Recognize employees’ needs as they adjust to remote work

Businesses have been faced with monumental disruptions this year that have driven foundational changes throughout their organizations. One of the most common changes has been the shift to remote work as government-mandated shutdowns closed many common work areas. While companies largely have a handle on the technical aspects of that change — providing equipment, making the necessary IT adjustments, tweaking processes — there’s more for companies to consider.

“Employee morale and engagement are significant issues for employers right now,” says Jim Altman, Middle Market Pennsylvania Regional Executive, Huntington Bank. “Companies that take steps to check in on their workforce and, as best they can, address any issues, will be more successful down the road.”

Smart Business spoke with Altman about maintaining employee engagement as the workforce operates remote.

What are employers reporting in terms of productivity since the move to remote work?

Productivity declines haven’t seemed to be the issue so far. Instead, there are cases where people are working too much. In those cases, it’s important for leaders to help employees manage their time so they don’t burn out. Where there is fatigue, employers should consider how they can support that employee because both their safety and their health are important to their success.

Support means something different to each employee. For example, as shutdowns affect schools and daycare centers, some employees may have to make arrangements to take care of children at home. They will benefit from an employer’s understanding and flexibility.

Gaining a sensitivity to those needs can be fostered by an increase in communication. However, this is not the time to micromanage. Moving to a remote work environment shouldn’t create different expectations or require more frequent checkups. But when or if there are declines in productivity, or an employee asks for more attention, then it makes sense to increase the frequency of communication.

How can employers help employees manage stress?

Working remote requires managers to be both caring when it comes to employees and reassuring. Leadership should find opportunities to thank employees for their work or share stories about how employees have made a difference for customers. That will go a long way, showing employees that their work matters and the organization recognizes their effort.

Companies can also relieve stress by finding ways for employees to have fun while they’re apart. Talk with human resources about possible, and organizationally acceptable, ways to help people connect and take a break from work. That could mean a contest or small group teleconferences during lunch. Activities like these could help employees who are missing the camaraderie they had with colleagues in the office.

What can employers do to help new hires who are starting the job remote get acclimated?

Onboarding is another aspect of operations that has had to undergo some changes because of the pandemic. For employers that are hiring while offices are closed, it’s important to make sure employees have everything they need to do their jobs effectively from the start. That means quickly shipping them the necessary equipment and making IT available to talk them through setup so they can confidently get up and running.

It’s a good idea to assign someone to work closely with new employees during the first few days or weeks to ensure they’re getting their footing in their new roles. It will also help employees get acclimated if colleagues reach out to the new hire, introduce themselves and help them navigate the organizational structure.

Companies that haven’t done so already should adjust their onboarding practices to reflect the new realities of the job and work conditions. Review current processes and introduce any new information that should be included in virtual sessions and what can be eliminated that no longer applies. It’s an important change to make to stay competitive as the market continues to rebalance.

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