The remote work trend had already been arcing upward for several years, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic which is forcing many companies to enable working from home for their employees. With this catalyst for change, remote work will likely become more prevalent if it does not bring with it a complete paradigm shift. Managers with specific training in helping staff overcome the associated challenges can maximize team efficiency and productivity.
Consider the Statistics on Prevalence and Productivity
- The number of people who work remotely at least once per week has grown by 400% since 2010.
- 99% of people would prefer to work remotely, at least part time, for the rest of their careers.
- 5 million U.S. employees (3.6% of the workforce) work from home at least half the week.
- 77% of remote employees report being more productive when working from home.
- 76% prefer to avoid the office completely when they need to focus on a project.
- 23% of remote workers say they put in more hours than they would on-site.
Mitigation of Work-From-Home Challenges
The pandemic forced a sudden and unexpected shift to an office-less environment for many workers. As a result, their managers have had to deal with issues like the lack of equipment and policies, varying levels of broadband access, insufficient cybersecurity measures and poor home-office setups. Fortunately, these are not the scenarios most managers of remote workers will encounter in the future. You will likely be dealing with a situation in which the employer has had plenty of time to properly set up employees with the right tools for the job.
However, there are substantial challenges to managing remote workers in ordinary circumstances that require shifts in management practices and communication methods. Without the visual evidence of worker activity, only the results count. Managing for results requires an understanding of the unique challenges remote workforces present and the most practical mitigation solutions. Here, we take a look at both:
No culture of connectedness: Today’s work is highly collaborative, and building a sense of camaraderie is fundamental to creating effective teams. Whereas in-office workers can cohere through informal socializing, as well as in meetings and working together, at-home workers can feel disconnected from their peers and any sense of company culture.
Solutions include web conferences that begin with informal small talk, tools for online collaboration, virtual happy hours, weekly all-hands celebrations of individual and team accomplishments, and in-person events. Managers should also talk with their teams about ways to communicate in times of stress or concern.
Lack of resources and information: In-office workers have access to peers, managers and digital and non-digital resources. At-home workers, on the other hand, may have a more difficult time accessing the resources they need. This basic problem leads to a lack of common knowledge between remote workers and less willingness to share.
The solution here is tech tools that can adequately replace in-office resources. Mentoring and individual messaging (through Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams), as well as access to online resources and libraries promote communication, collaboration and self-sufficiency. Managers must also foster a culture of knowledge sharing and cooperation among remote workers by encouraging them to provide answers and help when necessary.
No face-to-face supervision: It can be more difficult to track progress on projects or to know that employees are working steadily without direct supervision. Workers can feel that managers are out of touch and not as supportive as they could be in an office setting. The solutions include structured daily group and/or individual check-ins so that employees know they can consult with one another and the manager, as well as get questions answered.
Video conferencing and direct messaging also allow for checking in and getting help when necessary. Employees function best when there are established rules of engagement as well as a structured schedule for types of engagement, including collaborative team working sessions on video conference.
Working from home is the present and likely a major component of the future of office work. Managers who are trained to help employees succeed in their home environments will be valuable assets to their employers and employees.