Managing Remote Workers in a Crisis
As the UK goes into lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus, many businesses have had to eject their employees from their offices, and set-up an emergency remote working operation. Does this sound familiar?
Recently, we hosted a free webinar to provide advice and guidance to those managing remote workers in a crisis. You can watch the full record of the webinar below.
Regular Remote Working
I’ve helped a number of businesses and organisations successfully launch remote working and flexible working operations. However, these practices take time to test and trial to ensure that the business can operate, and people can remain highly productive.
We go through weeks of training, trialling and assessing, to ensure that the remote working or flexible working we help to implement is good for both the business and its people.
In any ordinary remote working situation, people are given a dedicated workspace, there is a structure and routine to their day, there are clear goals and objectives to be met, and there are support systems in place to help people remain happy and productive.
Crisis Remote Working
However, remote working in a crisis is completely different from the dreamy situation we would all be used to if this was implemented over a period of weeks and months, rather than rushed into days.
Plus, during the COVID-19 crisis, we also have to contend with the fact that people are trying to juggle their children and other care responsibilities while trying to work.
Compared to regular remote working, crisis remote working is messy, stressful and feels incredibly disjointed to the normal structure and communication you are used to in the office.
Three Things to Consider
For our current state of crisis remote working, there are three things we want you to consider when managing remote workers.
As I mentioned earlier, the remote working your team are doing right now, is not remote working in the ideal sense. In fact it is far from it. So having high expectations during this time is only going to leave you disappointed and frustrated with your team.
Instead, be realistic about what people are going to be able to achieve during their current state of remote working.
If they have children at home, you may need to offer some kind of flexibility around working hours, as it’s unlikely they are going to be able to meet their usual deadlines or goals.
During a crisis, people are worried, scared, and fearful. There is so much uncertainty around that it can be a struggle for many of us, let alone for those who are already suffering from any mental ill-health.
Rather than try to micromanage people, it’s essential you consider their current working conditions and their mindset. Adding more pressure and fear into the mix is not going to help you get their best work.
Instead, be considerate and work with your team rather than against them.
Collaborate on what times are best to call to get project updates, and decide on a form of communication should you have any urgent queries.
Assume Positive Intent
Trust is one of the biggest issues that impacts the success of remote and flexible working practices. If you don’t trust your team, this situation will really highlight the fact.
We’ve heard many people saying things such as – “how do I know my team are working?”
I find it such a shame to hear so many HR managers and leaders thinking negatively of their team.
To me, this says two things. That you don’t trust your team, and that you’ve perhaps employed the wrong people in the first place.
As we are remote working in a crisis, our best advice to you is to assume everyone is doing their best with what they have right now.
Adding negative emotions, onto an already volatile and turbulent situation, is only going to make your team feel badly towards you and your company.
The Big Remote Working Questions
I asked a group of leaders and HR managers to provide us with their biggest remote working concerns right now, so we’ve answered them, in the hope, it will make the current experience of remote working a positive foundation for future remote working practices.
How do I know people are getting their work done?
If your business has not yet implemented a project management system, then we would highly recommend that you do so.
Project management tools not only give you an overview of all the projects and tasks currently taking place, but you can also see what people are working on, how long it took them, and have email notifications when they’ve completed a project.
When you have a project management tool, you don’t need to harass your team for updates or micromanage them. The tools do it all for you.
I’ve helped Liberty Mind clients implement project management tools, and I would highly recommend the following;
If you don’t currently have a project management tool in place, allocate time with your team of when you can have weekly or daily updates. This can also help your team feel connected to the wider company while remote working, and gain feedback from other colleagues.
For those of you who are worried about underperforming employees, turn the responsibility onto them to track their time spent on their tasks, and highlight that this audit is purely to see if remote working is a viable option in the future.
- Use a project management tool
- Ask for daily + weekly updates
- Use time management tools
- Request employees track their own time
How can I support people during a crisis?
During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees will be struggling with self-isolation and the stresses and strains that come with a lack of routine, and being in close proximity to others for long periods of time.
Those who live on their own may also feel lonely and incredibly isolated; this is even for those who are young, as we must remember that loneliness does not discriminate by age.
To support your team’s overall wellbeing, I would highly recommend regular check-ins that purely focus on their health. These are vital, especially for those who may already struggle with mental ill-health.
Whatever you do, ensure to make these wellbeing check-ins phone calls or video calls, so there is some human element to the communication rather than just a text message. By communicating in more verbal and visual ways, you can also hear the tone of people’s voices and see their body language. These can all be vital cues when trying to check if someone is well.
If you have many employees to check-in on then creating a buddy system in the organisation can help ease the burden on HR managers and leaders. Especially, as if there are many people in a bad way, this can also start to impact on your own mental health. Instead, using a buddy system where colleagues are paired to check in on each other, you can ease the burden and ensure everyone is having a good chat about their feelings.
As many people will be suffering in different ways due to the crisis, with some people worried about their health, family or finances, it can be helpful to create guides for people’s personal situations so that they have instant access to helplines or third-party support.
- Have regular check-ins with your team – make these video calls / phone calls
- Create a buddy system for wellbeing check-ins
- Provide guides to support people’s personal situations
What do we do for people who can’t do their role remotely?
The government is offering support to employers by providing a furlough scheme for workers who are unable to work due to the Coronavirus. However, we understand that for some organisations this option isn’t suitable for their business.
In the case where you want to continue paying your team, but they can’t physically do their role, you can look to create temporary roles for them within the organisation. Depending on the type of business you run, this could be around research and product development.
Think about how you can utilise your team right now to help your business come out the other side of this crisis stronger and more adaptable.
During this crisis is also an ideal time to expand learning and development opportunities. With many courses now available online, you could give your team the chance to use this time to further their knowledge and skills.
- Think about temporary roles they could fill
- Use this time for learning and development
How do I keep morale high and company culture going?
Even though your team may be remote working, it is still vital that you keep the company culture alive so that they continue to feel connected to their colleagues and the company as a whole.
Culture plays a role in how we feel we belong to an organisation, so by continuing to nurture the culture you are helping people to feel continuously engaged in the business even though they are away from the physical space of the company.
Let’s not also forget, that eventually, we will come out of this crisis, which means there will be a point where people will need to transition back into the company culture; by continuing the culture even remotely, you make this translation much easier.
The first thing to do is to ensure you have a more social form of communication where ‘watercooler’ conversations can still take place. From what people are watching on Netflix, to jokes and memes, keep a space purely for fun where work and projects are not discussed.
Anything you do in your normal company culture should also be recreated virtually where possible. For example, four o’clock beers can still be done by video calls, or the lunch and learning presentations can still be done over conference calls.
Think about what your team needs right now from the culture, and create it in a digital format.
- Have a social channel for your team to communicate
- Recreate your culture traditions virtually
Test & Trial
As we have said previously. When it comes to remote working in a traditional sense, there is a lot of testing and trialling to get it right for the people and the business.
To help you see a positive in this crisis, use this emergency form of remote working as your testing ground. Of course, the conditions are extremely different than a ‘normal’ remote working format, but still, using this time to test and trial your remote working operations can help you see if this could be a possibility in the future.
Keep a note of any operational problems that come up and how they were solved.
It’s also wise to get constant constructive feedback from your team about any roadblocks that are holding them back during remote working.
By reflecting each week on what’s working, and what’s gone wrong, you can start to build a good foundation of the areas that need improving.
- Use this time as a test and trial phase
- Keep notes of any operational issues and how they were resolved
Remote Working Support
If remote working is completely new to your organisation, this is an ideal time to understand if this working operation is possible in the future. After all, the world is changing, and having the chance to adapt quickly will only support your business in growing in the future.
For more help and support around remote working, contact me about flexible and remote working consultancy or download my free eBook – The Ultimate Guide to Remote Working.