With nearly every state requiring social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has become a new way of life for many. According to Pew Research, pre-pandemic teleworkers amounted to 7% of the total private-industry workforce. Those numbers have more than doubled since the appearance of the coronavirus and the trend will likely continue long-term as employers are now investing in technologies to quickly enable work in adverse times.
While technology delivers the capability to work remotely, the management processes and procedures to allow employees to remain engaged, productive and feeling connected in this new environment are equally important. For many companies, going completely virtual is a new and uncertain transition that risks putting morale in peril. That’s why it’s more important than ever to communicate your organization’s genuine gratitude, recognition and appreciation.
Connecting on a More Personal Level
Every employee has a different personal situation unique to them, which affects their new telework environment. Managers should take the time to connect on a more human level during one-on-one meetings and anticipate that the office environment is not always easily replicated in some homes. Aside from making the physical space for a home office, employees are also short on headspace, facing heavy disruption in family/life schedules and feelings of isolation.
Be sensitive to the fact that employees may need some extra time and a wide berth to rebuild their work/life routines in a new and challenging environment. That includes taking regular breaks to recharge, calling or video-chatting with colleagues, and cultivating an inner life. Through it all, management should focus more attention on holistic employee health and err on the side of flexibility.
Creating the Right Environment
Just as organizations need an employee engagement strategy in the office, they should be creating the same for their newly minted virtual workforces. Part of this is establishing new routines and habits for meetings and workflows that accommodate everyone’s potentially asynchronous schedules. This might mean rotating times of calls so one person isn’t always having an early morning call or late-night meeting.
When communicating with remote employees, encourage behaviors that support a healthy work-from-home lifestyle, like taking socially-distanced nature walks throughout the day when possible, which is good for mental health. As a remote employee, it can be tempting to wake up and immediately start checking emails. Remind them that they are still empowered to take time for self-care and create a safe space for them to blow off some steam if need be.
Now is the time to build a culture of employee appreciation and recognition for remote workforces. More than likely, most companies will continue a mix of work-from-home strategies after the pandemic has passed. Establishing a new engagement and communication strategy is key to keeping everyone on the same page and moving forward. Keeping up consistent and meaningful recognition of accomplishments can be a reliable and comforting baseline for employees going through rough patches.
Keeping up established workplace celebrations like service anniversaries and birthdays is more important than ever. While the teams can’t come together in the conference or break rooms to celebrate, arranging a video conference or virtual happy hour celebration is becoming just as common. Additionally, leveraging existing recognition systems to create special award initiatives gives managers an easy way to stay in contact and keep positive feedback loops flowing.
Building a Work-from-Home Family
In today’s new and unfamiliar climate, where most lives have been affected and will be for the foreseeable future, building a thoughtful remote work strategy, offering personal thanks and showing appreciation via recognition are reassuring touchstones that everyone can set their watch to.
By creating a flexible, appreciative atmosphere coupled with new work-from-home processes that foster productivity and stability, employers and managers can keep the focus where it needs to be for the long haul.