Working remotely has become the new normal for many office workers across Canada. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Canada in early 2020, many employers took proactive steps, asking their office-based employees to work from home.
In the first quarter of 2020, 3.5 million Canadians began to work from home full-time, for the first time in their careers. This massive shift came with benefits such as increased flexibility, no commute, and a lower risk of contracting COVID-19. However, after a year of working from home exclusively, many workers are finding challenges that compete with the benefits. Mental health, the lack of in-person social interactions, and struggling to engage with their work are areas many workers are finding challenging. That said, with a strong focus on employee engagement and taking active steps to boost employee morale and wellbeing, you can minimize some of these issues.
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1. be clear about your expectations
If your employees aren’t accustomed to remote work, a drastic transition to working from home full-time can be daunting and cause stress. The structure and support they find in your workplace isn’t easy to replicate at home, so it’s crucial to provide clear expectations and guidelines. Be transparent about your priorities as an organization and on an individual level. Discuss what projects and initiatives will be your focus and make an effort to provide your employees with structure to reduce feelings of uncertainty.
2. schedule daily meetings
An easy way to encourage employees to feel engaged and connected with one another is by staying involved in each other’s work. Schedule a 15 minute meeting for your team to discuss company updates, urgent projects, and priorities for the day. This quick meeting can prove crucial to stay on top of new information and hear what everyone else is working on. It ensures your team is in sync and feels included in the company’s goals.
3. recognize successes
One of the big challenges of working from home is the lack of small daily interactions with colleagues. You no longer have daily catch-ups with your coworkers around the coffee machine. Your boss can’t just drop by your desk to tell you that you did a great job on that presentation. That removes a lot of the little ways employees receive positive feedback and reinforcement. When working remotely, you have to be more intentional about connecting with colleagues, so moments for recognition are often pushed aside as ‘not important.’ Bring these moments back and make sure you’re taking time to celebrate successes both big and small.
4. encourage flexibility and breaks
When working from home, the line between work time and home time can become increasingly blurred. Make sure that employees feel comfortable managing their time in a healthy and productive way. You can implement policies such as ‘no emails after 5pm’ or encourage people to take 15 minute breaks to mentally unwind throughout the day. Flexibility is only a benefit if employees feel comfortable using it. Some managers find it difficult to oversee employees from home, and turn to micromanagement to feel in control. Reject this thinking and focus on policies that look at employees’ total output, rather than monitoring how they spend every minute of their day.
5. use video conferencing
When working from home, meetings are one of the few times we connect with others and build a cohesive team dynamic. So have a meeting even if it’s not 100% necessary! And encourage everyone to turn on their video feed. Seeing colleagues’ faces (and their pets and children!) adds an element of connection to your meetings. This is especially meaningful for people who live alone or are feeling disconnected during this difficult period. Putting a face to the voice and work is important during these times.
6. create a group chat
In between meetings and calls, remote work can get lonely. You can tackle this by staying connected with your team in a group chat. It’s impossible to virtually replicate the social dynamic of spending time together at work, but having all your colleagues connect in one place can help keep the connection alive. If you already have an office chat, now’s time to leverage it. Keep in touch throughout the day by sharing tidbits, anecdotes and a steady stream of memes, even if they aren’t work-related.
7. focus on mental health
Following stay-at-home orders and working remotely is hard on everyone, but it’s especially difficult for those suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues. Make an effort to stay in touch with your team. Reach out to your colleague who is shy, your colleague who has been quieter than usual, and even your colleague who seems completely fine. People are social and, in an effort to protect our physical health, we may find ourselves struggling with our mental health instead. Offer your support openly and make sure that employees feel comfortable raising their mental health concerns.
8. plan regular social interactions
For many of us, work is a big part of our social lives. Our colleagues are our friends, and being disconnected from them can take a toll on our enthusiasm for remote work. Staying social can help bridge the gap. Plan a virtual team lunch, a Skype coffee break, or a digital happy hour to nurture the feeling of togetherness. By continuing to foster positive relationships between team members, we can address some of the challenges of working from home.
9. offer learning and development opportunities
During the pandemic, many employees are left feeling ‘stuck’ - at home and in their careers. They don’t feel like it’s a good time to switch jobs, but they crave opportunities to keep learning and develop their skills. To counter these restless feelings, you can offer ongoing training and development to encourage employees to keep building their skills in a productive and meaningful way. Having this option not only offers employees a chance to pick up new skills that interest them, it’s beneficial for your company as employees upgrade their skills.
10. ask for feedback often
No two workplaces will handle the switch to remote work the same way. That’s why it’s important to ask your teams how you can help and support them through any challenges they’re facing. The best way to ensure you’re hitting all the right notes is to ask for feedback from employees. You can ask employees directly (if you’re sure they will feel comfortable opening up to you) or ask for anonymous feedback in the form of a survey or open-source file like a google doc. Be prepared to act on what you learn and evolve as your employees’ needs change.