Coronavirus (COVID-19), Learning & Development

Management Training: Connecting and Engaging Remote Workers

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders issued for the vast majority of U.S. states, most companies that can have staff work from home are doing so. This creates a host of logistical and management challenges for many companies.

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Although some may have had staff working remotely for years, this has often been just a small percentage of the overall workforce. These staff members have already grown accustomed to that arrangement and the adjustments that come with it.

But, managers who could once simply take a quick walk around the office to see what their staff are up to may now be at a loss as to how to keep in touch with and keep track of a team that is now entirely remote. Here are a few strategies that can help these managers stay in touch with their remote staff.

Connecting with Remote Workers

Regular meetings. The most fundamental step toward staying in touch with remote workers is scheduling regular time to do so. Managers should have mandatory, recurring meetings set up with their teams, as well as individual staff. These are opportunities to speak with them in real time—ideally incorporating videoconferencing and audio—and identify areas of concern or items that might need escalation.

The specifics of the meetings will depend somewhat on the size of the team. Managers with just a couple of direct reports might be able to hold daily one-on-ones, as well as group meetings. Managers of larger teams might opt for daily team meetings and weekly one-on-ones.

Daily reports. We’ll go into daily reports in greater detail in a follow-up post, but the general idea is to have a consistent format for staff to report on their day-to-day activities, identifying any areas of concern and giving their manager transparency into how they’re spending their time.

Two-way communication. It’s not just about staff reporting up to management. Particularly in uncertain and dynamic times, managers need to be as transparent as possible with staff who might be fearing changes in process or even layoffs and business closures.

Personal touch. Finally, don’t underestimate the value of informal and personal communications that often get lost in the shift to remote work. This can include virtual coffee breaks and happy hours or taking a few minutes at the start of regular meetings to let staff talk about what’s going on in their lives.

It’s unclear just how long remote work arrangements will be required. It’s possible that many companies may decide they prefer these arrangements to the traditional in-person office setting for some staff in the long run.

Therefore, it’s essential managers develop the habits and skills necessary to effectively manage an increasingly remote workforce. It’s something they’ll likely have to deal with in the future.

And much like an office setting, employee engagement should still be top of mind for managers of a remote workforce.

How to Gauge Employee Engagement During Work at Home

As many employers around the country have transitioned to a work-from-home setting, this new work arrangement may be unfamiliar to a vast majority of workers.

This new arrangement can put a huge strain on employee engagement while making it more difficult to observe and monitor that engagement. Poor engagement can lead to reduced productivity, lowered morale, and even higher rates of turnover.

Fortunately, here are some additional strategies for tracking remote staff engagement.

Regular meetings. Just like with employee communication, regular meetings have always been an important part of measuring employee engagement, but when managers can’t simply stop by the desks of their team members, they can be that much more important as touch points.

Visual cues. There are a variety of low-cost or even free tools available to facilitate videoconferencing, and these can more closely simulate in-person contact with staff.

Obviously, it’s not a replacement, but videoconferencing does provide the ability to gauge some visual cues to determine if staff seem stressed, depressed, tired, or otherwise disengaged.

Tracking work. One of the impacts of poor employee engagement is that it can be a major sap on productivity. This also means that productivity can be a good gauge of employee engagement.

If staff start taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks or are showing less initiative, it can be a good indicator of a lack of engagement.

Ask them! Engagement is often seen as a bit of a fluffy measure that is hard to quantify, but often, employees themselves can tell if they are not fully engaged if asked. This can be done directly in team meetings or one-on-ones.

Alternatively, or additionally, organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommend using engagement surveys to ask staff directly about their level of engagement. These can be conducted anonymously to help increase the level of candidness.

Many organizations have traditionally underappreciated the importance of employee engagement, but the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on employees and the workplace make awareness of engagement more important than ever. Managers need to ensure they are equipped with the awareness and tools to ensure staff stay properly engaged.