The year 2020 was a tough time for businesses and workers alike. One of the long-term impacts of Covid-19 was the transition to increased working from home (WFH), which brought about new challenges for team leaders to keep their team motivated, and productive remotely.
While some managers worried that productivity would be affected, a study by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over nine months found that working remotely actually increased productivity by 13%. This was attributed to fewer distractions from co-workers, quieter and more convenient working environments, and less sick days. The same study also found that work satisfaction and employee loyalty improved.
While the benefits are clear, there are also downsides to working from home – employees can quickly feel isolated and removed from their colleagues and ‘water cooler chats.’ Burnout is all too easy when workers are taking fewer breaks and the line between work and home becomes blurred.
Wellbeing and productivity fall hand in hand. Healthy employees are happy, engaged, and motivated, but the opposite can be a huge issue for not only productivity but company morale and employee turnover. A report by The Engagement Institute found that disengaged employees cost US companies up to $550 billion a year, a GlassDoor survey discovered that 87% of employees expected their employer to support them in their work-life balance, and the American Psychological Foundation reported that 89% of workers at companies that support wellbeing initiatives are more likely to recommend the company as a good place to work.
So, what can employers do to ensure the wellbeing of their employees while reaping the benefits of remote working? It simply takes an adapted approach to ensure you’re supporting your team in the right way. As a company that has only ever worked remotely with a team spread across six states – we want to share our tips for success.
Check in emotionally
Whether your organization has always had teams working from home or this is a new arrangement since Covid-19, remote working brings up different stresses and challenges for your employees.
Without being in the same room, it’s hard to read the non-verbal cues and recognize signs of burnout and high-stress levels, and so it’s really important to be intentional when offering emotional support to your team. It’s all too easy to focus on the task at hand, but leaders need to check in with their team members to offer encouragement and validate any concerns and sources of anxiety. Empathize with struggles and really listen to what your employees have to say.
Where possible, encourage your team to meet via video conferencing rather than by phone to encourage engagement. Management should always meet with staff via video to set a positive precedent and expectation for communication.
Regular one-on-one meetings can help with this, building trust and providing a space for your employees to share what is going on. Don’t dismiss with a quick fix – listen, validate, and then work together to find solutions that have a long-term impact. Ask questions to clarify your interpretation of what they are saying and then repeat it back to ensure you’ve understood – apply active listening skills and focus on the employee, try not to let your own feelings cloud the conversation.
Some employees may feel uncomfortable speaking negatively about work to a manager. Confidential surveys allow individuals to speak up with anonymity, and individuals may feel more comfortable sharing negative feelings as well as solutions to company structures and processes that they might not have shared openly.
With a deeper understanding of their team’s emotional status as well as their work-in-progress, managers are more equipped to offer genuine encouragement and confidence in their team’s ability. Meaningful affirmations such as “this is hard, but I know we can handle it” lead to employees feeling understood and supported so they can rise to the challenge.
Establish new ways of working
Working remotely not only impacts individuals, but the team as a whole. It’s important to be clear on how you will deliver work as a team when you’re not in the same room, and that each team member is clear on the adapted processes. Consider how you will collaborate on projects and communicate through challenges. Make sure every individual is involved in recognizing successes as well as things to improve.
As a leader, it’s important you encourage your team members to establish a divide between work and their personal lives. Show trust, encourage boundaries, and ensure that each team member is supporting each other in this. If you notice an employee sending late night emails or working out of hours, check in with them to ensure they’re not struggling to switch off and reinforce the importance of a work-life balance.
Breaks are equally important. In a survey by Airtasker, 37% of remote workers say taking regular breaks is key to staying productive. Without an office full of staff taking lunch breaks or co-workers chatting as they move around the building, it’s too easy to spend hours on end sitting at your desk without a break. Working long periods can increase stress levels and decrease productivity and can have an impact on both physical and mental health.
Work with your team to establish rules for working that ensure they are setting boundaries, taking breaks, and working effectively to avoid burnout. Make sure the team understands the importance of each rule and are supporting each other to follow them. Some examples of team rules could include:
- Say no if you don’t have the capacity for a task – acknowledge there is a limit to what you can do
- Avoid multitasking – focus on one task at a time
- Get outside once a day to get some fresh air
- Be mindful of your posture
- Schedule 10 minutes in your day for a desk workout to stretch and move your body
- Commit to a routine that includes leaving the house and re-entering through the threshold (even if it’s just to take a walk) before starting work for the day
Employees need to know that leaders truly permit them to prioritize their wellbeing and it’s not just ‘talk.’ With clear rules for working remotely that outline expectations, team members feel more genuinely supported to set boundaries and find a healthy work-life balance.
Make space for relationships
In a typical office setting, informal conversations with co-workers are integral to the working day, as you discuss personal lives as well as chit-chat on projects, clients, latest news, and updates to the industry. Remote working removes the opportunity for this small talk and can lead to increased stress and disengagement.
As remote working has become more popular, more tools have become available to allow teams to work as closely as possible, despite geographical boundaries. Instant messaging tools like Slack provide a space for informal conversations and foster a sense of community. Video calling software such as Zoom enables teams to share screens for collaborative working, and seeing each other’s faces is extremely helpful in maintaining good working relationships.
Leaders can help support the social side of remote working by organizing virtual networking events. Online quiz nights, happy hours, and ‘lunch and learn’ meetings help to encourage light-hearted connections across the team. Just because you are all working remotely may not mean that you can’t get together in person outside of work hours. Keep this in mind when it comes to social employee engagement.
Not only are relationships with colleagues important, but it’s also just as important to encourage your team to make time for their personal relationships too. Encourage vacations for unwinding and blocking out time to spend with family and friends outside of work.
Remote working can easily become isolated and lonely, but with simple adaptations to team working methods and encouraging the use of vacation allowance, employees can continue to maintain healthy relationships both in and out of work.
Keep up momentum
A unique challenge of remote working from a leader’s perspective is performance management and training. Working from home can often require a level of flexibility that isn’t a factor when your team is office-based, particularly if employees need to work around childcare, homeschooling, roommates, or a dysfunctional home office space. It’s important to focus on results rather than activity and to promote mutual trust and respect across your team.
Ensure that goals are realistic and achievable to boost motivation without applying added stresses and pressure. Check in regularly to discuss progress, and make sure your employees understand the bigger picture and how their work fits into it. Review their short-term and long-term goals and line them up with the organization’s strategic goals, so individuals learn their value and feel part of the team.
Career progression is as important, and for employees to feel valued, their ambitions need to be respected. Online training offers a flexible way for employees to learn new skills around their day-to-day work tasks and working remotely shouldn’t put a pause on career development. Direct your employees to relevant resources and be supportive and encouraging – ultimately, it’s mutually beneficial for your team to upskill.
Lead by example
It’s easy to talk the talk when it comes to productivity and wellbeing at work, but it’s even easier to fall into your own unhealthy working habits when working remotely. As a leader, it’s so important to set a good example and make wellbeing a priority for yourself, as your team will be looking to you for guidance on how to adapt to working from home.
Show that you value your work-life balance as a priority – don’t check non-urgent emails in the evenings and weekends, take full lunch breaks, and communicate that you aren’t available during these breaks. This allows employees to follow suit and set their own clear boundaries for personal time. Consider trying out a ‘digital detox’ in the evenings and encourage your team to follow suit.
Practice self-care habits and share tips regularly from your own experiences – this will be more meaningful if it’s things you have done yourself. Strike a balance with nutritious food, move your body, carve out time for things you enjoy, and make time to rest and recharge.
There are so many advantages to working from home for both employers and employees, including increased productivity, better work-life balance, and saving money. Yet, leading by example means that you’re the perfect test subject for finding out what works for you as a remote worker and understanding what might also work for your workforce. Discovering how you can best support your employees, so they have a happy and healthy working experience can only be of positive benefit to you and your credit union.