In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, countless organizations all over the world now have their employees working from home. For those who can, remote work IS the norm. Here in this post, we will discuss lessons that have been learned on remote work by organizations in Asia and elsewhere in the world, where the COVID-19 outbreak first happened.
Business Leaders Should Set Build Confidence and Provide Direction.
Employees at an organization will look up to the leaders for direction and confidence. Therefore, the leaders must rise to the occasion and set the tone by effectively communicating with the managers while clearly prioritizing employee health during the COVID-19 outbreak and business sustainability.
The top management should also communicate to employees their action plan, should the situation get worse. Plotting the next quarter, month or week and communicating the plan to leaders at various levels within an organization during a crisis can be very helpful.
Effectively Communicate COVID-19 Related Information and Concerns
The top management and senior managers can become trusted sources of COVID-19 related information for employees. It is important not to share unverified news reports or social media content.
Leaders should rely on trusted sources such as the Center for Disease Control, a national task force constituted for COVID-19 containment, or World Health Organization. At the same time, it is advisable to communicate how COVID-19 is affecting the organization and the steps that need to be taken to survive and thrive in the near future.
Peer-to-Peer Interactions – the More, the Better
Employees should be encouraged to maintain regular professional or personal peer-to-peer interactions. No one knows when the world will move past the COVID-19 outbreak. So, it is better to prepare a set of guidelines right away that encourage employees to (virtually) check in with their teammates or managers on a regular basis. If necessary, organizations can introduce a new tool for online meetings, messaging, and team collaboration or leverage existing communication platforms.
Employees can update their peers on things such as –
- A task is completed
- Need clarification from a manager or team member
- Schedule or deliverables are changing in any manner
- Need to schedule a follow-up meeting
Frequent virtual check-ins can enable teams to figure out new ways to remain productive when everyone is working remotely. In a remote work environment, employees need to communicate constantly (even if a message is responded to or acknowledged after some time) without making assumptions that everyone will do as expected of them.
Encourage Employees to Ask for Help
Organizations should encourage employees to ask for the resources or tools they may need to complete various tasks. For example, project or team managers can be asked to assess whether employees require a piece of hardware, an online collaboration tool, or subscription of software in order to drive efficiency and continue meeting deadlines.
Update Team Guidelines for Handling Conflicting Time Demands
Remote work isn’t the same for all employees. Depending on their unique needs and those of their family members, employees may face different challenges when they work remotely.
Schools in many regions and countries around the world are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak; therefore, many employees have to take on a double role in order to support their children during the workday.
Some employees may be struggling with hectic mornings and others may find it difficult to quietly participate in a virtual meeting in the afternoons. So, even when employees work remotely during a fixed shift, say 10 am to 5 pm, team managers cannot expect everyone to be available at all times for a quick phone call or virtual meeting.
Organizations can better meet employees’ needs by allowing teams to adapt to conflicting time demands of the members. For example, teams can discuss and agree on a daily ‘time window’ when all team members are available for discussion, follow-up, or collaboration.
Offer Flexibility on When and How Employees Return to the Workplace
As and when the COVID-19 curve flattens, organizations need to prepare for the eventual return of their employees to the workplace. During this time, organizations should allow employees to make choices as per their personal needs and comfort levels. For instance, even if the provincial government of a state/region/sub-division or national government of a country has lifted the lockdown or permitted certain organizations to reopen their offices, it is advisable not to force the entire workforce to be physically present in the office.
Organizations should consider factors such as –
- Whether schools are still closed
- Whether public transport is readily available
- Whether there is a possibility of COVID-19 community transmission in the near future in a city or town
- Whether employees feel safe commuting to work or returning to work
Where possible, organizations should permit employees to decide on when they feel comfortable and safe and can resume working from offices. If necessary, organizations can arrange for COVID-19 testing in their workplaces as a safety measure. Employees who support essential services should be allowed to choose the hours that work well for them.