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5 Ways to Empower and Engage a Remote Workforce Amid COVID-19

Even before COVID-19 arrived, the numbers of employees working remotely were on the rise across the United States. In an article on remote.co, we found several statistics that paint a really compelling argument for the remote workforce.

In 2015, 23% of employees reported doing some of their work remotely, up from 19% in 2003, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows. A New York Times report also noted that telecommuting is fast on the rise.

forecast of employment trends by the World Economic Forum called flexible work, including virtual teams “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace, while a Gallup poll found that 37% of respondents have already worked virtually.

According to a Gallup survey, the number of workers who work one day or less from home had decreased from 34% to 25% between 2012 and 2016. In the same time period, the number of people working remotely four or five days a week rose from 24% to 31%. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 43% of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely last year, up from 39% in 2012.

With remote work on the rise in the U.S. and globally due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is becoming critically important to understand the “rules of engagement” during this time. 

Here are five ways we see companies and their teams successfully engage a remote workforce that you can adopt during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Emphasize Efficient Communication

Many employers may not have clear and consistent policies on working from home, often leaving it up to the discretion of managers as to which employees can do so. As a result of the coronavirus, many companies will likely move away from subjective discretion and toward companywide, impartial policies on which jobs can be done remotely and under what circumstances.

Perhaps the most important thing to do as a manager of remote workers is to ensure that there are effective, efficient and agreed upon methods of communication. Don’t be shy about over-communicating with a remote workforce.

The lack of physical presence can affect that natural collaboration that comes from being in proximity to your employees. We may not realize how much small “chatter” happens in a workplace environment that helps to fill in the blanks on projects or keep coworkers updated on the status of things. It is important to find a way to replace communications like water-cooler talk, drive-bys at desks, going out to lunch, etc. 

  • Understand when employees will be working and how that can support or detract from communication, collaboration, and engagement on projects or initiatives.
  • Determine what modes of communication work best and set some ground rules on how teams interact with and use the tools to keep things moving.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate, over-communicate, and then communicate again.

2. Acknowledge, Praise, and Reward Good Work

You may already know that intrinsic motivation can be more valuable than external, monetarily driven perks. But are you putting it into practice regularly? Receiving acknowledgment and praise from a superior can go a long way and keep employees motivated well past the moment they receive a raise. Of course, that goes for in-office and remote employees, alike. But, for those working from home, it can be even more important to make sure their work ethic, effort, and accomplishments aren’t getting lost on deaf ears.

Make sure to give everybody updates about the team’s highlights and the contributions of the remote workers.

3. Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Part of working in an office is getting to see a project’s mechanism at work, or at least connect some of the moving parts. Your colleagues can give you feedback, tips from their own experience, and reminders about what needs to be done. With remote work being more of a “must have” given the coronavirus outbreak, your employees miss all that, so you must look for ways to compensate for the gap.

Remind your team about the general goals and expectations and make sure everyone gets them. Implement milestones and updates about the progress and be there when they need help.

4. Give Them a Flexible Schedule

One of the most appealing things about working from home is schedule flexibility—this is especially true during the coronavirus outbreak since entire families are all under the same roof at one time. If you take that away from your employees, then you may interrupt the mechanisms that make them more productive. If their job does not require being at the desk in a particular interval, give them the choice and means to organize their time between their personal chores and the work.

Remote work can also mean workers are not always “on-the-clock” at the same time.

Being at home is not necessarily easier regarding time management or working conditions. There are many distractions and temptations, so you do need to set certain limits. But, if an individual seems to prefer early morning for their work, give them that! And give them the freedom to switch to evening shift when needed.

5. Organize Virtual Get-Togethers and Activities

Even though employees who are staying home due to COVID-19 issued mandates may enjoy working from home in the beginning, isolation will almost certainly set in at some point. It is healthy to get the team to meet occasionally, using tools like Skype, Zoom, Slack or Microsoft Teams will boost morale and help to make the team bond better. A great resource for a remote workforce, team bonding, peer learning, and new hires is Donut.com. It’s an app that facilitates virtual team coffee meetups, remote team lunches, cross-departmental introductions, job shadowing, onboarding buddies, and so much more to help you improve engagement and boost team morale during this time.

The bottom line is that when managing remote workers, you should keep in mind that there are specific ups and downs about being physically out of office. While they can get more efficient and productive than the office workers, they can also lose steam easily and need encouragement and inspiration from time to time.

  • Schedule regular weekly check-ins.
  • Schedule regular team meetings. Keep a finger on the pulse of the team. There may be times when weekly meetings are necessary and other times of the year, it may be more productive for everyone to reduce it to monthly.

This is new territory for all involved, and it can be extremely helpful for employees to have guidance from their employers as to what is expected during these times. 

As the world endures the highs and lows of the coronavirus outbreak, and companies are faced with the challenge of having to manage a remote workforce seemingly overnight, a spotlight shines on the need for software that is cloud-based and made accessible to a distributed workforce. At Schoox, we are very fortunate to have a solution that supports a global workforce, making it easy for companies large and small to communicate, collaborate, and provide learning to staff during this difficult time.