Common challenges of remote work – and how to solve them.

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Most of us have now had some time to get used to remote work – some more than others.  However, for many the challenges of moving to remote work can be demanding.  These challenges include:

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision:

Leaders and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Some leaders worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently without constant face to face supervision. Many employees, though, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. Over the past few weeks of supporting leaders during this crisis some have even reported an element of guilt that they feel that they need to check in more with their employees because of the lack of face to face collision style interaction that can happen in an office environment.  This is adding to extra pressure on already pressured leaders. 

  • Lack of access to information

Another factor that leaders are mentioning time and time again is lack of access and / or sharing of information.  Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate information from co-workers. Even getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle to a worker based at home. It is widely apparent that throughout many start-ups and early start businesses that information is shared more frequently in an informal manner – those collision conversations that cannot be easily replicated remotely.  There is also a concern from many employees that they are “missing out” on key pieces of information because of the isolation and the lack of access to informal communication channels.

  • Social isolation

Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. Over a longer period, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization and can even result in increased intention to leave and find alternative employment.

  • Distractions at home

Where do we start here?  This starts from the speed in which businesses and their employees switched to remote work meaning that the space in their respective homes may not be set up to allow for minimal distractions and efficient working practices.  In many cases employees will also have other pressures at home, especially with children being off school.  Balancing home schooling, work and everything else going on at home is almost impossible.  As such, leaders need to offer some flexibility here, both with their expectations and working hours.

How can leaders support their employees (and themselves)?

As much as remote work has its challenges, there are also relatively quick and easy things that leaders can do to ease the situation. Actions that you can take today include:

  • Establish structured daily check-ins:

Many successful leaders have established a daily call with their remote employees. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls or a team call. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable.  Leaders also need to ensure that the opportunity is “right” for employees to raise their concerns and questions will be heard.

  • Provide several different communication technology options:

This might sound obvious.  Email alone is insufficient.  Likewise, phone conversations. Remote workers benefit from having video calls that replicate the face to face interaction as closely as possible. Video calls also help reduce the sense of isolation among teams.

  • Establish the rules of communication – remove the time stealers

This is a huge area of stress and pressure for the leaders that I have support over the last few weeks.  Leaders are having difficult setting the rules of communication – when employees should ask for a video meeting and whether a different, more efficient medium can be used for the query.  Video calls can be great – as discussed above – however they can turn a quick 5-minute query into a 30-min or even hour conversation.  They are great time stealers!  Remote work becomes more efficient when leaders set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. For example, “We use video calls for daily stand ups, but we use an instant messaging system – slack, text, WhatsApp etc when something is urgent.” Also, if you can, let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday or even let your staff see your diary so they can see when you are already committed Finally, keep an eye on communication among team members (to the extent appropriate), to ensure that they are sharing information as needed.

  • Provide opportunities for social interaction

One of the most essential steps any leader can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially while working remotely.  Recently I have seen leaders really get creative here. The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items. Other options include virtual coffee mornings, or virtual office parties (replicating those after work trips to the pub). While these types of events may sound artificial or forced, experienced leaders of remote workers (and the workers themselves) report that virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging.

  • Other encouragement and emotional support:

It is important for leaders to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. If a newly remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they are doing.  Try and utilise the best time and situation (the most comfortable technology medium for the employee – not necessarily for you.  This will help the employee open-up.  Give the employee the opportunity and space to respond.  Let the employee’s stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation.

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