Being able to work at home can be a gift for some, while for others the idea of working remotely can be concerning because of the loss of regular social connections. Because of COVID-19, many employees will now be asked to work remotely regardless of which way they lean.
One positive that may be gained from this current health crisis is employers will become more knowledgeable about how to support employees from a distance. This may even allow teams that were never able to before to start working remotely. However, what can’t be forgotten is that human beings require healthy social connections for long-term sustainability.
“Technology is opening up more opportunities for employees to work remotely; however, the impact on human beings is not yet deeply understood,” says Andrew Harkness, a strategy advisor for Ontario’s Work Safety Prevention Services.
Harkness advises leaders to “factor in the necessity and importance of considering strategies for building healthy relationships that help employees feel socially connected to the people they work with.”
Employees and employers will benefit from sharing their observations and concerns around working remotely so that the lines of communications remain open.
Managers of remote teams should be wary of mistaking silence employees for contented ones – no news is not necessarily good news. Employers should not automatically assume employees are okay, and to this end, they should be proactive in keeping lines of communication open, to help employees feel socially connected to the organization. The goal is to reduce their risk for experiencing social isolation.
Pandemic or not, many organizations will have employees working remotely now, and in the future. The present moment is an opportunity for employers to discover what strategies and tactics employees find most helpful. Employers interested in this opportunity need to be open, ask and listen.
Sapna Mahajan, former director of prevention and promotion initiatives at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, suggests the following coaching tips to positively support workers working remotely:
- Set clear expectations on what working remotely means regarding hours, touching base, connecting and how best to build trust and respect.
- Engage regularly, using multiple channels of communication between managers and team members. Programs like Skype, where you can see each other, or Slack, where you can see who’s online, can be helpful.
- Trust technology to ensure that the right programs and tools are in place for employees to stay connected and feel part of a larger team/organization.
- Help employees stay connected to the larger mission and vision of the organization so they feel included and understand their contribution to the bigger picture.
- Check in regularly on how remote working is going. Have open, transparent and honest conversations about the challenges and benefits.
- Try to set up regular face-to-face time. It may mean one or two days in the office a week. If working far from the physical office, maybe once a month.
Bill Howatt is the chief of research on work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada