Remote workers already made up a large group of the United States workforce before the COVID-19 pandemic took over in early 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 3.4% of the U.S. workforce
, about 4.7 million people, worked remotely before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Now, closing in on one year later, remote work is close to becoming the “new normal” for many.
While some adjusted seamlessly to a work at home environment, others have struggled with maintaining productivity, loneliness, and other challenges stemming from their house being their living space, office, and/or school. If you are a small business owner who is trying to manage a remote team, here are some tips to help everyone remain on-task, while still fostering a personal connection amongst co-workers.
Things move fast in a business environment, which means the information you provided your remote employees a few days ago may no longer be relevant. Schedule a check-in at the same time each day – maybe first thing in the morning – or the same day each week if you don’t feel every day is necessary. A short video meeting can allow your team members to update you and each other on the status of their tasks. Setting aside this time also gives you an opportunity to brief your team on new information and progress towards team goals. Seeing and talking to other people, even virtually, can also help members of your team feel more connected to one another.
Encourage Workers to Take Breaks
Some people assume that sitting at their desk all day and forcing themselves to stay on task will improve their productivity. Although they may not realize it, they can be draining themselves by not taking time to eat, use the bathroom, get up to stretch, and just get away from the computer screen for a few minutes. The paradox here is that taking a few minutes away from the desk to either attend to a personal matter or just get a quick “brain-break” often boosts productivity more than trying to force it. Even in the office, people often take short breaks to have a conversation with a co-worker or make a coffee in the break room. Forbes reports
that adequate breaks help employees re-charge and de-stress, in turn improving their overall work quality.
Make Expectations Clear
Remote employees are less likely to abuse the privilege of working from home if you establish expectations and boundaries early on. For example, let your team know the hours you expect them to work and the best ways to reach you when they need immediate assistance.
To avoid your own burnout, however, create boundaries around your availability. Let employees know when you are off the clock and unavailable for phone calls, texts, emails, or videoconferencing related to work. Taking this step helps everyone create healthy boundaries and a better work/life balance. The latter is especially important when home life and work life happen in the same place.
Plan Time to Talk About Non-Work Related Items
Daily check-ins are a practical matter and should stay on topic about projects, progress towards goals, and other things related to the job. You might also consider holding a virtual social hour bi-weekly or so to allow people to connect with one another and let go of some of the stress of work and the current situation. These sessions tend to go best when people approach them with no set schedule or agenda. While you obviously cannot spend all day shooting the breeze, just getting together to talk and catch up on each other’s lives can do wonders for people’s mental health and sense of connection to others – especially when they were used to sitting in an office together each day before COVID-19.
Listen to Employees Feedback
You may be feeling just as disjointed as the team you manage if you were forced to suddenly adapt to working from home. If so, it would be a good idea to talk to a friend or even a therapist about your struggles. Keep in mind that your team looks to you for leadership, especially in a crisis. The most successful leaders understand that sometimes people just need you to hear their frustrations and not necessarily offer any advice.
When an employee seems to be struggling, take the time to listen even if it pushes you slightly off-track for the rest of the day. Offer him or her your empathy along with respect and encouragement. That alone may be enough for the employee to return to the expected standard of productivity. Try to resist the urge to micro-manage and over-communicate.
Adjusting to working from home, while in some cases simultaneously trying to homeschool children, has been exhausting and stressful for many. One of the most reassuring facts is that you and your employees are all in the same boat and there is no manual for suddenly switching to remote work due to a global pandemic. At BankFive, we understand how tough COVID-19 has been on small businesses, and we want you to know that we’re here to help. Visit our Small Business Resources
page for ongoing updates on local and national resources available to small businesses in our Massachusetts and Rhode Island communities.