A March 17 Gartner survey showed that 88% of organizations have encouraged or required their employees to work from home due to the coronavirus. The rather sudden shift to an all- or mostly at-home workforce happened with little time to prepare. Employees may now be working with limited technology in cramped, ergonomically unfriendly spaces. They may have added family responsibilities, like managing online schooling for children, and may not have the option of retreating from noise and interruptions.
Since the nation’s coronavirus response began, numerous online articles – including ours – have suggested ways for employees to work productively at home. Now that the initial switch is behind us and employees are settling into what looks like at least several more weeks of offsite work, here are ways small business managers can influence productivity:
Remind employees about the company’s mission and vision to keep them focused on big-picture goals and existing protocols for serving customers, producing products, meeting deadlines and managing budgets. Help employees understand how important their contributions are to the company’s culture, even when they’re working apart from the rest of the team.
Revisit processes. Companies had no choice but to figure out a new set of procedures on the fly. It’s now time to talk to employees about processes that were established at the start to see if they’re still appropriate. For example, discuss the schedule of individual check-ins and team calls and the structure of reporting systems to determine what is and isn’t working. Ask what additional processes would be helpful, and check whether the technologies your team is using are effective for what the company and workers need to achieve.
Give employees flexibility. Each employee will have unique needs as everyone adjusts to new ways of doing business. While a company should communicate goals, it also should give employees flexibility in how they achieve the desired outcomes. Workers who have young children at home, for example, may need to work nontraditional hours. Have open conversations with teams and individual employees so the company can help each one develop and follow a structure that enables projects to get done within the context of the worker’s new reality.
Provide direction. In times of uncertainty, employees look to leaders to set direction and create a sense of safety, security and – as much as possible – normalcy. When people have guidelines within which to operate, they feel more empowered to take initiative and make decisions. Because workers may feel anxious about the company’s well-being or the stability of their jobs, it’s up to leadership to effectively explain post-quarantine plans and create a vision for what the future will hold.
Build the relationship with each member of your team. It’s up to managers to demonstrate that the company genuinely cares about employees and is sympathetic to the challenges they’re experiencing, both personally and professionally. Building rapport with individual workers will lift their spirits, encourage them to produce higher-quality results and help the company ensure continuity. It also will allow you to identify employees who may be struggling so you can help them overcome roadblocks or assist in connecting them to resources they may need.
Offer training. While your employees are working remotely, they may have fewer meetings and more flexibility in their schedules. If this is the case for your team, it’s a great time to offer a mini professional development or skills training session that reminds employees the company wants to invest in them.
Set aside time for fun and team building. The fact that your team is physically separated makes bonding more important than ever. Be intentional about keeping your team connected and engaged with each other. Depending on what your team members will enjoy and respond to most, there are dozens of ways to do this. Consider, for instance, opening every team call with a non-work-related question and asking each employee to respond. Examples include what each person is most looking forward to after quarantine is over or something new each employee has learned about himself/herself in the last few weeks. Encourage team members to share pictures, videos and book/TV show/movie recommendations with one another, or use Houseparty or another social networking app to allow employees to play a game together virtually.
Recognize employee wins. Appreciation is a key factor in employee satisfaction. In both one-on-one and team calls, acknowledge workers who have made sales, provided exceptional customer service, met a demanding deadline or otherwise performed remarkably. Communicate generally that the company is grateful for all employees’ willingness to remain engaged and flexible in these uncertain times.
The coronavirus pandemic has created the greatest upheaval since the Great Depression and World War II in the way employees work and businesses operate. The adjustment to a mostly or fully at-home workforce has been enormous for both employers and employees. But companies who intentionally take steps to ease the transition, influence productivity levels and express how much employees are valued put themselves in position for success, both now and when the whole team is together again in one place.