The generational shift towards a remote work environment
MAY 2021

If an impending pandemic has taken the world by surprise, the days of predicting the future in the business sector have changed. Strikingly, more has changed in the last two years than in the two or three decades that came before. COVID-19 has entailed the need for fundamental changes in all fields, notably, all business branches, be it finance, business management, healthcare, marketing, human resources, or others. It has also been a turning point for business firms to work through restrictions imposed by governments. To mitigate the COVID-19 risks on businesses and employers, there is a call for agility, adaptability, and a thorough performance management system. Veering towards effective strategies to boost a dwindling industry, leaders are re-evaluating budgets, business timelines, and short-term projects, as well as office maintenance and health requirements. New policies leave the workforce maneuvering out of the office and separated from each other for the first time (Larson, 2020). For fear that employees contract the coronavirus at work, and to ensure business continuity amid a global crisis, several companies have had to set up a plan in place, resorting to remote work and virtual communication. Due to the rapidly changing circumstances, managers may not have adapted quickly to render remote employees’ engagement and productivity as effective.

Some of the challenges of remote work may include:
Absence of direct supervision: Managers may worry that the lack of face-to-face interactions would not lead to high performance by employees as they would not be working as hard as when they are present at the office (Larson et al. 2020). On the other hand, employees feel that virtual communication would not gain them access to adequate information and support from fellow colleagues (Larson et al. 2020).

Communication obstacles: Simple questions may seem difficult to get immediate answers for. Remote workers may find themselves unable to convey a message or have access to information as easily as they would’ve in a more professional setting (Larson et al. 2020). These challenges reflect a lack of mutual knowledge among co-workers and managers alike.

Lack of interaction: With the absence of social interaction in the office setting, research has shown that employees mostly complain about loneliness in their remote work environment (Larson et al. 2020). In short, this depletes connection with their co-workers, thus reducing their sense of belonging to the team.

Home distractions: Whenever someone mentions working from home, people assume it is a stress-free environment. They imagine the worker having some leisure time, whereas, in reality, it is the opposite (Larson et al. 2020). This is a misrepresentation of virtual work as it is filled with ‘booby traps’ and distractions such as the noise from parents or children, family and home demands, connection problems, and others. Thus, employees find themselves working for longer hours when working remotely.

Ways to support your remote workforce
Flextime: Supervisors need to take into consideration that working from home poses many obstacles, hindering them from fulfilling their tasks efficiently. To illustrate, some employees may be parents whose daily responsibilities necessitate some space and freedom (Forbes Coaches Council, 2020). Workloads could be managed effectively when employees are given the liberty to organize their own time whether at home or at work. Therefore, companies with remote employees could focus on deliverables and individual productivity rather than working hours.

Diverse communication technology options: If the company solely relies on emails for communication, connecting with the staff may be tricky. Emails alone are insufficient (Forbes Coaches Council, 2020). Ample technological methods have positive advantages such as video conferencing which has proven more functional than messaging (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc.).

Encouragement and emotional support: It is important for managers to acknowledge stress, anxieties, and concerns, and build trust and connection with remote employees (Larson, 2020). Regular check-ins, calls and conversations would show employees that their companies care for them.

Structured daily check-ins: Taking into account that employees working remotely find it difficult to communicate with one another or with their employers, the latter can consider establishing structured regular and predictable daily check-ins with remote employees in the form of a series of one-on-one calls. This would help employees feel heard and their concerns and questions answered.

Sense of Belonging: Fostering a sense of belonging with the team leads to better communication and productivity. By identifying a set of collective team values, employers can help their remote workforce bond on working towards common goals and find fun ways to honor these values. “For example, if they identified “fun” as most important, come up with fun ways to bring the group together” – Vered Kogan, Vered Kogan Coaching, LLC (Forbes Coaches Council, 2020). Crucial as it may be to enforce regulations, why not find out what is most important for members of the team instead?
Employers can make it

“Us” versus “them” mentality: Numerous companies have successfully worked with remote talents for years. Darcy Eikenberg, PCC, Red Cape Revolution, states that now is the time “to create new policies that support all workers the same, whether they’re working in one space or all around the world. Don’t create “us” and “them” groups—treat everyone the way they need to be treated to create the engaged workforce you need” (Forbes Coaches Council, 2020).

One way or another, the business sector will have to cope with the changes which have transpired in the light of the pandemic simultaneously altering the economy and society. Firms must look beyond traditional actions and strategies. With the proper support, companies can ramp up their capabilities and transform their businesses.

References:
Larson, Z. B., Vroman, R. S., & Makarius, E., E. (2020, March 18). A Guide to Managing Your
(Newly) Remote Workers. Harvard Business Review.
https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers
Forbes Coaches Council (2020, June 10). 15 Ways To Better Support Remote Employees.
Forbes.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/06/10/15-ways-to-better-support-re
mote-employees/?sh=6fe9f6346f39