As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, many companies are extending remote work for their employees who were able to perform their jobs from a home office. Expanding remote work has been a highly effective strategy for employers seeking to keep their employees safe while continuing to operate their business. Working from home can present challenges for your employees, however. Here are some steps you can take to make remote work easier for the whole team.
Stay Connected Informally, Too
If you use a video conferencing service, it can feel like you’re meeting with your team in a very similar way to when you worked in the same building together. But when you only see each other for scheduled calls, you may miss out on opportunities to catch up with each other informally.
“We start each ReedGroup/Avesis HR Community meeting with an open agenda to check in on what’s new, fun travel that team members are pursuing –COVID-friendly travel, of course! We ask ‘what’s on your mind?’”, said Gretchen Carrolla, director of Talent Acquisition at ReedGroup. ”It’s an open agenda at the start which invites an opportunity for the team to hear from one another. It’s been very well received.”
Employees who miss the personal connection and social opportunities that in-person work provided are often particularly receptive to virtual social events. Heidi Dross, ReedGroup’s Vice President, Customer Care and Call Center Operations, said, “We regular virtual happy hours coupled with team building sessions that focus on having fun, work life balance, and getting to know each other better personally. We’re also implementing focus groups this fall to create a two-way communication flow focusing on both personal and professional development topics.”
Logistic and emotional stressors can make it challenging to focus on work. While maintaining personal relationships with coworkers is important for well-being, staying connected to your work goals is also essential. When working remotely, it’s especially important to make sure employees understand how their work fits into the company’s goals and that they feel their work is valued. Encourage your people leaders to take the time in their team meetings to share company goals and connect the team’s work to those goals.
No one likes uncertainty. As soon as you are able to do so, provide a timeline or estimate regarding when employees will be expected to return to the office. Provide plenty of notice so that employees can make necessary arrangements and prepare for their return. Regardless of your reintegration plans, make clear what support your company can offer in terms of paid sick leave and/or other leaves, as well as flexible working arrangements. And you can proactively and transparently communicate what your company is doing to weather this crisis financially.
During a time of continued uncertainty, your employees are likely experiencing stress in multiple areas of their lives at once. They may be worried about their job security, their health and the safety of their loved ones. They may be struggling to get their work done without the same resources they had at their workplace. For some, the isolation of social distancing, along with the loss of their usual routine, may be taking a toll on their mental health. Colleen Hutchings, ReedGroup’s Vice President of Operations Support Services, said, “We have begun to get creative with walking meetings, step challenges for wellness, virtual outings, and my recent favorite of wearing a shirt or outfit to match your Teams background as a way to build more laughter into otherwise stressful times.”
You can help your employees manage these anxieties by making sure they have access to reliable and up-to-date information from credible sources like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control.
If you notice that some employees are less communicative, missing meetings or falling behind on their work, consider that they might be struggling with a mental health problem. Remember some employees may also be juggling unexpected burdens including supporting children participating in school remotely, and sharing their work space with their family. Try not to be overly critical with employees who seem to be having a harder time than their peers. Instead, reach out to them one-on-one to see how they’re doing. They may simply need more practical support working with new technology, or they may be having trouble coping with anxiety, in which case you can show your concern for them and put them in touch with resources to help them find mental health support.
Make Accommodations If You Can
While working remotely can be highly efficient under normal circumstances, it’s important to remember we are in an unprecedented situation. Adapting your approach to absence management may make sense. Some employees may be caring for sick or vulnerable loved ones, while others may be struggling with the loneliness of isolation. Whatever our circumstances, we‘re all under additional stress and should take that into account when setting expectations. Be accommodating with employees who may need to adjust their working arrangements to juggle all their responsibilities at work and at home, and make sure your employees know that their health and safety come first.
“The pandemic has provided a number of challenging issues creating long term precedents for employee leave of absence situations,” said James Venable, Vice President of Compliance. “We’ve seen a number of ReedGroup clients exercising more flexibility regarding leave and workplace accommodations related to COVID-19. However, we recommend that employers be consistent in the how they apply this more flexible approach to leaves and requests for accommodation.”
For suggestions and expert guidance on considerations for employers and businesses, visit ReedGroup’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide medical or legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide medical or legal services. Consult an attorney or physician for advice on this or any other topic.