Before the COVID-19 outbreak a growing percentage of the global workforce would work from home either occasionally or full-time.
COVID-19 has not only forced more citizens to work from home but has also opened the eyes of both employers and employees to the potential benefits of a remote workforce. Longer-term, when we are living in a ‘Post COVID-19’ world, working from home could become the norm for an even greater percentage of the population.
As an employer, you might be considering either building a remote workforce or asking more of your current employees to work remotely. However when it comes to remote workers, looking after your employees is paramount to ensuring a successful and productive business operation. This is particularly crucial during the current pandemic situation when people’s daily lives are greatly disrupted.
Here are five strategies to consider implementing to help you look after your remote workforce.
1. Use Remote Working Apps to Encourage Interaction
Using corporate messaging apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are already commonplace, including in environments where you have everyone together in the same physical office. However such technology can be significantly helpful with a remote workforce.
Whilst remote employees may have some degree of flexibility around their working hours, or there may be significant time zone differences between team members, these digital tools can help to keep your business moving, encourage interaction and ensure your remote workforce takes breaks when needed.
Many companies have event set up ‘virtual watercooler’ sessions or paired up employees for social video calls to enable staff to interact beyond the day to day job. Such initiatives can help your remote workforce get to know each other better, even if they don’t ever meet in person.
2. Promote Integration Between Remote and Onsite Workers
In many cases remote workers do not feel like they are part of the team, particularly if they are in the minority. As an employer it’s important you help to make them feel integrated and ensure your company doesn’t suffer from an “us and them” attitude from either side.
One way to do this is to connect your onsite workers with your remote workforce, including via messaging app initiatives as outlined above. You could also implement a buddy scheme to encourage interaction between the two groups, and ensure there are equal progression and management opportunities for both; there is no reason a remote worker can’t manage an onsite worker, or vice versa.
Another initiative to consider is establishing a ‘remote leadership team’ that is accountable for ensuring integration across the business. This should consist of both onsite and remote members of the workforce, to ensure a joined up and coherent approach.
3. Tell Your Team Not to Check-In Outside of Business Hours
The debate around workplace culture and whether employees should check emails or messaging channels outside of office hours has been ongoing for many years. However for remote workers there is often increased pressure to be ‘always on’, as they are not physically present in the office and feel a need to demonstrate their value to the business.
The general consensus is that employees should avoid spending too much time checking messages outside of business hours where possible, so employers should take the lead by explicitly outlining expectations for both your onsite and remote workforce. Remember that you may need to provide flexibility, particularly as some remote workers may already operate unusual business hours for personal reasons.
Having an open and honest conversation about this is important, as providing some structure and clearly managing expectations will help ensure your workforce can better manage their work-life balance. Promoting a positive workplace culture and ensuring your teams have sufficient ‘down time’ is proven to boost workforce productivity.
4. Promote Opportunities to Look After Employee Well-Being
Mental health in the workplace is a hugely important topic, particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic. While awareness of the importance of employee wel-being is consistently improving, it is also true that there are still stigmas attached to discussing personal issues at work.
Remote employees present an additional challenge from this point of view as you don’t see them every day, making it more difficult to make in-person judgements about how they are and whether they might be struggling with something.
If you’re reading this and the COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting your daily work operations, take time to remember to keep things playful where possible. Many people will be fearful for themselves and their families right now, as well as their job security, so do what you can to make people feel as relaxed as possible. For example if you have an early morning roundtable, keep it light hearted by making it mandatory that everyone attends wearing their brightest set of pyjamas or a colourful hat.
Consider what other well-being perks you can offer to your remote employees, including ones that onsite employees may already benefit from just by being present in the office. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that being able to work from home is enough of a benefit itself!
For example if your building has an onsite gym, you might subsidise the purchase of fitness equipment or a gym membership for remote workers. If you crack open the cold beers on a Friday afternoon, can you make this virtual office time and involve remote workers in other social activities?
5. Invest in an Employee Assistance Programme
Related to the above, it is also important to consider what more you can do to support the mental health of your employees. Long-term investment in an employee assistant programme (or EAP) is a great way to complement everything else you choose to do to look after your workforce, including remote workers.
Typically, an EAP service will be provided by a specialist third party, sometimes a healthcare provider, ensuring anonymity and confidentiality for employees. An EAP service usually offers your employees access to short term counselling to help them manage personal or professional difficulties that may impact their work. EAP services can offer support and advice on a range of issues and life challenges, from financial worries to bereavement, to coping with relocation overseas or managing childcare issues.
Some private health insurance plans for companies include access to an EAP service, helping you to attract and retain talent for both onsite and remote roles. At Now Health International we have recently made available access to a complimentary EAP service for our SME corporate clients with WorldCare plans, to help these businesses support the overall well-being of their staff.
Looking After Your Remote Workforce
It’s likely you already have a number of initiatives in place to look after your remote workforce, including some of the items outlined above.
Our question to you is can you go further? It’s easy to become complacent and say, “Of course our teams interact, they email each other every day”. However as the modern remote workforce continues to grow, particularly in these uncertain times, ensuring they remain productive and happy will require a consistent, strategic approach that does not neglect the human touch.
Now is a great opportunity to consider what more you can do for your remote workforce, to help them better manage these challenging times and ensure they stay engaged