5 Tips for Keeping Employees Productive and Engaged While Working Remotely
Salvatore Falletta, EdD, is Clinical Professor and Director for the MS in Human Resource Development program at Drexel University. Prior to Drexel, Falletta was a Vice President and Chief HR Officer for a Fortune 1000 company, in which he led a geographically disperse HR organization of over 80 HR professionals in 14 distinct countries. He also served as a Senior Director of HR and Organization Development at SAP and the Head of Global HR Research and Analytics while at Intel Corporation.
COVID-19 is sweeping across our nation and the world. Uncertainty is at an all-time high, as we experience complete disruption of our daily activities and become more homebound. As a result, the way in which we work has changed rapidly. Working remotely has exponentially increased and technology is being leveraged like never before.
The following are some practical tips for keeping employees productive and engaged while working remotely.
Tip # 1: Ensure resources, tools and technology are available to keep employees connected.
Video conferencing technologies, collaboration platforms and frequent communication are critical success factors for remote work. Leaders should engage their organization’s IT function to determine what hardware and software can be used. Consider communication and collaboration platforms that can be relatively easily implemented such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Slack, to name a few.
Tip # 2: Encourage remote employees to set up a dedicated workspace.
Leaders and managers should craft and communicate some basic guidelines to help employees think about and set up a dedicated workspace that is free from distractions. A home office, den, or guest bedroom are ideal options, but not all employees have the extra rooms in their homes for a dedicated workspace. Some things to consider when setting up a workspace include privacy, noise, Wi-Fi connection, lighting and backdrop (if using video).
Since COVID-19 swept into our lives, schools, colleges and universities, and businesses of all types have shut down – leaving families quarantined in their homes. Therefore, it is important for remote employees to establish some ground rules and boundaries for their loved ones. For example, a good rule of thumb to ask your spouse or partner, children, and other family members to remain at least “6 feet away” (pun intended) during working hours and remain quiet while in the same room.
Tip 3: Communicate and connect regularly with remote employees.
Frequent communication is essential to engage a dispersed workforce. Some best practices include holding a regularly scheduled video conference to connect, share important information and commune with each other. Leaders and managers, however, should be mindful of employee schedules and time. Amid the current crisis, employees have been inundated with constant communications, emails and meeting requests. With more information circulating in the news every day, leaders and managers must keep their teams engaged, motivated, and productive to keep the business running. And, recognize that employees are juggling multiple responsibilities such as parenting and home schooling while trying to get their work done from home.
Tip 4: Focus on people, health and wellbeing.
The unknown nature of the pandemic and predictions in the news can cause employees to worry about the unknown (e.g., organizational financial health, budget constraints, potential furloughs or layoffs) which will likely lead to higher levels of stress, anxiety and unhealthy habits. Self-care and resilience are more important now than ever before. Leaders and managers should encourage breaks, exercise, stretching and other healthy habits to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. For example, US sales of hard alcoholic beverages and spirits have risen 75% according to Nielsen data (New York Post, March 31st, 2020). The warning signs might not be visible nor obvious among those working remotely. Therefore, it is helpful to communicate and encourage use of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and Wellness program benefits for employees and families.
Tip # 5: Keep a pulse on employee engagement, emotions, and sentiment.
The COVID-19 situation is evolving on a daily basis and information will continue to change as new developments occur. Leaders and mangers should keep a pulse on their workforce and respond to critical concerns as they arise. Collecting feedback through a web-based pulse survey is a great way to gather data and information about thoughts, feelings and behaviors of your dispersed workforce. It allows leaders and managers to understand employee needs. In turn, leaders can take action for change at the individual, team or organizational level. Collecting feedback also creates open lines of communication, fosters trust and shows employees that leaders and the organization care.
In times of crisis, what matters most to employees? Abraham Maslow famously described human needs as a hierarchy:
In times of uncertainty and instability, we tend to move down the hierarchy in the fulfillment of more basic needs. Right now, employees are likely more motivated by physiological and safety needs. This means that the engagement drivers that usually matter most to employees such as autonomy, rewards and recognition, status, advancement, and learning and development opportunities will give way to our most primal needs such as food, water, air, shelter, sleep, clothing and fire. Family, friends and a sense of belonging matter too during times of crisis. When the chips are down, the often unspoken, “prime directive” (i.e., the one that keeps people up at night) is employment and job security.
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