Working from home has become the new norm after a year of social distancing and reimagined business operations. What used to be frowned upon is now considered life-saving in some companies. If you can bring your work home and not be in the office spreading germs or interacting with others, while earning your employer money and contributing to the business objectives, all the better for them. However, there is still the tingling feeling (elephant in the room, if you will) that perhaps the freedom of working remotely allows employees too much liberty to do what they want. In the workplace environment, managers can walk around and peek at employees’ computers to make sure they’re not on Facebook all day, or checkup on meetings and ensure everyone is being productive. When most of their team is at home, the same management techniques are no longer possible. There are managers who do this, because they don’t trust the people who work for them, but there are others who genuinely care that their employees are still engaged and happy. Is the company offering them what they need now that they’ve been transplanted from a place where they have an office setting to a kitchen where there is possibly apartment construction going on in the background or a dog barking during virtual meetings?
To keep remote employees engaged, managers need to first communicate. Ask the team how things are going. And remember, people may have different perspectives. What may be an optimal environment for someone could be the definition of a complete disaster for someone else.
Let them know the status quo. Many leaders have a standing weekly meeting on the calendar to discuss items with their team. This half hour to hour time slot gives them the opportunity to share any company updates, important announcements, relevant changes to the team structure, new contracts, or even obstacles which may affect everyone. It’s also a good time for team members to bring up questions or hardships others may be able to help with. Knowing the status quo on a regular basis gives employees a sense of direction and anchors those who may feel lost after spending so much time at home without seeing an office space.
Additionally, listen to concerns raised. Communication is a two-way street, so while team meetings are crucial and an excellent idea, they are most efficient when employees feel it is interactive–that they aren’t just being talked to but that their thoughts also matter. Whether it’s a complaint about work conditions, meeting times, or even a general worry about an upcoming project deadline and its resources, give your team the time of day. Respond to them. The worst feeling when you’re working remotely is to fall through the cracks and be unacknowledged. An ignored employee is less likely to be passionate about their workload and put in those extra hours.
Encourage virtual team building activities. Managers can’t really force employees to participate in team building activities. You can try but it likely won’t end well or have the desired response, as participation in something fun should feel enjoyable not mandatory. However, the more you encourage it and try to figure out what motivates your employees or what interests them outside of work, the better your chances of selecting an activity they will appreciate. From virtual happy hours to trivia or even an ongoing bracket contest with prizes, there are a bunch of choices to select from in a Zoom environment.
Trust your employee. While it may be difficult and seem unnatural to confide in your subordinates, it is sometimes the only way to keep your sanity. You cannot trail your employees for hours at a time every week and still manage your own responsibilities. I had a manager that tried to figure out what time we all logged in and out of Skype to the point that I felt guilty even using the bathroom for fear that my status would turn to yellow, and he would think I was slacking. It also made me resent my job a little because I spent so much time worrying about what to do to make sure my boss was calm that I had to find extra time in the evening to balance other daily tasks. It was exhausting, like managing a jealous boyfriend who kept wanting to know where I was, what I was doing and how come it took me to do 20 minutes to do something that should have taken 18.
Don’t be that manager or your employees will really lose focus on the work that truly matters in order to achieve business objectives and ultimately make you look good at the end of the fiscal year. A certain amount of trust is paramount.