With the vast majority of employees having to switch to remote working, employers are facing a host of challenges when it comes to keeping their team united and motivated.

For many employers who didn't previously employ remote workers, it can be an unpredictable and worrying change, however, we're here to offer some solid advice that will help you to ease the transition and ensure that the value of your business is not affected.

Productivity

Perhaps the most pressing concern for employers facing the prospect of their staff working from home is how to ensure that productivity doesn't falter. When your employees are no longer going to be in the same vicinity as you, it can feel like you're bound to lose control of the future success of your company. However, remote working doesn't have to spell disaster. There is plenty you can do to maintain structure and motivation in your workforce.

In reality, two-thirds of employees say they're more productive when working from home, but for those who are not it is important to make sure there is still a feeling of community amongst them, their colleagues, and yourself. This can be achieved with the help of cloud-based communication software such as Slack or Teams, which allow for company-wide group conversations and smaller group conversations between internal teams and departments. Not only does this help to maintain a feeling of teamwork and joint responsibility, but it also gives a sense of accountability that will discourage staff from taking a more relaxed approach to their work. 

It can be easy, when you're working from home, to feel that your working world has become one dimensional, which has the knock-on effect of making you feel that what you do is less important and it is, therefore, less important to work hard. To rectify this, make sure you make the most of communication software by gathering everyone together for things like company announcements and relaying business goals and achievements. This way, they won't lose sight of the fact they are part of something bigger that is still striving to succeed and grow. 

Another important way in which you can ensure individuals keep up their usual levels of productivity is by communicating your expectations and setting goals. This way, they have clear aims to work towards. This not only helps you to make sure that there are no areas of the business that are falling behind, but also reduces employees' anxiety as they can be sure they are not disappointed with their output. It is an unpredictable time for your staff too, who won't know how they will respond to their own change in circumstances, so bear this in mind when assessing initial productivity.

While it might be tempting to keep things under control by micromanaging and watching every move of all of your staff, this is sure to demotivate them as it piles on the pressure. Showing them that you trust them not to take advantage of the situation would be far more motivational. So, rather than installing intrusive software that keeps a record of everything they do, set daily or weekly goals and leaves them to manage their own time instead. Trust is crucial when it comes to handling remote work.

There are many different kinds of support that you can offer your employees to help boost their productivity. First, make sure you have procedures in place to give immediate support when needed, for example, if they're handling a customer complaint. Secondly, it's also extremely important to have tech support on hand for them at all times, as these kinds of issues can have a big impact on productivity. For example, imagine that the software an employee is using freezes and they need expert help in fixing it, but they put a request in and they have to wait hours for somebody to get round to it. That is hours of work that they're not able to do. Software like TeamViewer allows a member of the tech support team to take over the computer of the employee; an extremely efficient way to solve problems.

Furthermore, make sure that you provide your employees with all of the hardware they need to carry out their role. A good way to make sure this doesn't pose any additional expense for you is to allow them to take the hardware they use in the office, home with them. Just make sure they sign an agreement to look after it. An extra benefit of this is that by working on your computers rather than their own, you can install software that blocks things like social media. Of course, they can access this separately on their own devices but it will lessen the distraction if it is not readily available by simply opening another tab.

Last but not least, another way to maintain productivity levels is to continue with any existing advancement schemes you have in place. If you expect them to carry on working hard, it would be fair for them to expect continued recognition. Things like promotions have the added benefit of boosting productivity too, which ensures that your company continues to grow even in these challenging times. You could even create new ways to recognise the kind of achievements that come with remote working.

Mental Health

So far, working from home has proven to be a struggle for some when it comes to their mental health. Extroverts especially struggle with the lack of social interaction that comes to being confined in their homes alone. In contrast, others face the challenge of creating a peaceful workplace in a busy home full of other people. With schools and nurseries facing closure at certain times during the pandemic, parents have to juggle work and childcare which can be extremely difficult. 

Some of the tips we've mentioned so far will really help with this variety of psychological challenges. Setting expectations on a weekly basis allows for greater flexibility and, in turn, increases the likelihood that parents will be able to juggle their time effectively and meet their goals. 40% of people feel the greatest benefit of remote work is the flexible schedule. Whereas keeping up communication within the team can really help those feeling lonely and disconnected. 

Anxiety over job security is a common complaint from those who have experienced remote working in the past year. This tends to happen as a result of feeling disconnected from their employer and worrying about a drop in their productivity as a result of the many new challenges they are facing. The best way to help them keep this at bay is through consistent communication, reassurance, and recognition of achievements. This is also why it is so important to set goals so that employees can clearly gauge their own progress. 

Suddenly being faced with the challenge of managing your own working day can be daunting for anyone, so give your staff a helping hand by sharing tips on productivity. This will help them to understand what to expect from themselves and how to make the most of their time. For example, many people are more productive in the morning than in the afternoon, so you could recommend that they tackle their more pressing tasks first thing, while leaving those that are less demanding until later. That way, they are less likely to see a reduction in their own productivity, which could lead to anxiety over their job security.

Finally, provide as much structure as you can to the working days of your employees. This can be achieved with the help of things like morning meetings, scheduled lunch breaks or end of day de-briefs. Structure and routine are relied upon by many and are what most, therefore, struggle the most without.

Understanding

It is important to learn to be more lenient when it comes to standards of professionalism during this time. It wouldn't be fair to expect the same levels when people, through no choice of their own, have been forced into completely different working environments. Doing so is going to cause them significant stress in trying to achieve the unachievable. For example, they might be interrupted by a pet or child in the middle of a meeting, or perhaps there will be a lot of background noise thanks to roadworks taking place outside their homes.

This is a challenging time for everyone so patience is important. It is also very important to note that the likelihood of your employees facing hardship and trauma in their personal lives has increased, thanks to the fast spread of a potentially fatal infection, so make sure there is support in place for them if they ever feel incapable of carrying out their roles.

Having to work from home is not something anybody could have predicted, so the chance of your employees all having a ready-made home office is highly unlikely. Furthermore, if they live with others, there will be multiple people trying to work from a single home which can be chaotic! Not only will they struggle to find peace and quiet, but the lack of privacy brings a host of new challenges. To counteract this, keep confidential information in written format rather than spoken out loud on video calls, and assign additional time to calls to provide lee-way for potential distractions.

You can lend a hand by suggesting the different ways in which people can get around the challenge of having no peace or privacy at home. You could also give tips on how to create a comfortable set up, for example, the best heights for desks, chairs and computer screens. Your understanding at this time will be the difference between your employees feeling disheartened and frustrated, or feeling that it is possible to succeed in their new environment. Statistics show that remote workers work for 43% longer than those who work on-site because they prefer the experience. So, if you get it right, you could reap the benefits. 

Keeping in Touch 

As well as keeping the company as a whole in touch with one another, in order to maintain a sense of community and accountability, it is also important to keep up communication on an individual basis. Make sure you check in on each individual employee regularly, not only to make sure they are happy with how things are going, but also to reiterate the fact that they are still part of a real-life establishment, the other employees of which are their friends and colleagues.

Be as consistent as you can in terms of continuing existing systems, as this will help bring comfort in a sea of change. For example, if you would usually hold meetings or feedback sessions, continue to do so. If you would usually encourage an open-door policy when it comes to employees sharing their opinions and ideas about the company, then carry on. The less chance there is the more secure and, in turn, productive your employees will feel despite their new environment. 

The Bigger Picture

While you invest in the wellbeing of your staff during such a troubling time, don't forget to continue working on the future goals of your company. Not only will this keep you on track for success and growth, but it is also another way in which you can present consistency and security. Your employees will see that you have not been thwarted by the pandemic, giving them the confidence to follow suit.

As well as being more flexible and patient, don't be afraid to follow through on your usual disciplinary procedures. Unfortunately, there are those who will take advantage of the situation and those who were always going to pose a threat to the company regardless of their working environment. Tolerating this could give the impression of a lack of control and suggest that there is lee-way. Knowing that certain standards are still expected, is a good way to ensure that your staff stay focused.

Future Change

Most of us are excited about the prospect of the eventual return to normality, but not everyone feels the same. A common response to the recent announcement of a potential endpoint for social distancing measures has been fear about returning to workplaces. Even if you haven't enjoyed the experience, you will have adjusted to a new normal and change of any kind can be daunting. 

Consider the needs of your employees on an individual basis when it comes to the future. Would it be possible to allow those who would like to remain working from home, to do so? Perhaps you have seen an increase in their productivity and wellbeing which benefits both parties. In contrast, there might be some employees who do not respond as well to remote working but wish to continue with it. What will your approach to this challenge be? No matter what you decide, continue to be patient while people adjust to change once again; having faith in and supporting your staff is the most motivational move out there.

Hopefully, we have given you an idea of the kind of challenges you could face as an employer when your staff switch to remote working. Don't feel daunted by the prospect as there is plenty you can do to ensure a smooth transition and a happy workforce. You might even find that this new way of working benefits your company and is something you'd like to take forward into the future!

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