How to Tackle These Three Challenges of Remote Work

Data-backed steps for management and remote leadership

It’s not uncommon to see office buildings emptied out today as Covid-19 continues to take populations by storm. Besides governments issuing stay-home notices, companies are also mandating their employees to work from home. As such, this also means that the new policies will leave many employees and managers working separately for the first time.

Unfortunately, it’s not feasible to draft up clear remote-work policies in the blink of an eye. Not being able to foresee such crises is one thing, not having a remote work policy in the first place is another. However, there are science-backed steps for management to take to help drive engagement even while working remotely, even if there is little time to prepare.

Here are some common challenges inherent in remote work, with the corresponding solutions.

Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction

Managers often have worries about the effectiveness of remote working and one of them is the lack of direct management. Since the manager can’t see the employee “working”, the employee can be doing anything from sleeping on the couch to resolving bug reports on Jira. Although research has shown otherwise for some jobs, it’s still a gripe for many managers.

When there’s no face-to-face interaction, employees will also struggle as they have reduced access to support from the managers. Employees can also feel that managers are out of touch with their needs, and may not be able to judge their performance accurately.

What’s the solution?

  • Design and implement a general guideline to how leaders can judge the performance of their team members—performance can be a subjective thing, but having a rubric to base initial judgment on creates a fairer starting point.

  • Structured daily check-ins are great ways to create a forum for employees to be in when they need to consult about something. Depending on the type of work, the call can be one-on-one or a conference call. Chatting on Slack channels and email isn’t enough.

  • Consider remote social activity: remote employees often feel isolated. Having non-work items before team calls, virtual pizza parties, and virtual office parties are ways to help create a sense of belonging, even though they might feel artificial.

  • Be empathetic: not everyone can adapt to the remote working policy. Provide encouragement and emotional support.

Lack of a Centralized Source of Information

If you’re down with the flu, you’re likely on sick leave—everyone is working at home and you’re now at home. Do you still work?

Unclear remote-work policies are culprits of low unproductivity. Sometimes, remote workers have to locate information from coworkers over time. The solution is simple: build a wiki. Like how programming languages have documentation, what about creating one for the company and its policies in plain-speak?

Dealing with “Life Activities”

Veteran remote workers would have already established their workspace. During crises like the Covid-19 outbreak, newly remote workers are thrust into a new schedule. For instance, working while they’re taking care of their children. Demands at home can impinge on their work, which means lowered productivity.

The solution? Be empathetic. Enforcing working hours won’t work when there are priorities closer at hand, especially when it comes to family matters. It’s the duty of the manager to understand situations unique to the remote worker, especially when he/she is newly introduced into the concept. For instance, how can work be arranged so that the employee can take care of his/her children?

After three months of the coronavirus outbreak in its full swing, there are companies that might still be figuring out the remote working concept. Regardless, the key is to always plan. If your company doesn’t have something like that right now, it’s high time for you or your leadership to start drafting some policies.