Technology is powering a new generation of remote workers at the same time as many employees are returning to the office. Prior to the pandemic, just 17% of employees in the US worked remotely at least 5 per week, but this number skyrocketed to between 41.7% and 44% during the pandemic, with an additional 15% of employees working between 1-4 days per week remotely. Since then, remote work frequency has come down again, but it still hasn’t gone back to pre-pandemic levels, and based on trends, it never will.
As companies settle into longer-term hybrid and remote work trends, employees are much more used to carrying out their jobs away from the office. Various challenges still exist, however, such as maintaining effective collaboration and high levels of employee engagement and productivity.
Here are some common related challenges of effective long-term remote work, followed by some strategies to address them.
5 Remote Productivity: Common Challenges
1. A Lack of Face-To-Face Interaction
It’s easy for companies and their teams to communicate fast and effectively in the office. When working remotely, however, the subtleties and ease of in-person communication are gone.
For managers with little experience in managing remote teams, they risk being hard to reach. Simple requests may take much longer to address when working remotely. Managers might also become out of touch with their team members’ needs, which can lead to assumptions that can break trust later down the line.
There might also be miscommunication when not in the physical presence of employees and having to communicate remotely. For example, brief emails giving feedback to employees may seem curt or aggressive and could be misinterpreted, leaving them feeling like they’ve done something wrong.
2. Limited Access to Information
When working remotely, losing track of important information is easy. Workflows may get buried in email messages and getting approval for projects may take longer than usual. Companies may find that their forced transition to remote working due to the pandemic has left them ill-equipped for effective remote information access for employees.
3. Social Isolation
Loneliness has continued to increase globally since the beginning of the pandemic. Social isolation can lead to a decrease in productivity because workers may feel unhappy without social connection and/or feel like they’re not appreciated for their efforts.
4. Distractions at Home
Working from home can lead to the lines between work and home life getting blurred. Compared to the office, there could also be a number of distractions: family, TV, the news, social media, the snack cupboard, etc. Combine this with personal life scheduling challenges and productivity can plummet.
5. Anxiety and Uncertainty
Many people are worried about their jobs, the economy, and the health of their loved ones. If employees are in a constant state of survival mode, they can’t focus on doing their best and their well-being suffers.
The Unexpected Turn in Remote Productivity During COVID-19
Since the pandemic began, most companies have reported stable productivity in their teams. Since shifting to remote work, some have even watched productivity increase.
However, teams not being physically together as well as the pandemic continuing for much longer than anyone expected is causing new problems. Creativity is falling without organic collaboration, and so is innovation.
The removal of social interaction is playing a big role in lower innovation levels, as is continued uncertainty. Workers now also have access to more digital stimulation, which can both distract them and cause brain fog.
8 Ways to Manage Remote Productivity
Now that we’ve explored the challenges, what are some of the solutions to these issues?
1. Establish Structured, Regular Check-Ins
Set aside time every few days for structured meetings. Make sure that everyone is transparent about where they are with their ongoing tasks.
These check-ins should also be used to allow your team to share any concerns they may have. Scheduling these check-ins creates structure for your employees and your team will more easily stay on the same page.
2. Provide Communications Technology Options
Communicating with your team remotely requires having the right technology in place. Focus on easy-to-use, collaborative software.
These tools should be chosen collectively with your team so that everyone agrees on those that will serve all of your needs best. You should also consider tools with customizable features so the interface can be tailored while using the same software. For example, a mobile sign-in and out solution lets you know when teams are available on-site as well as tracking employee time, no matter where they are located.
3. Set ‘Rules of Engagement’ for Remote Worker Collaboration
To prevent miscommunication, set clear rules of engagement. Setting your expectations will ensure workflows are smooth and nothing falls through the cracks. For example, try using Slack as a platform to streamline communications. Your inboxes will also be easier to manage.
4. Encourage Autonomy, but Celebrate Successes
Remote employees should be trusted to get their work done on time while fulfilling company standards. At the same time, their work should not be taken for granted—a little recognition goes a long way. Consider holding a weekly team session where you celebrate employee accomplishments. Give praise to employees who went above and beyond. Doing this will also boost morale and motivate workers.
5. Offer Wellness Initiatives and Mental Health Support
Encourage employees to speak about how they’re feeling and support them in whatever ways possible. Wellness initiatives are also essential for productivity. Consider investing in lunchtime yoga apps or home workout membership packages that can be used at fitness centers post-lockdown.
Related: Mental Health and Remote Work: Are Your Remote Workers Mentally Healthy?
6. Be Flexible
Allow your employees to pick their own hours, within reason, and trust that they’ll finish their work. Flexibility in working remotely and a personal life is essential.
Flexibility with projects is also important because delays are inevitable. As companies adapt to the new norm of remote work, they need to be attentive to their work processes and employee well-being to improve productivity. Consider reallocating workloads or allowing employees to take a few days off.
7. Encourage Open, Two-Way Communication
Remind your team that open communication is a two-way street. This also means that managers must also do their part. Encourage employees to openly communicate, provide feedback, and feel their input is valued.
Encourage your team to check in on each other as well, especially when working remotely. Communication builds trust and lessens feelings of isolation.
8. Take a Dynamic Approach
Companies can react to new changes faster by planning for them in advance, along with how to communicate these changes to their employees.
Prepare strategies that help your company and employees adapt to change, even if unexpected. Consider the ways in which you can optimize managing a hybrid workforce to increase productivity with minimal disruptions.
Related: How Remote Work Is Changing the Future of Recruiting Tactics
Addressing remote work challenges before they cause harm
As employees continue to work remotely, new challenges will arise. Companies need to be prepared to address these challenges head-on before they cause lasting harm to the company. By encouraging open communication, prioritizing mental health, and being flexible to employees’ needs, your remote team can continue to perform at their best. Open communication within an agreed-upon framework using technology and a unified platform that enhances every stage of the employee experience is essential to increase productivity and for businesses to move forward.
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Dean Mathews is the founder and CEO of OnTheClock, an employee time tracking app that helps over 15,000 companies all around the world track time. Dean has over 20 years of experience designing and developing business apps. He views software development as a form of art. If the artist creates a masterpiece, many people’s lives are touched and changed for the better. When he is not perfecting time tracking, Dean enjoys expanding his faith, spending time with family and friends, and finding ways to make the world just a little better.View All Articles
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