Remote Work: How Managers and Employees Can Work Together Better

Article by: Sharlyn Lauby

[Editor’s Note: This blog post comes from Sharlyn Lauby, author of the blog HR Bartender and president of ITM Group]. 

This won’t come as a surprise that over the past few weeks, a large portion of the workforce has started working from home. During the recent SilkRoad webinar “4 HR Strategies for Helping Organizations through COVID-19“, we asked listeners what percentage of their workforce was working from home and it was overwhelmingly in the 75% plus range. We also asked what the number one focus for HR professionals is right now, and they said helping the organization become more productive.

A focus on productivity totally makes sense. When we work in an office environment, we often rely upon sight to communicate. For example, we might see an employee, a colleague, or the boss and remember to tell them something. Or we talk with people during meetings. We can exchange information during lunch or coffee. And because we can communicate in person, we spend less time writing emails.

Now that we’re working from home, our communications have to be more intentionalWe want to communicate more effectively and efficiently because we can’t simply drop by and communicate in 5-minute intervals. To improve internal communications while working remotely, here are four strategies to consider:

  1. Reset expectations. Managers will want to focus on results, not time. Not only are employees working from home, but they more than likely have their families with them. This will involve adjustments when it comes to working hours. But that doesn’t mean the work will not be completed on time and with the same level of quality.  It’s also possible employees will not have all of the technological conveniences that they usually have when they’re working in the office. Managers will want to work with employees to reset expectations. Make sure everyone buys into the new working arrangement. It’s time to trust employees’ abilities to get the work done.
  2. Encourage employees to manage up. It’s true that managers have a lot to do when it comes to providing employee support during this time. But employees have a role to play as well. As part of resetting expectations, managers and employees should talk about how to handle work updates. Maybe the solution is to have the employee provide a weekly email update. Having an agreed-upon time to provide work updates keeps the manager from wondering what’s going on. And it places the employee in a position where they can focus on the work. Because there’s something really rewarding about getting stuff done.
  3. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings. Conducting regular one-on-one meetings has always been a best practice. Because managers and employees aren’t working in the same space, having a regular one-on-one meeting because even more important. Use this time to discuss work projects, of course. But also use it just to chat. Find out if everyone is okay. Maybe share a couple of laughs. If your organization hasn’t been doing one-on-ones, it might be helpful for HR to provide a guide to managers and employees for holding the meeting. This will help both individuals prepare for their meetings and keep the conversation on track.
  4. Promote a culture of wellbeing. Speaking of laughs, make sure managers and employees are taking care of themselves. HR should promote the company employee assistant program (EAP) and health insurance mental health benefits. Ask employees if they have any tips or strategies for stress relief that they’d like to share. The company can put a list together and share it with everyone. Look for ways to bring the team together such as virtual birthday celebrations or a fun icebreaker at team meetings. In addition, it might be possible to use the company’s existing technologies in a new way. Maybe use a feature that you haven’t been using. And allow employees to share things via company systems that they haven’t before. We’re not talking about NSFW stuff – but recipes, exercise suggestions, pet photos, binge-worthy TV shows, etc.

The hardest part of working from home is the feeling of being disconnected. Granted, some of your employees are going to love the feeling. But many will not. Finding ways to keep the team connected will be essential.

Managers can use their regular communications with employees to maintain morale and engagement. Employees will want to regularly communicate their status on reports to keep their productivity high. Jointly, managers and employees will be able to work together better, even when they’re working apart.