Like it or not, the days of open space offices are likely over. Social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in companies discovering the not only is telecommuting possible, but it can also be cost-efficient and preferred by employees.
Remote working does pose challenges, however, and how your company meets those challenges will dictate how effectively you adapt to this new normal.
Ideally, your employees can work successfully from their homes. Not only does this reduce the risk of disease, but it also allows them the flexibility they need during a pandemic that has disrupted nearly every aspect of daily life.
Working from home reduces the stress of finding child care, trying to commute safely, and the awkward and not always effective dance that people must do indoors to maintain a safe distance.
The most important thing right now is the benefit of social distancing—doing everything possible to keep yourself and your employees safe and healthy. But there are both pros and cons to telecommuting.
Perhaps the most challenging downside to this rapid shift to remote work is the abrupt loss of company culture.
The first step in maintaining or recreating your company culture in a remote environment is to identify key aspects that contribute to that culture. Some companies thrive on high pressure, detail-oriented brainstorming sessions, and others prefer a more relaxed environment with a lot of social time during the workday.
Identify the core components of your company’s culture and then determine how those components have changed with social distancing and telecommuting. Have virtual meetings reasonably replaced brainstorming sessions? Are your employees still feeling connected to one another?
Only when you’ve adequately identified problem areas can you move on to possible solutions. Involve as many of your top-level employees in this process as possible. They may have insights into day-to-day employee interactions that you miss.
Have employees meet individually with supervisors regularly to lessen feelings of disconnection from company goals. Those meetings can also help identify employees who are struggling with teleworking so you can provide them with additional support.
Large Zoom meetings are not the best way to foster community and likely reduce the productivity of your teams. Encourage your employees to meet in manageable teams with specific agendas. Meeting virtually with a smaller group makes people feel more comfortable and connected.
A significant amount of workplace culture takes place outside of the workplace. Encouraging employees to have a virtual happy hour, take a virtual museum tour, or attend a virtual seminar helps maintain connections that can be lost when social ties are severed.
It’s important to schedule some time during the workweek for boosting morale. Find ways to bring some joy into your virtual interactions with employees, even if it’s getting together once a week to share cat videos. Look for activities that promote interaction.
Telecommuting requires that everyone increase their communication. Everyone in your organization has been cut off from the atmosphere that inspired commitment and confidence and projected security and success. Those nonverbal signals need to be replaced.
More meetings are not the answer to this weighty issue. But increased written communication that employees can consume on their own schedule will go a long way in providing reassurance and structure, as well as affirming company goals and milestones.
Regular updates on how the company is faring during the pandemic will be welcomed and make your employees feel informed and included. They may be feeling isolated and afraid already, adding workplace uncertainty will not help.
Your employees need to know that their mental health is important. Perhaps the most beneficial attitude your company can adopt is one of acceptance when people are struggling. Removing the stigma surrounding mental health is something that will improve employee loyalty and performance long after the pandemic is over.
The pandemic is taking a toll on everyone, including your employees. What they need most is a flexible employer willing to work on fostering a positive and supportive company culture in a remote setting. Given enough effort, you may find that telecommuting is the future of your company.