How to Support Remote Employees

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In 2019,80% of employ­ees report­ed want­i­ng to work from home. How­ev­er, many new­ly remote employ­ees are find­ing the abrupt shift to remote work fol­low­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic a chal­leng­ing one. 

At least 42% of peo­ple in the U.S. start­ed work­ing from home full-time after COVID-19 hit —up from 17% pre-COVID. This unplanned tran­si­tion left many com­pa­nies unsure of how to sup­port their remote employees. 

How can com­pa­nies sup­port their remote team mem­bers through this chal­leng­ing tran­si­tion? More­over, what are some proven approach­es to encour­age and assist per­ma­nent remote employ­ees on an ongo­ing basis?

The Challenges of Remote Work

Con­vert­ing to full-time remote work can be ener­vat­ing under the best cir­cum­stances, much less a forced exo­dus brought about by a glob­al pan­dem­ic. It often takes com­pa­nies months of prepa­ra­tion to move a posi­tion remote, yet many com­pa­nies and work­ers had to do it in a mat­ter of days.

Despite the com­pli­ca­tions, most orga­ni­za­tions were able to swift­ly adjust and keep mov­ing for­ward to pro­tect their peo­ple. How­ev­er, as the virus lingers and the new­ness of work­ing from home is wear­ing off, and real­i­ty is set­ting in. Long-term remote work is going to be challenging.

Remote teams often have entire­ly dif­fer­ent prob­lems, con­cerns, and needs than in-office teams. To offer mean­ing­ful sup­port to remote employ­ees, it’s essen­tial to under­stand their prin­ci­pal challenges. 

Accord­ing to Buffer’s in-depth sur­vey on the state of remote work, the fol­low­ing are the biggest work-from-home hurdles: 

  • 20% Col­lab­o­ra­tion and communication

  • 20% Lone­li­ness

  • 18% Not being able to unplug 

  • 12% At-home distractions 

  • 10% Being in a dif­fer­ent time zone than teammates 

  • 7% Stay­ing motivated 

  • 5% Tak­ing vaca­tion time 

  • 3% Find­ing reli­able wi-fi

  • 5% Oth­er

Com­pa­nies must imple­ment strate­gies that address these chal­lenges. Oth­er­wise, they face pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and prof­it loss, or worse, a degra­da­tion in their employ­ees’ men­tal and emo­tion­al wellbeing. 

Luck­i­ly, there has been sub­stan­tial research and anec­do­tal evi­dence pre­sent­ed on the best prac­tices for sup­port­ing remote teams, so com­pa­nies do have some imme­di­ate work­able solutions. 

7 Methods for Supporting Remote Employees

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1. Invest in Communication Technology

Two of the biggest strug­gles remote employ­ees face are com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion. Email and phone calls by them­selves are not enough to allow employ­ees to con­nect and coop­er­ate with ease. Thank­ful­ly, there are sev­er­al viable solu­tions to improve the effi­ca­cy of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and collaboration. 

These solu­tions include Zoom, Google Hang­outs, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Side­kick. Com­pa­nies should encour­age their remote employ­ees to par­tic­i­pate in choos­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech stack as they can pro­vide mean­ing­ful insight into what the team lacks and needs to thrive. It’s also crit­i­cal to test out dif­fer­ent options to see which solu­tions, when com­bined, cre­ate the best col­lab­o­ra­tive environment. 

2. Set Clear Expectations and Regular Supervisor Chats 

Research sug­gests that remote employ­ees tend to feel a lack of sup­port and clear expec­ta­tions from their man­agers. They report hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting their ques­tions answered by super­vi­sors when not work­ing in close proximity.

To avoid break­downs in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and expec­ta­tions, orga­ni­za­tions should make sure their peo­ple can reach their direct super­vi­sor with ques­tions through­out the day, just like in an office set­ting. Planned rou­tine calls between super­vi­sors and employ­ees ensure there’s always time to bring clar­i­ty and build relationships. 

3. Encourage Personal Connections 

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Orga­ni­za­tions need to find ways to encour­age their peo­ple to com­mu­ni­cate and con­nect with each oth­er. Set up a Slack account and cre­ate themed chan­nels for pop­u­lar top­ics, pet pho­tos or book recommendations.

Con­sid­er reg­u­lar check-ins just to chat, host vir­tu­al hap­py hours and try some vir­tu­al board games. Some offices even host a vir­tu­al office’ once a week where any­one can join a real-time video or chat stream at any time to hang out with cowork­ers, chat and get work done with­out feel­ing so alone.

Work­ing from home can be incred­i­bly iso­lat­ing — espe­cial­ly if a per­son is used to work­ing in a bustling office envi­ron­ment. Employ­ees who feel lone­ly are more like­ly to feel like they don’t belong and expe­ri­ence increased impuls­es to leave their company.

Find­ing ways to encour­age per­son­al con­nec­tions requires cre­ativ­i­ty, but it’s essen­tial for keep­ing remote employ­ees feel­ing includ­ed and cared for in their work community. 

4. Set Work Hours and Require Breaks 

Since the pan­dem­ic began, peo­ple are work­ing three hours more each day as remote employ­ees. While some com­pa­nies, those who pri­or­i­tize prof­it over peo­ple, can see this as a good thing, it’s impor­tant to set bound­aries to pre­vent burnout.

For many peo­ple, work­ing from home means there’s no clear bound­ary for when work ends and per­son­al life begins — it all just coex­ists simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. This can be drain­ing and dra­mat­i­cal­ly decrease morale.

Com­pa­nies that want to decrease this propen­si­ty for burnout should take a firm stance on encour­ag­ing breaks and set­ting explic­it work hours. To make employ­ees feel even more sup­port­ed, tell them not to send any emails after work­ing hours and encour­age reg­u­lar fif­teen-minute breaks, too.

One com­pa­ny enforced a Delib­er­ate Decem­ber, which required employ­ees to put a 30-minute meet­ing’ on their cal­en­dar every day dur­ing which they were not allowed to do any work. They had to use the time to relax, which could include tak­ing a walk, read­ing a book or chat­ting with a friend. It kept their peo­ple from becom­ing over­ly stressed dur­ing the busy hol­i­day sea­son and con­cur­rent­ly increased cre­ativ­i­ty and morale.

5. Help With Dedicated Workspaces 

The real­i­ty of work­ing from home, espe­cial­ly with lit­tle fore­warn­ing or prepa­ra­tion, is that many peo­ple don’t have a ded­i­cat­ed remote work­space — add to the mix that many par­ents have to home­school their kids right now, too. As a result, they’re often stuck work­ing from the kitchen table while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly jug­gling child­care and school duties. 

This type of sit­u­a­tion is a quick for­mu­la for employ­ees to feel over­whelmed and unmo­ti­vat­ed. Com­pa­nies should do what they can to help their peo­ple cre­ate a ded­i­cat­ed area for work. If orga­ni­za­tions are already check­ing in with their peo­ple reg­u­lar­ly for non-work chats, they should be able to get a good idea of their needs. 

Con­sid­er pro­vid­ing all nec­es­sary tech and office equip­ment to help employ­ees get start­ed on the right foot. Addi­tion­al­ly, urge them to be inno­v­a­tive with their space and give rec­om­men­da­tions or how-to guides for turn­ing uncon­ven­tion­al areas (like walk-in clos­ets) into remote work­spaces. Com­pa­nies can use online guides for inspi­ra­tion or set up times with indi­vid­u­als to see their spaces and help brain­storm ideas.

6. Focus on Goals, Not Tracking Tasks 

Many employ­ers’ first assump­tion is that remote work­ers aren’t work­ing if they aren’t being super­vised all day. How­ev­er, data sug­gests this assump­tion is wrong. As pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, remote employ­ees actu­al­ly tend to work more at home than they do in the office. How­ev­er, because of these false assump­tions, super­vi­sors tend to micro­man­age their remote employees. 

Micro­manag­ing has the propen­si­ty to make employ­ees feel frus­trat­ed — con­stant emails, calls, chats and video con­fer­ences con­sume their valu­able time. Plus, it makes peo­ple feel untrust­ed and unval­ued. This doesn’t mean com­pa­nies shouldn’t check-in, of course, but it’s about find­ing that syn­er­gis­tic bal­ance where every­one feels confident.

Some com­pa­nies solve this dilem­ma by reori­ent­ing their focus. Rather than have their peo­ple report each com­plet­ed task, they col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly set up goals and trust their employ­ees to reach those set objec­tives. Allow­ing employ­ees to be account­able for their con­tri­bu­tions pro­vides them with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to spend their valu­able time achiev­ing, per­haps exceed­ing expec­ta­tions. By decreas­ing micro­manag­ing ten­den­cies, com­pa­nies increase moti­va­tion, con­fi­dence and trust for their people. 

7. Support & Recognize Your People 

Remote employ­ees need to know their super­vi­sors see their efforts and work from afar. In an office set­ting, employ­ees receive imme­di­ate acknowl­edg­ment for doing their jobs. How­ev­er, at home, there’s no one around to acknowl­edge their hard work.

Com­pa­nies should make an effort to sup­port and rec­og­nize their remote employ­ees. They can acknowl­edge their peo­ple pub­licly on a shared com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel or pro­vide them with cus­tomized lifestyle ben­e­fits, so they’re sure to feel seen, rec­og­nized, and supported.

Final Thoughts on How To Support a Remote Team

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The most sig­nif­i­cant piece of advice regard­ing sup­port­ing and moti­vat­ing remote teams is this: Lis­ten to remote employ­ees. Ask them what they need, lis­ten to them and this will pro­vide the space for them to express exact­ly what they need to feel sup­port­ed now and as they con­tin­ue to nav­i­gate the future of work. 

Want to sup­port peo­ple with lifestyle ben­e­fits that are sure to make them feel appre­ci­at­ed? Sched­ule a free Fringe demo today.