The U.S. workforce is facing a new challenge – adjusting to working remotely in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
By now, many Americans have had a few days to get a feel for what it’s like to balance child care with productivity and sharing the home with their new co-workers – their family members. But what about companies? How can they best navigate this new workplace shift?
Aileen Izquierdo, interim chair of the FIU Department of Communication, offers some tips.
The first best practice for company leadership to bear in mind, according to Izquierdo, is how to communicate to employees. Messages should be specific and well-targeted, not generic, one size fits all.
“What any supervisor should remember is that everyone receiving a message is human, with their own set of concerns and personal circumstances that make generalized messaging difficult,” she explains.
Think about the recipient of the message, in this case, the employee.
“One of the key things to consider is what would you want to hear if you were on the other side of the communication model. Putting myself in the audience’s shoes allows for more effective and empathic communication," Izquierdo adds.
Employers should consider how they want their messages to arrive – phone, email, text; the tone that is being conveyed – authoritarian versus compassionate; and how quickly the information needs to be disseminated.
Another key to successfully managing a work remote situation is how managers communicate with their team about projects, so items do not fall through the cracks. Avoid mass emails, advises Izquierdo.
“It may feel like sending a mass email would do the trick, but even though it takes more to craft individualized messages [whether it’s a call, text or email], they are more effective.”
If a team is too large to follow this practice, message members of the same department or team, using their names and commenting on specific tasks or responsibilities to help the information flow. Team project software is also an efficient way to manage the details that could fall through the cracks.
In order for remote work to work, employees must do their part communicating to their managers the work they are performing and keeping them up-to-date regularly. Team members should ask their supervisors the best way to share updates. Does your boss prefer a nightly email or multiple texts throughout the day? Knowing how to best communicate with leadership can help employees and their supervisors be on the same page and avoid miscommunication.
Another challenge for both sides is to successfully manage expectations. Managers may be splitting their homes among other working adults, while caring for children and trying to keep their employees’ needs in mind. Team members may be doing the same while also worrying about job retention and staying healthy and sane to continue to work remotely.
Izquierdo says that expectations can be individualized, but they must be fair and communicating that to the team is essential.
“Just like some office settings have staff who come in early in the morning because they are the most effective at that time and some who stay later into the evening because they can work better towards the end of the day, remote settings offer the same opportunities and challenges,” she says.
Leaders should survey staff, if possible, and determine when they are most likely to be engaging on work-related projects. Provide as much lead-time as possible on when meetings will take place and when projects are due.
“It may seem that you are bombarding staff with information, but over-communicating the expectations allows for a more successful remote working situation.”
Working remotely does have some pitfalls to look out for, but they can be addressed. Isolation of staff is one downfall. Using interfaces like Zoom help bridge the gap of not seeing each other, explains Izquierdo, but there are other fun ways to engage the team.
“It may be helpful to offer staff a virtual happy hour or virtual lunch, allowing teams who have worked together to continue their comradery despite the lack of physical proximity.”
Like pitfalls, there are also benefits to the current remote situation and managers should focus on the opportunities versus the challenges. Childless employees may have limited interruptions allowing them to hyper-focus on tasks, while those with families may work even harder because they are grateful to be employed and be able to provide for their families.
The key is to remain flexible during this coronavirus pandemic.
“Families who must stay home to take care of their kids and essentially home school them for now have the flexibility to work around their children’s schedule,” says Izquierdo. “In a stressful situation, such as this one, it does provide one less thing to worry about.”