Keeping Remote Workers Happy and Healthy

July 14, 2020

Since the early 2000s, telecommuting has grown in virtually every industry. A study by Global Workplace Analytics found that regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce. Telecommuting in the US has seen a 115% increase in the past decade. Remote workers have enjoyed benefits like increased flexibility and greater productivity compared to working in an office. 

While the transition to telecommuting has been underway for over a decade, the recent pandemic has accelerated the trend by forcing hundreds of millions to stay home. Remote working  is no longer about flexibility. It is how we slow transmission of COVID-19 and keeping the public safe. 

But such an abrupt transition to telecommuting has major implications for companies and their employees. Failing to adapt to such radical changes risks irreparable harm to the company. But with the right guidance, telecommuting can liberate companies from financial constraints, increase employee satisfaction, and usher in innovation. The key is knowing how to keep employees happy and healthy while keeping productivity flowing in the right direction.

Trust Issues

With major changes happening at break-neck speed, employees are finding that a different mindset is a requirement to adapt to remote working.

Trust is playing a major factor in remote work. Employers are used to keeping a watchful eye on their staff . Without the ability to enforce a 9-5 policy, leaders can become anxious. This tends to spawn an over correction with excess conference calls and Checks-Ins, creating resentment from employees and a reduction in productivity.

To develop a new, higher level of trust, it is often best to focus on outcomes rather than process. Employees should be held accountable for the work they accomplish, but free to choose the manner in which they complete the tasks. For example, some employees function best bright and early while others feel most energized in the afternoon. Some enjoy short frequent breaks while others take a longer lunch. So long as each team member is fulfilling their duties, they should be granted greater flexibility to create their schedules. 

The End of 9-5

Flexible work practices are especially important for the younger generations. According to Forbes Magazine, 92% of Millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting. The same study found that most over-50s want to ease slowly into retirement through reducing hours and working flexibly. By offering greater flexibility, businesses will widen the pool of talent, especially for hard-to-fill roles. 

More to the point is the recognition that we no longer live in a 9-5 world. We now live in a 24-7 world driven by technology and globalization. Demand for customer services spans countries and time-zones. Issues will rise around the clock and meetings need to be accommodated to match different time- zones. In a global economy that demands rapid response, a 9-5 schedule becomes a limiting factor rather than the insurance it once was. 

Keeping Remote Workers Healthy and Engaged

All of the autonomy in the world will not make up for a toxic workplace, even virtually. Also, isolation is taking its toll on remote workers accustomed to water-cooler moments. It is up to employers to foster the morale and health of their employees, and there are methods to achieve that.

Consistent Communication

Many companies had various communication strategies in place before the pandemic. But, now, more  than ever, it is crucial to follow those plans while tweaking them for remote workers. It is up to managers and senior staff to regularly check in on workers to keep everyone on the same track. It means meeting with individuals and teams in short, frequent (perhaps even daily) standups. Standups should be time slotted with communication clear and concise. Embracing technology like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be more effective and organized than traditional email. 

The Virtual Water Cooler

Part of a traditional workplace is the person-to-person bonds made in break rooms and around the water cooler. But, those connections are still possible when remotely working. If anything, it gives greater opportunity to try new things. Some examples are:

  • Zoom Yoga 
  • Watch parties of favorite movies and TV shows
  • Virtual game parties 
  • Online workout classes 

Such events were almost impossible when working in an office. The key is to be open to new ideas. Virtual happy hours have become a placeholder for many companies as leaders try to maintain connection. But these events can feel awkward and forced as members mull over the weather and try not to interrupt one another. By staying open to new ideas, employees can find ways to feel connected that feel natural and comfortable. 

Zoom Fatigue

Reading facial expressions and body language is humanizing and fosters connection. When communication is handled through technology, fostering human connection must be placed with a special emphasis. Video conferencing can greatly improve communication and is often more appropriate than emailing or phone calls. But excessive Zoom calls can be problematic. 

‘Zoom Fatigue’ is a term coined in the recent pandemic, according to the BBC . People report feeling mentally exhausted after meetings, which defeats the purpose of having them in the first place. While necessary, there are some ways to limit the stress associated with the meetings. Some tips include:

  • Keep large conferences to a minimum. When a Zoom call reaches more than 4-6 people, assessing nonverbal queues becomes more difficult. 
  • Use the ‘raise hand’ function of the call. 
  • Keep the meeting time slotted and have clear objectives going in. 
  • Do not schedule meetings back-to-back. It is important to take breaks and give everyone time to breathe before jumping into another call.

Ushering in the New Normal 

The transition to telecommuting has been underway for many industries since the 2000s. COVID-19 took that trend and turned it into a necessity. The shock change is not without its benefits, as organizations around the world are seeing. Greater flexibility and reduced overhead costs allows organizations to become leaner and better able to adapt to changing circumstances. Changes needed to survive in the short term can become lasting advantages. By embracing these challenges as opportunities, organizations can walk away from this crisis stronger than ever before. 

Written by
Jake Hannigan

Jake Hannigan is the Business Development Strategist for Van Allen Strategies. He has spent his career growing and developing start-ups in the education and technology industries.

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