Remote work is no longer an optional activity for most. As employers grapple with new stay-at-home orders related to the coronavirus outbreak, there’s suddenly a paradigm shift not only in where employees work but, also in how they work.
This presents a problem in terms of productivity, management structure -- just the day to day grind of who does what and how they do it. We all had little warning about how this would all shift so suddenly and many companies are just now learning the ins and outs of having remote workers -- and it is mostly “outs” at this point. Without personal connections, a way to communicate effectively all day long, tools and business apps that make it all easier, and a basic understanding that everyone has to connect even more to keep the business running, companies are finding that this new reality is becoming a workplace nightmare.
Fortunately, there are some immediate changes you can make to help employees. These are not earth-shattering solutions that will take months to implement. Instead, they address the problem using practical methods as opposed to hoping for the best or waiting until everyone realizes the company is going down in flames.
1. Employees won’t work hard enough
Problem: Let’s start with the biggest concern of all. When an Xbox One console is in the same room as the employee, the family pet needs attention, or the kids are sitting there with folded hands while your Marketing Director creates spreadsheets, it poses a problem. There’s no longer a way to keep tabs on employees. (After the pandemic subsides, it might be important to look closely at whether “keeping tabs” is a wise strategy even in normal times.) They are free to roam around the house during the day snacking on chips and salsa. Employers have major concerns about a loss in productivity that are not at all unfounded.
Solution: Solving this problem starts with training -- and it starts now. The truth is that your employees likely haven’t developed good work-at-home habits yet. They need to know the basics for how to perform their jobs, what’s expected, and how to communicate with one another. Employers need to establish guidelines for them, create a telecommuting contract, offer the tools they need, and then train everyone on how to stay productive even at home.
2. They won’t have the right tools
Problem: Another concern is that the employees won’t have the tools they need to do their job. It’s a legitimate issue if a company has not standardized a collaborative messaging app like Slack or Microsoft Teams, if they don’t use a project management app to keep things organized, or if they rely too much on email when that’s not the most effective form of messaging anymore.
Solution: One of the first steps to take in this new remote work environment is to standardize one set of apps that every employee uses. It’s important because your staff will be seriously inundated and distracted, and they might have their own set of apps they prefer. Once again, it’s critical to communicate about the apps they need for their jobs and then to only allow some wiggle room for customization within each area of expertise. By picking a standard set of apps, you will ensure they have the right tools and can stay productive.
3. There will be major security issues
Problem: It’s a valid concern for any employer -- how will employees access sensitive business documents, financial information, or even the branding materials they need to do their jobs? If a data breach was possible when employees were mostly in the office, it’s even more disconcerting now that they are connecting from home.
Solution: This is one concern that should be addressed immediately, and fortunately, there is one solution that will take care of most leaks. Companies should require that every employee use a business virtual private network (or VPN) right away. There are a few options like ExpressVPN that work on a desktop and on mobile devices. The important tip here is to make this non-optional no matter which employee needs to connect or from where.
4. Employees will quit
Problem: For employees, work conditions are now dramatically different. They do not have a boss around and they could be tempted to slack off. While the economy might be suffering, there is also a concern that another company might lure employees away with promises of better pay or a different level of responsibility. It’s a valid concern because job search sites are a click away and no one is looking over their shoulder to see if they are on Indeed.com or not.
Solution: As an employer, many of the same principles of retention apply with remote workers as they did when everyone was in the same office. In fact, you could argue that the solution is remarkably similar, although you will need to work harder to implement these guidelines. Employees will keep working for you when they feel valued and know what is expected of them. You will need to keep challenging them, training them, and encouraging them to try new things. There’s no question employees could start looking for a different job -- unless you provide an environment that is healthy, stable, and supportive to them at all times.
5. The company won’t survive
Problem: One final concern is about the health of the company itself. We all know that every company thrives and grows when the employees work hard and think in innovative ways. When a company starts to lag and falter, it’s typically when the staff splinters and stops working as a team, when they lose interest, and when they become unproductive.
Solution: The lockdown has created a new opportunity for most companies. We need to start taking creative approaches to work and the products and services we offer. It’s now become urgent. As we struggle through this worldwide crisis, companies will need to invent new products, use new and innovative tools and apps, and stay as vibrant as possible.
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John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.