The Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
Over the last 12 months, company directors and HR professionals have been scrambling to create a new virtual workplace and are still dealing with the challenges caused by the loss of the traditional office environment. At the start of the pandemic, businesses flocked to Microsoft Teams and Zoom in a bid to help communication between teams of isolated individuals, however after endless virtual meetings and countless hours of videos calls, are employees starting to feel burnt out and disengaged?
Almost a year on and with remote working looking set to continue, we thought we’d take a look at some of the biggest challenges that employers face and some ideas on how to combat these potential problems.
What are the challenges?
Probably one of the biggest and hardest problems to solve for many organisations is the challenge of communication. When you’re no longer in the same room as the rest of your team, it becomes much more difficult to keep everyone in the loop and with the rise in emails and instant messaging there is an increased risk of things being misunderstood or getting lost in translation.
In addition to key business updates, employees are also missing out on the more casual everyday chats that they’d usually have with their colleagues over lunch or whilst grabbing a coffee. In a time where it can feel very lonely and isolating, we can’t stress enough how important these catch ups are when it comes to employee happiness and mental wellbeing. The challenge therefore, is finding that perfect balance between informal chat and serious business calls.
Keep things punchy! No-one enjoys a long two-hour meeting, that could have been wrapped up in half that time – concentration levels start to wane and people lose interest. Set out an agenda beforehand to keep things moving and allow each person to contribute, but don’t be afraid to step in if the conversation is veering off topic.
Also, why not set-up a Monday morning coffee club, to allow your team to enjoy a quick chat about their weekends before cracking on with their day. Or, how about ‘walk and talk’ meetings where you have a walking discussion regarding a specific work subject, or combine it with a social chat too and find out what colleagues plans are for the weekend for instance or what they’ve been watching on Netflix. Everyone gets the benefit of some fresh air and exercise with a change of scenery, which also helps contribute to both physical and mental wellbeing.
2. Access to Technology
Another challenge that many businesses and employees are facing, is the lack of available technology. While most families tend to have access to a computer or laptop at home, in situations where there’s more than one adult working in the same household or where young kids need to use the internet to complete their schoolwork, one computer might not be enough.
Your organisation may be in the fortunate position of being able to supply employees with a work laptop, which in the majority of cases is more than adequate, however with remote working looking set to become a more permanent fixture, there is an increasing demand for additional screens and printers, for a more complete home working setup.
We don’t mean to blow our own trumpet, but Technology Benefit schemes are proving extremely popular right now. Not only does it provide staff with a trusted method of purchasing necessary equipment, but the ability to spread the cost allows employees to obtain tech they might not otherwise have been able to afford. It’s also worth mentioning that our benefit is completely cost neutral, making it ideal for businesses looking to reward and enable their employees, whilst operating within a restricted budget.
3. Lack of Engagement
Engaged employees are those who have an emotional commitment to the business and its goals, they feel involved and appreciated and are more likely go the extra mile. Employee engagement is also one of the biggest factors affecting productivity and team morale, which is why more and more organisations are focussing on this as a key business objective.
Since the forced move to remote working for many back in March 2020, maintaining high levels of engagement has become more of a challenge. By its very nature, remote working means employees are more isolated and feel less connected to their team, which has a negative impact on their overall happiness and productivity levels start to drop. There are many other reasons that can result in this feeling of ‘disengagement’, such as a lack of recognition or reward for a job well done, excessive workload, poor communication or no clear opportunity for career progression, but it’s not all doom and gloom, there are plenty of things you can do to help re-energise your workforce and make remote working a success.
There’s no one right answer to solving the problem of employee engagement, but we’ve found that showing appreciation for your employees’ hard work and dedication goes a long way to making them feel valued. It doesn’t need to be a big bonus or a pay rise either, it can be as simple as a small thank you or a virtual pat on the back.
It’s equally as important to ensure that everyone feels part of the team and understands the part they play in the larger picture. Whilst traditional team building days and work lunches remain out the question for the time being, it’s important not to forget these types of activities and the role they play in bringing people together. At Let’s Connect, we recently organised a virtual Escape Room where the team got to let their hair down and have a bit of fun solving puzzles, which is great for lifting morale.
4. Increased Stress and Potential Burnout
When people think of remote workers, one of the common misconceptions is that employees slack off and don’t work as hard because their manager isn’t around to keep an eye on them, whereas in reality in can be quite the opposite. Many remote workers find it hard to switch off and maintain a strict boundary between work and home life. With smartphones and home devices continually connected to the workplace, it requires a conscious effort to forget about incoming emails and unfinished jobs, unlike before, when you could just close your laptop and leave it at the office.
Although results vary, some studies show that those who work from home regularly actually put in more hours than office-based staff. This inability to ‘switch off’ can cause employees to feel overwhelmed, stressed and can even lead to ‘burnout’.
Remote working requires a degree of self-management and discipline, but where possible try to help manage the workload to prevent employees feeling pressured, encouraging them to ‘switch off’ out of work hours. Also, avoid sending emails or messages outside of work hours where possible. While that may be acceptable for senior management, you need to be aware that you’re not overstepping into your employees’ personal time.
If you do spot signs of stress and fatigue among your team, offer them the support they need. Speak to them and find out if there’s anything you can do to help or point them towards an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to receive confidential and impartial advice. Afterall, your employees are your biggest assets, so you need to look after them.