The Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has changed virtually everything about the way business is conducted right now. For the vast majority of businesses across the U.S., this means shuttering workplaces and directing employees to work remotely from home.
Of course, the trend towards remote work has increased steadily over recent years. But the abrupt transition from office or warehouse to working from home has the potential to cause a slowdown in how business gets done—a genuine threat to a company’s livelihood during these uncertain times.
Here are tips for employers on how to ensure that their teams remain productive and that morale stays high:
Understand the challenges your employees face.
Managing remote workers is a lot easier if you understand the challenges your team members face. These include—but aren’t limited to—the following:
No face-to-face direction. Over time, without in-person interactions, employees can get the sense that their supervisors (also working remotely) aren’t on the same page as them, with respect to work expectations, deadlines, changes in processes, etc.
Hindered access to information. Obtaining information needed to move a project forward was often a simple process. Now, under remote working conditions, more time and energy may be needed to access critical information.
Misreading interpersonal communications. Employees in a shared workspace can sense (and work around) an individual who’s experiencing a difficult time and “will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress,” as Harvard Business Review notes. Now, receiving such an email from a remote colleague, “you are more likely to take offense, or at a minimum to think poorly of your co-worker’s professionalism.”
Offer guidance about work-at-home challenges.
Sometimes employees are sent home with insufficient guidance about how to do their work remotely. It can be immensely helpful if you offer some guidelines about what to do next. Suggestions include the following:
Establish a dedicated workspace. Distractions can be a major threat to productivity in the home setting. Employees with children, for example, have to grapple with locating sufficient daycare (a real challenge these days). Recognizing this, employers should be understanding about the problems their employees face, but also encourage them to designate a specific area in their living space to work in order to minimize distractions. Obviously, this situation will differ from one employee to the next.
Support regular communications. It’s up to employers to leverage the power of digital technology to support ongoing communications. Mobile-enabled messaging is available for daily, informal communications; but just as importantly, managers should establish regularly scheduled contact with their team members. Text messaging, videoconferencing, and other tools can be used to:
- Help work projects move forward.
- Decrease employees’ sense of social isolation.
- Generate time-sensitive solutions to problems as they occur.
Managers and employees should generate an agreed-upon set of communications rules, so as to reduce confusion or misguided instructions.
Encourage breaks from work. Your hard-working employees may need encouragement to take breaks in their new work environments. Motley Fool advises managers to tell employees to “get out of your workspace at times during the day.” This is more challenging in a time of widespread contagion, “but even a few breaks each day to take a walk around the block can make a huge difference to your attitude.”
Pay close attention to cybersecurity.
As if things weren’t difficult enough, “nasty opportunists are already using the Coronavirus as subject matter for their phishing scams,” notes ZDNet. These phishing schemes “try to create an impression of urgency in order to panic you into clicking on a link”—precisely the wrong thing to do under suspicious circumstances.
Here are some additional work-from-home cybersecurity measures to employ:
- Instruct employees not to open any email attachment that looks suspicious.
- Make sure security software is updated and strict anti-virus measures are taken.
- Require employees to routinely backup their work (ideally, several times a day).
- Offer as much offsite IT assistance as your resources permit.
- Tell employees what to do in the event of a security breach.
No one needs reminding of the challenges we all face today. But by working together, employers and their teams can keep businesses going until our life/work conditions improve.