Taking care of your remote workers

With the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the increasing need for individuals to stay at home, teleworking has become the go-to option for many companies seeking to retain workers and stay in business. Many companies, however, have not been enthusiastic adopters of telework or other flexible forms of work, believing that telework impairs productivity and innovation. This is a handy guide for the manager wishing to support and take care of their remote workers while simultaneously trying to push business forward.

The reality is that there is no one size fits all solution for teleworking. Especially if you have not managed teleworkers before, you might be tempted to put restrictions on your employees, so that you can be certain that they are working at certain times. You might be thinking: “Everyone log on at 8am so that I CAN SEE YOU!” I implore you – resist this urge. What you want from your employees is performance, not presence. Your employees are unique, and each is struggling with their lives in different ways during this crisis. Some might need to read the news throughout the day; some might have elderly relatives; some might have young kids; others might have symptoms themselves; anxiety might be crippling to some. And before you judge…you do not know what each person needs or what their (new) reality might be like. Right now your workers do not need monitoring; they need compassion.

Here are few things you can do as a manager to help and enable your employees to function at a high-level during this crisis (and beyond):

Show empathy

Don’t just engage in small talk about COVID-19 (“yeah, this stinks, huh?”), ask each employee about their daily life. What are their struggles? successes? worries? Even 15 minutes to check in at a deeper level not only fosters a stronger connection but shows the employees that the company cares about his or her well-being. Ask them if work is allowing them to take care of their kids, family, neighbors, and most importantly, themselves.

Use video if you can

Synchronous communication is better than asynchronous, and video is better than just audio for building trust and showing empathy. Even for a short check-in, making the effort to connect via video (if employees are comfortable with it) is worth it.

Simplify communication

Every manager / department has a temptation to get out his or her message of information / instruction / etc. for what the new policies are going to be or how operations are going to shift. Getting 17 company-wide e-mails is overwhelming, and confusing, so do the work at the senior level so that employees know who to ask for what issue / problem. If you need to send daily or bi-daily briefs, do it from the same person so employees get the right information.

Don’t enforce core hours

Give people the flexibility to get their work done when they can. Don’t assume this is a given assumption in your company. Tell your employees that they can work when they can. Tell them to go take a walk, especially when you know the weather is nice outside.

Rethink your meetings

A neighbor of mine said that her daughter last Thursday watched TV all day because she had to be on 8 straight hours of conference call. I asked how many of those hours she truly needed to be there. She said about 2. Don’t waste your employees’ time. Meetings are for decisions, not updates. Include only those employees in a conference call that are absolutely critical. Provides updates in (not too many!) e-mails that employees can read at their convenience.

Evaluate your employees on performance, not presence

Tell your employees what you need from them, and then evaluate them on that production. Ask them what help they need meeting deliverable deadlines, not how many hours a day they can work. If someone isn’t available for a few hours, assume they are taking care of something more important. Focus performance conversations on outcomes, not effort.

Be honest and upfront about challenges

If your company is looking at layoffs or reductions in service, be upfront with workers. Tell them the timeframe for deciding and what options are being considered. Trust me, if layoffs are a possibility, they are already talking about this with each other. It is more ethical and better for all parties if you get out in front of the information.

Don’t ignore ergonomics

Tell your employees to make sure their home workspace is as ergonomically friendly as possible. If they have a special piece of equipment (e.g., trackball; curved keyboard; chair) in the office that they do not have at home, give them the budget to immediately order one. If you are concerned about cost, explain that when life goes back to normal they will be asked to either return the purchase or give to the company.

Remember, talk to each employee about what her or his unique challenges are and what you can do to support them so that they can support the company. People generally want to work, they just need help right now figuring out exactly how to best do that. You’ll find that taking these few simple steps will go a long way to being a more compassionate, and productive, manager.

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