COVID-19 has impacted so much in our personal and business lives, but perhaps nothing in business has changed as drastically as the move to working from home. What happens when the pandemic ends?
Working from home, or working remotely, is definitely not a new concept. Certain parts of the workforce have been doing so for years, and the numbers have been growing. But the pandemic has made working from home mandatory for much of the workforce that is still working. According to Gallup, “Since the outbreak, the number of people who have worked remotely because of concern about the coronavirus has risen by 46 percentage points.”
That is slowly changing as states begin to loosen up their stay-at-home rules, but the experience of remote working is making both management and employees look at this type of work differently. Some employees, especially those who have taken on the additional job of at-home teacher’s assistant, are very much looking forward to returning to the office. When Gallup first asked people, in late March, if they wanted to work remotely as much as possible, 62 percent of those questioned said they preferred doing so. A few weeks later, that number dropped to 53%. The reason why undoubtedly varies from employee to employee.
However, what is clear is that more than half of employees would like the option of working remotely, if not full-time, then definitely as part of the time. Of those people surveyed 59 percent of those workers are very confident that they are able to meet their job requirements. With so many ways to meet and communicate online, it is not always necessary that everybody be in the same room…or even in the same building. In fact, a slight majority of managers surveyed by Gallup say “they will allow their employees to work remotely more often as a result of this experience.”
Maintaining employee engagement remotely
In today’s global environment, many companies have multiple offices. That doesn’t lessen the need for employee engagement…in fact, it makes that engagement even more important. With people in a wide variety of locations, company culture must be well thought out and easy to communicate to all workers.
SHRM, the association for Human Resource professionals listed five steps to keep employees engaged while they work from home.
Prioritize communications – Managers should communicate with employees on a daily basis if possible; but at least a couple of times a week. It is also important for managers to listen to employees’ concerns. Some employees, especially those who live alone, may feel isolated so keeping in touch is vital. The reality is, according to Gallup, workers are three times as likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their managers on a regular basis.
Set clear expectations – Without the ability to walk over to a manager’s or a colleague’s office to check on a task, employees must be given clear direction and goals. An employee who knows what the expectations are will more likely work hard to meet those expectations.
Recognize good work – Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Being appreciated goes a long way to keep employees happy, enthusiastic and dedicated. This doesn’t need to be a grand gesture; a simple email to the whole team complimenting an employee for a job well done is one way to recognize good work. Personal emails thanking the employee directly is also a way to show appreciation.
Encourage work/life balance – When working remotely means working from home, some employees may not be able to separate work and personal life. They may not do a good job of setting up boundaries, so managers may have to do that for them. Don’t encourage the employees to work continuously; instead, encourage them to turn off the computer at the end of the day.
Demonstrate a collaborative culture – Before the advent of things like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, collaboration was a bit more difficult. But when people can see and speak to one another in real time, collaboration becomes as natural as it did when occupying the same space in the office.
Certainly not every job can be handled remotely, but for those that can be, there’s no question that COVID-19 has created a “new normal.” What is true is that normal can be very productive. A lot depends on the ability of managers to keep those employees engaged.
Read my IdeaXchange blog on why employee engagement matters.