Even with re-opening phases unfolding across the nation, most businesses will continue to dispatch a remote workforce to comply with federal, state, and local regulations for the foreseeable future. Indicators suggest many companies will be more relaxed about remote workers and permanently adopt telework arrangements going forward. 

Managing a remote staff in response to the pandemic created a steep learning curve for managers and put considerable stress on workers now working from home. According to an April study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 7 in 10 employers said they were struggling to adapt to remote work.  

Workers report feeling overwhelmed by technology connectivity issues, keeping focused due to family interruptions, and self-care challenges such as drinking too much coffee or over-eating. More than half of remote workers surveyed said they lacked a computer, laptop, or reliable internet connection to shift to remote work during the COVID -19 pandemic.  

Managers monitoring these trends recognize that in addition to managing the COVID-19 challenges to their bottom line, they are also responsible for preparing, upgrading, and establishing new protocols for at-home workers to keep them engaged and productive.

Your first step is to draft a “Working from Home” policy that will help employees stay on track and help you steer clear of any legal missteps.  Here are some additional steps from HR experts to help improve your remote workforce management skills. 

Maximize Your Video Conference Meetings

  • Develop a strong agenda for your video meetings indicating the anticipated length of the meeting, designated discussion leaders for each agenda item, and what materials to prepare in advance 
  • Record discussions and take minutes, outlining next steps, assigned duties with deadlines that are sent via email to all participants
  • Minimize people talking over one another and awkward pauses in conversations by directing participants to “raise their hands” using the video chat function 
  • Allow 5 to 10 second pauses between agenda items to allow participants to finish jotting down notes or to submit questions for follow-up later

Utilize Collaborative Work Management Tools

  • Employ a collaborative work management platform, free (i.e. Google or Microsoft) or paid (i.e. Slack or Trello), to avoid miscommunications and minimize errors
  • Encourage one-on-one video meetings among team members when the tone is important or for more complicated assignments instead of relying on email
  • Arrange weekly or bi-weekly video meetings with each employee to discuss accomplishments and areas of improvement, especially when the tone is important; remote workers rely heavily on cues from their managers to assess their performance.

Provide Compassionate Support 

  • Share a list of resources including telemedicine services, educational online resources, web-based meditation, and exercise classes to support workers struggling with stress and anxiety of work/life balance demands
  • Provide flexibility for schedules to help teleworkers manage work with caregiving responsibilities or personal health needs such as medical appointments
  • Send encouragement statements to the team and individual workers acknowledging the challenges of working from home and assure them you are here to help 

Promote a Sense of Belonging

  • Check in daily with each employee with a simple “good morning” message or a longer email detailing their expectations for the day
  • Encourage virtual lunches, happy hours, and group meditations to help employees stay in touch with one another 
  • Send out surveys inviting workers to provide feedback on work-related or industry trend issues and share results in future video conference meetings

Managing your remote workforce, the right way means providing structure for meetings and exchange of information, employing time management tools, offering frequent feedback, and fostering a sense of belonging. Check out these additional resources when considering turning your temporary COVID-19 teleworkers to a permanent remote workforce. 

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