How to effectively manage a remote workplace during ‘social distancing’

How to effectively manage a remote workplace during ‘social distancing’
Urban EditorialApril 3, 2020

Working from home is not a foreign concept to the professional industry, with studies revealing that two-thirds of Australian employers allowed their employees to work remotely last year. But what was once considered a luxury or an indicator of the modern professional has since become the key to survival for organisations and industries across the world.

The ability to shift to a remote workplace is a privilege in itself and one that was not always feasible sans the technology age. Nowadays, we have access to modern technology and software that allows employees to remotely access their work system from anywhere in the world and with the addition of work equipment such as laptops and screen monitors, a home office is formed. But like a traditional workplace, it takes more than just equipment and programs to run a productive and cohesive business.

As an increasing number of organisations in Australia encourage their employees to work remotely, to urgently and effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19, employers and managers are posed with a new breed of management challenges to navigate.

Open communication is paramount

Working remotely has the potential to inspire productivity in employees but on the flip side, the lack of structure can just as easily hinder motivation.

Expectations of each employee, regardless of position, needs to be established and clearly communicated at the early stages of the relocation and must remain consistent throughout the process.

It doesn’t matter if an organisation has five or 50 employees, an open-door style policy of communication between senior management and employees is the most effective way to maintain team cohesion as it will reduce the likelihood of miscommunication and will allow trust to build between the manager and employees.

Consistent and open dialogue is also key to encouraging employees to display a high level of commitment, something that is highly valued at a time like this, as opposed to just the communal obligation that is associated with a traditional workplace.

Encourage a set workday structure

Encouraging employees to structure their day around their traditional routine is an effective way to maintain normalcy in a new work environment.

All employees should schedule in set breaks, just as they would have in their regular office hours and make the effort to get out of the house at least once a day. Whether it is a coffee break or an after-lunch walk, these scheduled breaks create important boundaries between personal and professional lives.

As most individuals bunker down to practice social distancing, lunchtime catch-ups and office banter can seem like a long distant memory. To mitigate feelings associated with isolation it is important that managers encourage socialisation between staff as if they were working in the same space. Employees should be encouraged to take advantage of communication software, whether it be Facetime, Slack or Zoom, to engage with each other as if they were communicating across their desks. These platforms are also great for bouncing ideas around or to check in on how someone is going.

Increased focus on mental health

Positive social and mental health needs to be a priority in any workplace but given the peculiar new reality we are all facing, it has never been more important to manage.

Managers and organisations need to foster positive relationships between employees by providing a platform to discuss non-work related topics. This could include company-wide lunches via video conference or phone calls between employees during their lunch break.

Although working remotely creates a physical separation between the HR team and employees, the relationship shouldn’t suffer as a result. This means scheduling regular meetings where the team can check in with every single staff member personally to see how they are dealing with remote working life. A consistent schedule allows employees to discuss any issues related to remote work, such as feeling lonely or isolated or struggling with their workload or new work environment in any way.

With no foreseeable end in sight for COVID-19, remote work arrangements and virtual workplaces are rapidly becoming the new norm across the globe. It is with ongoing communication and mutual understanding that employers and employees can maintain momentum for their organisations. Looking past the negative undertones, virtual workplaces offer the opportunity for us all to develop our businesses and employee relations, to offer vital support to each other to meet the demands at hand and ahead.

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