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5 Solutions for Managing Remote Employees

Adapting to remote work will make your team stronger, whether your business returns to on-site work, or remains a dispersed workforce. There is virtually no stopping a team with the flexibility to overcome the challenges of leadership, communication, and coordination together in a time of crisis.

Unfamiliarity underlies the most commonly cited problems in adapting to remote work. The constraints of health and safety from the recent pandemic forced employees and managers to quickly shift to a different work environment not by choice, but out of necessity. Although an estimated 18% of employees worked remotely 5 days per week before the pandemic, most of those employees worked remotely by choice. Suddenly, the change to a remote environment was thrust upon many who would not otherwise have chosen that work environment.

Even those with a high degree of technical proficiency have had difficulties getting used to seeing employees and coworkers in scheduled meetings instead of impromptu conversations at the water cooler. Simply put, there is no good substitute for genuine workplace camaraderie.

Although some have adapted to changes in communication and connection, the unpredictability has prompted emotional issues which can affect their work. People experience life on average 30% logically and 70% emotionally. That goes for all levels of leadership and employees. Fear is a common response to unfamiliarity, which is exacerbated in uncertain times.

Even if you don’t think of your organization as having a “problem,” these solutions can help you optimize employee engagement for teamwork that can surpass your productivity before going remote.

Problem 1: Uncertainty Increases Misconduct

As more than 30 million employees lost their jobs or were furloughed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely that issue hit close to home, even if your employees didn’t experience it personally. In addition to financial risk, this uncertainty of a wildly fluctuating market is compounded by a public health threat that remains unresolved. From a recent Gallup poll, 66% of Americans are very or somewhat worried they or a family member will be exposed to the Coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

When people at all levels are already making decisions based more on emotion than logic in the best of times, consider how fear factors into those decisions when stressed. No wonder times of uncertainty can increase employee misconduct by 33%!

A lack of faith in leadership is also to blame. Even before the crisis, only 22% of employees believed their leaders had a clear direction for their organization. Lack of communication was already troublingly common and a major source of disengagement during more stable times. Now that interconnected suppliers and industries are in flux, predictions have become increasingly difficult. Rather than connecting with employees to share what news is known, many managers avoid this vital communication altogether.

Solution: Stability

Despite uncertain, unstable times, it is still possible to include positive points of your organization’s stability in your messaging to employees. Stability also provides the foundation for other solutions to remote work problems.

  • Focus on what is known, and deliver updates to reassure employees with information that impacts your direct reports’ long-term and short-term goals. Providing as much hope for the future as possible can take the focus off of uncertainty.

  • Deliver updates to employees on a consistent basis to provide the contact they need. The frequency should be at least as often as pre-pandemic updates.

These two strategies can give employees the hope for the future and stability with the company they need to focus on their work. You expect the best from your employees; do not leave them with only minimal information. Organizations that lacked a good communication strategy before the crisis can still adapt to come back stronger by implementing these stability strategies.

Don’t forget—many employees work directly with customers, and they will be asked about estimates for order delivery or general news. When you provide stability and updates, you can help your employees provide positive news of stability that enhances your brand instead of “I don’t know.”

Problem 2: Employees Don’t Trust Management

In Gallup’s recent Global Database study, a general low level of trust in leadership was revealed. Just one in three employees on average trust the leadership of their organization. One out of three! Low trust generally translates to low engagement, low productivity, and less willingness to adapt. On the other hand, employees with a high level of trust are more flexible in times of uncertainty, are faster to implement management’s plans, are more innovative, and more able to plan ahead.

As previously stated, stability builds hope and is a foundation for the following solutions. It is also a strong basis for trust and increases engagement.

Solution: Trust Employees

Showing your employees you trust them is an important step in creating a healthy workplace culture. When you show employees you trust them, you can join the 85% of employers with an established “flexibility culture” who experienced increased employee engagement.

Increased productivity

Research has shown a great benefit of trust—remote employees are 22% more productive as it is easier to maintain work-life balance and reduce interruptions. By giving employees a choice to continue to work remotely, you can gain productivity and potentially office space overhead.

Stop Micromanaging

Employers who implement micromanaging techniques for remote workers are either not noticing the benefit of increased engagement or need to rebuild trust. Micromanaging makes employees feel they are being treated like children and wastes time for management. This also keeps managers too busy to form productive connections with employees.

For example, a good connection with an encouraging manager can help an employee trust their manager; that manager can then learn to appreciate strengths, skills, and personal qualities of their team member. When trust is built the right way, it can become mutual and reciprocated. This alleviates the manager’s need for tight control, and allows leeway for the employee to thrive.

In other words, instead of a disciplinarian, you can be a cheerleader. If your management team can take this leap of faith, your company can become a “high trust” organization. According to this study from Fortune, high trust organizations were considered to be 11 times more innovative than their competitors.

Trust Input and Opinions

More than trusting employees to complete tasks—trusting their input and opinions will show that they are valued. They’re doing the work—they know what time and resources make them most productive. Customer-facing employees also have more experience with what customers want.

Your employees already made it through the background check, and have proven their loyalty and judgment. Why not trust them?

Problem 3: Need for Recognition

The reduced frequency of connection is not just isolating; it can make an employee feel invisible. Employees usually get fewer reassurances and fewer positive experiences when working remotely.

Since the U.S. Department of Labor cited the #1 reason people leave their jobs is because they do not feel appreciated, the lack of recognition in the workplace was obviously far too common. But during periods of disruption, employees’ desire for recognition for their results can increase by up to 30%.

Solution: Culture of Recognition

When companies develop a culture of recognition for employee contributions, they have a 70% lower rate of voluntary turnover. Studies have found recognition to be “the strongest driver of engagement,” even more important than the rate of pay.

The following issues may need to be addressed to cultivate a culture of recognition and praise.

  • Learn to value employees and forge a strong connection. Coincidentally, these two points have just been covered in “Solution: Trust Employees.”

  • Making time to recognize employees’ accomplishments and contributions is easier when time isn’t wasted on micromanaging. By focusing on everything that is wrong, you’re not encouraging what is going well.

  • Do not fear favoritism as you are praising an employee’s accomplishment. The accomplishment is an objective fact. Coworkers generally know which members of their team are superstars, and need to see that hard work pays off.

When employees see the benefits of hard work, it creates a culture of excellence. It also provides a blueprint for success their coworkers can more easily emulate. If you ask for 110%, you should praise your employees when you get it!

Problem 4: Interpreting Employees’ Engagement

Many managers already lacked the soft skill training or emotional intelligence to know how happy or engaged their employees were. Now that remote employees have limited contact and a great deal of communication is done by chat, the ability to “read” employee’s emotions has become even more difficult. Before the crisis, 87% of middle managers realized they needed more training before taking on their responsibilities. According to the same study, up to 98% of managers recognized the impact that lack of training had on their peers’ ability to handle their most pressing issues including conflict and high voluntary turnover.

Solution: One-on-one Meetings

When already lacking the strong foundation of a positive connection, the awkwardness is compounded by the inability to read an employee’s true feelings. It’s a big part of why one-on-ones with employees and managers are likely less frequent than they should be for optimal relationships. This causes an unnecessary lack of engagement. Per Harvard Business Review, employees are 67% less likely to be disengaged when they get twice as many one-on-ones as their peers.

How to bridge that gap? Start having regular one-on-one meetings. Trusting employees requires a leap of faith which boosts engagement. Likewise, pushing through the discomfort of forging a bond is also worthwhile. 65% of employees would take a new boss over a pay raise, and with a new relationship, it’s like having a new boss! These strategies can make the conversation easier:

  • Make use of new technology to deliver targeted surveys that get the “pulse” of the team and individuals can indicate problems with engagement faster than annual surveys.

  • Schedule one-on-one meetings by video conference. Even if it’s not part of standard operating procedure, special circumstances necessitate uncommon solutions. If it’s entirely new for all involved, start small. A 5-10 minute meeting can be the beginning of something great!

When you want better than average results, you’ll never get there with average, business-as-usual methods! Fixing issues with your team using targeted solutions is possible—but you’ll never know what your employees need to succeed if you don’t take the time to ask.

Problem 5: Employees Need to Be Heard

In a Harvard Business Review survey of over 1,100 remote workers, 84% had problems that dragged on for days. As previously mentioned, people experience life 70% emotionally on average, and even if they are not being left out, they can feel that way if they don’t have a way to share their voice.

Not only do employees need a way to share their voice, managers need their feedback. 34% of employees worldwide feel their ideas are not being heard. Having an easy way to share feedback shows employees they matter. For remote workers, the importance of having a voice is especially pronounced when they are more likely to feel invisible. They know they’re “out of sight” and worry they’re “out of mind” as well. When employees feel their voice is heard, they are 4.6 times likelier to feel empowered. This is an important part of the connection and motivation of high engagement.

Solution: Make Feedback Easy & Natural

Creating a method for employees to easily share their feedback is not only a way to gather information. Employees will also appreciate having a way to share their thoughts and sentiments in a stress-free manner. Employees are more engaged in a collaborative environment, and when they are welcome to share their opinions on improving their workplace, for example, it helps to create a greater sense of pride and connection to their work.

They’ll be more likely to be high “net promoters,” meaning they highly recommend your company as a place of employment to like-minded friends and family. This is a powerful recruitment tool that is not only cost-effective; it’s a great way to create a positive work culture.

High net promoters are also a great indicator of engagement. From the same 2020 Global Culture Report by O.C. Tanner Institute, when employers use multiple methods of frequently listening to employees, there is up to a 1,250 time increase in odds an employee will be highly engaged.

Show you care, and make it easy to share.

How to Implement Your Solutions

Great ideas only get results when they are implemented.

These solutions to optimize employee engagement for remote teamwork can help you adapt to common challenges.

  • Consistently provide positive messaging for hope and stability to support employees through times of uncertainty. This is also helpful for keeping clients informed for greater trust in your products and services.

  • Build employee trust in a dispersed workforce by adapting to remote work. Your team needs consistent communication to know they are trusted and can trust management.

  • Create a culture of recognition by providing recognition with announcements to spotlight excellent employees.

  • Build relationships using one-on-ones plus technology to better understand employees’ needs and interests.

  • Create a way for employees to share feedback. When employees have a way to share their voice, they are more likely to connect to their workplace and become highly engaged.

Collectiv makes interactions, communication, and feedback easy. Our services include advisory support to enhance your organization’s engagement and to help you adapt to remote workplace challenges for a team that’s better than ever. Contact Collectiv today to find out how we can solve your unique needs.

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