at Zety, expressed in a SHRM article online, “One thing we learned very quickly was that you can’t expect your employees to be on the same schedule as you [if you are] working from the office. Remote work requires us to arrange our work and private time in an entirely different way to handle distractions and manage work/life balance…”
Six Lessons from Remote Work
Acknowledging these trends and being open to flexible solutions allowed many organizations to succeed in making staff-wide remote work successful. Some of those solutions include
- Creating “virtual” structure: In an office setting, team meetings and project discussions were typically conducted in conference and staff rooms. This same structure needs to take place virtually as well. Setting up virtual team spaces, break out rooms, and team specific Zoom meetings will encourage communication and staff engagement.
- Providing the tools needed for dedicated, comfortable workspace: Employees quickly realized the couch and the kitchen dining chair are not the best tools to complete a full day of work, five days a week. Many employers were happy to rent or outright buy equipment that would allow their staff to work comfortably from home. Those items included printers, laptops, microphones, cameras, keyboards, and even ergonomic chairs.
- Prioritizing consistent communication: Scheduling appropriate communication is key in keeping employees on task when the environment around them is changing. For instance, some organizations have found it useful to schedule weekly 15-minute check-in meetings to make sure both employees and managers are aware of what tasks are priority and when to reasonably anticipate completion. Including a weekly “happy hour” or open “lunchtime” chat also allows employees to foster camaraderie.
- Resist the urge to micromanage: Some managers may fear that when employees are out of sight, work is not being accomplished. As a result, managers were tempted to micromanage their employees. Micromanaging however can be damaging to employee morale. Micromanaging leads to staff:
- Feeling incompetent
- Stressing over minutia
- Feeling less productive than they could be
Not only do these elements slow down productivity, they also can be damaging to an employee’s wellbeing.
- Do not deprioritize the culture of health and wellbeing: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a lot of discussion on work/life balance and employee wellbeing. It prompted organizations to find useful tools to help their employees cope with the global crisis and take steps to provide more employee wellbeing benefits for the long-term.
- Find online performance management tools: Despite the new surroundings, certain aspects of work continued. One such aspect was performance reviews. While the economic climate may not allow for monetary recognition, organizations still made it a priority to conduct performance reviews. Organizations kept in mind the pandemic’s effect on employee performance by adjusting how they evaluate their employees. Some organizations even recognized the need to upgrade their performance reviews entirely by switching to online platforms. Astron Solutions’ Flare® a web-based talent management system, for instance, offers easy to use modules for managing employees throughout the employment lifecycle.
Looking to the Future
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has profoundly impacted organizations around the world and in every industry. While the lessons were countless, organizations are taking positive steps forward, keeping those lessons in mind and making changes for the long run. What lessons has remote work taught you and your organization? Share your thoughts in our comment section below!