It feels like this pandemic is here to stay indefinitely. That’s the bad news. The good news is many companies and their workers have sought, found and utilized technology more successfully than previously imagined. For leaders, the question arises, how to engage employees working remotely when stress levels are high?
A google search of just that topic provided over 275,000, 000 responses in .56 seconds. The entire first page of suggestions pointed to the growing issue of workers burnout. The reason? Working remotely means workers are seemingly available 24/7. Clearly this is a negative aspect to working from home! To fully utilize what is usually an advantage, leaders should adhere to as normal a work schedule as possible. Structure is key!
Have definitive start and end times to the workday, just as when working face-to-face. Staff members’ physical commutes home are eliminated, but the need to shift their mindsets from work to family or self is just as necessary and sometimes more difficult to achieve.
So, you’re meeting remotely instead of face-to-face. Obviously, technology is not 100% reliable, so budget a small-time cushion to allow for technical difficulties, so objectives are still met. And if no technical difficulties arise? Bonus! Everyone will have an extra ten or fifteen minutes to prepare for, or work on their next task.
Encourage your team to not work when they are ill. If they worked face-to-face and stayed home to get better, the same should happen working remotely. The focus should be on health and well-being, not attending a staff meeting.
Be available. Ironic, isn’t it? Workers are burning out from too much availability, but an answer is to be available. This doesn’t mean necessarily leaders should always be available 24/7, and subject themselves to the same burnout possibilities. It means, be open, welcoming, honest, and available to your team. They will have problems and questions they’ve not encountered in the non-virtual workplace and will want to provide the same high-quality levels of service previously expected. But if leaders are abrupt, dismissive, or inflexible their staff will be ill-prepared to maintain professional standards of productivity.
Encourage creativity. Now is the time for innovation. Now is the time to streamline policies and procedures. Listen carefully to your frontline workers- they are the ones tasked with fully implementing those policies and procedures. They will be the ones reporting what is effective and what isn’t. They will also provide solutions, oftentimes saving the company time and money!
Say ‘Thank you,’ and mean it! A quick email or note to say, “Hi! I really appreciated how quickly you resolved the ABC matter with our XYZ client. I wanted you to know I noticed your efficiency. Thanks,” truly goes a long way in encouraging your team. Or send a random five-dollar gift card for a coffee shop- or something similar. Yes, $5.00 isn’t a lot, but when it comes time to pay for a pick-me-up, that $5.00 is suddenly important! It’s not entirely about the amount of the gift, but the gift itself. It represents a genuine, unexpected moment of appreciation.
Finally, think about what you, the leader of leaders, need and want. After all, you’re working remotely too, right? What would make your day brighter? What would make it run more smoothly? Would your team appreciate those also? Are you able to provide those plusses without hastening your own burnout? What about delegating? Are you able to assign different tasks and spread the work out over people and time so that all needs are met?
In the end, work will bring stressors. Working remotely will bring its own set of stressors. Engaging team members working remotely when stress levels are high means being intentional in scheduling and support. While they might not think to give you a gift card, they will stay more focused and productive. That’s thanks in itself!