Due to concerns caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many companies have asked their employees to work from home as more and more countries and states are entering lockdown. This obviously comes with its own set of challenges.

Working from home means that managers need to be aware of what to expect. If managers don’t know what they are doing, employees are likely to experience declines in performance and engagement in the absence of proper management, thus leading to a drop in overall productivity.

One of the most common concerns when working from home is the lack of face-to-face interaction. While managers worry about the very real possibility of a drop in efficiency, employees, on the other hand, struggle with limited access to support and communication from supervisors.

Another challenge is social isolation. Loneliness among employees is one of the most common complaints. Employees miss the informal social interaction they would have had in an office with their colleagues. Isolation can cause any worker, whether an introvert or an extrovert, to feel detached from their organization.

So, how can you manage your team better when they have no choice but to work from home? Take a look at these tips below:

Set your rules and expectations clearly early on

You need to be sure of what is expected of your team regarding their work. Especially when working from home, your team needs clear and reliable guidance before they start working remotely.

So, before your team is sent home to work, or before remote working starts, they need to be informed in detail about their tasks and deliverables, how to complete them, processes they should follow, how to communicate, their deadlines, the quality expected of them, etc. Don’t hesitate to be too detailed because this only means that employees will gain a better understanding of what is expected of them.

Provide opportunities for remote social interaction

Since loneliness and feelings of isolation can affect the quality of work, it is important that managers provide employees with opportunities for informal interactions among each other where they talk about a thing not related to work. This is your virtual water-cooler in a sense.

The simplest way to establish some social interaction among employees working from home is to keep aside the first few minutes of each meeting for catching up with each other. Initiate conversations about non-work topics like which shows they have been binging, how they spend their free time in lockdown, etc.

While these types of events may seem forced, managers who have successfully managed remote teams, as well as the workers themselves, know how effective it can be. They report that virtual events such as these can help reduce their feelings of isolation and boost their engagement.

Give attention to each individual

Individualization plays a key factor in successfully managing remote teams. The best managers have always individualized their approach, but doing this remotely means that you will have to put in more effort. Make sure to ask each team member to share the conditions under which they can perform best, their personal challenges with remote work, their concerns about workflow, etc.

If you want quality performance from your employees, you need to make them feel like they are a valued member of the organization even though they may be working from home. Managers have to individualize interactions with each employee. A one-size-fits-all approach will not give you the results you are looking for.

Provide several different communication technology options

Communicating through only emails is simply not enough in a remote working situation. All team members will benefit from using a richer range of technology, such as video conferencing. Text may work, but there is nothing like being in an interaction where you can see visual cues.

Visual cues facilitate any conversation, and also make employees feel less alone. They feel like they are actively participating in the organization despite the physical distance.  Especially for complex or sensitive topics, video conferencing should be a preferred communication channel as it can feel more personal.

And for when you need platforms for quick collaboration, mobile-enabled messaging tools for work such as Slack and Zoom can be used.

Offer encouragement and emotional support

The lockdown has forced many organizations to let their employees work from home, and this abrupt shift makes it more difficult to adjust with working from home. Team members may face emotional stress and anxieties about their performance, and it is important for managers to acknowledge this.

Make sure that you reach out to employees, letting them know that you are always approachable if they are struggling and want to share their concerns. Asking simple, general questions like “How is working from home so far?” can lead to responses you wouldn’t have received otherwise.

Once you ask the question, be aware of their response, and listen carefully. You don’t always have to give advice. Knowing that their superior is there for them and understands their situation can be comforting enough.

Allow some flexibility

With everything that is going on, it is important to understand that employees probably have a lot going on in their personal lives as well. While this isn’t an excuse for ditching responsibilities, it does have an effect on productivity and mental health.

This is exactly why it is so important for you to be understanding of everyone’s situation.  Allow some flexibility to get their work done, and don’t expect them to work like they would in the office.

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