Corporations and companies have urged their workers to work remotely due to the uncertainties posed by Covid-19. While over a quarter of the US workforce already works from home, the new restrictions will require employees and supervisors to work out of the office for the first time. This new narrative has disrupted the ideal routines of a typical 9-5, and this does not come without its challenges.
Change is difficult, and the same is true in this situation. Many people are working remotely for the first time, away from co-workers and friends, and this has caused significant amounts of physical and mental stress that negatively impacts productivity. Now more than ever, our mental health must remain a primary consideration, keeping in mind that social distancing should not equate to social isolation.
In these rapidly changing times, the ideal strategy for work would have been a gradual transition into remote work. Still, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic certainly did not give room for any of that to occur. Fortunately, there are specific, research-based activities that managers can employ to increase engagement and boost the productivity of their employees in remote working environments.
Employers need to know and understand the factors that can make working remotely demanding. Otherwise, high-performing workers, especially those in the construction firm, will experience a decline in job performance and engagement when they start working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training.
Challenges common in remote work are:
1. Absence of face-to-face supervision:
Both the employer and workers will often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction and supervision. Employers worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently as they will if they were together.
On the other hand, some workers may struggle with reduced access to managerial support and training. In addition, employees may feel that, in some cases, employers are out of touch with their needs and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done.
2. Absence of access to information:
Remote workers are often surprised by the added time and energy required to get information from co-workers. This situation extends beyond task-related work to interpersonal challenges from fellow workers. Lack of mutual knowledge among remote workers translates to a reduced willingness to give workers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations.
3. Social isolation:
One of the most common complaints about remote work is that workers miss the informal social interaction. As a result, workers may suffer both in the short and long run, particularly if they do not have the opportunity to connect with others in their remote work environment. This absence of interaction between workers can lead to a loss of camaraderie and increase the intention to leave the company eventually.
4. Distractions at the remote offices:
We have seen for a long time that remote working has been portrayed using the picture of a worker holding a child and working on a computer system. This is a terrible representation of what remote working is. Employers have been encouraged to ensure that their remote workers have a dedicated workspace, attitude, and adequate childcare before allowing them to work remotely.
However, this is easier said than done. In the wake of the pandemic, there is a greater chance that workers will have suboptimal workspaces and face unexpected parenting responsibilities. This will lead to greater distractions than usual, so adequate leeway should be given to accommodate these challenges.
As much as remote work comes with many challenges, employers can take quick and inexpensive ways to ease the transition. Such actions include;
1. Information on appropriate social distancing:
Employers should make sure that their workers avoid physical contact with one another and should maintain a distance of at least six feet. In addition, they must always maintain appropriate hygiene practices. Besides the extra control measures that must be taken due to the pandemic, other normal control measures, including PPE, must be used to protect workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities.
2. Provision of different communication technology options:
Communication via email alone is not sufficient. Remote workers will benefit from having richer technology, i.e., more options, such as video conferencing, which gives participants visual cues that they would have if they were face to face. These visual cues allow for increased mutual knowledge about fellow workers and help improve the team's sense of belonging and camaraderie.
There are other circumstances when collaboration is essential. For these kinds of situations, workers can use mobile-friendly individual messaging apps like Zoom & Slack for simpler and formal conversations and time-sensitive communications.
If your company does not have these technologies already set up, there are affordable ways to obtain simple types of these tools for your workers as a short-term fix. Do not forget to consult with your IT department to ensure an appropriate level of data security before implementing any of these tools.
3. Use of cloth face coverings:
Employers should recommend cloth face coverings as a protective measure in addition to social distancing. This is especially important as social distance might not be possible in a construction firm based on working conditions.
A cloth facemask will reduce the spread of the virus should any of the workers have it. It will also reduce the number of respiratory droplets that a worker will spread while talking or sneezing.
NB: While a cloth face covering is essential, employers should note that this does not replace PPE, such as medical face masks or respirators.
4. Ergonomic workstation set-up:
About 40% of companies offered remote work before the pandemic, but the current Covid-19 situation has many companies working remotely for the first time. Unfortunately, most employees do not have a dedicated workstation in their homes, let alone an ergonomic workstation.
Recreating your workspace is the key to staying productive. Employees must make sure that their workspace is as comfortable as possible. Items that will be frequently used should be kept nearby to avoid too much stretching and straining.
For employees who will be using work equipment in a remote workspace, a picture of their workspace sent to the employer can help ensure a safe space.
Employers should provide their employees with the resources they need to set up the ergonomic workspace, such as using a rolling chair with back support and monitors placed 20-30 inches from the face. Employees should also use the 20/20/20 rule; every 20 minutes, look at an object twenty feet away for 20 seconds.
5. Exercise daily:
Sitting at the desk for hours is neither healthy at the office nor at home. In addition, being sedentary will pose a risk to employees working remotely because there is no meeting for them to get up to attend.
Employers should encourage their employers to stretch their legs and stay active while working remotely. Alarms can be set to take breaks or to stretch the body. Doing simple stretches during your workday will help you stay relaxed and prevent overexertion injuries.
Employees should keep a work routine when working remotely. They should create a clear distinction between work and home; they should avoid doing home chores during work time.
6. Putting safety first:
Employers must make sure that maintaining safety is a priority for employees working remotely. You can build a safety culture regardless of whether the team is present on-site or not. Communicate well and early enough that their safety is important to you and share resources that will help them improve their safety while working remotely.
7. Mental health and wellbeing:
Employees need to maintain their mental well-being while working remotely. This includes avoiding overwork, getting regular exercise, and spending time away from work. It is important to ensure that employees set reasonable working hours, as it can be tempting to work more while working remotely. In addition, overworking can be taxing on their health and well-being.
Employers can help their employees maintain their mental health by making sure they keep up with their healthy routines, staying in touch with them, and offering words of encouragement and support. They can also be of help to their employees by ensuring they eat and rest well.
All corporations and companies anticipated that the post-pandemic workforce would be more remote. This means that all firms will experience an increase in remote working relative to their pre-pandemic levels.
As pandemic restrictions are lifted, company leaders will have to decide on how to achieve an optimal remote work strategy. Unlike the reactive action that happened suddenly in early 2020, the next line of actions must be intentional and proactive.
Recent research showed that nearly one-third of US executives described their approach to post-pandemic remote working as "going with the flow."
Rather than shifting operations back to normal or simply going with the flow, leaders need to think about how they can leverage recent remote work experiences to intentionally plan for a remote or hybrid workforce in the future. They will have to think strategically about their remote work policies and plans moving forward. Now is the time to start planning, whether you manage a large company or head a small team.
According to research, executive education suggests that leaders' major decisions will fall into two main categories: Company Policies and Management Practices.
Before remote work can effectively take place in any organization, companies must proactively implement an update of company policies to accommodate the unique changes that working outside the physical office will entail. In addition, there will be extra needs to fit the dynamics of a remote working situation, and as such, organizations will have to address the following questions:
1. What is the right combination of remote working for your organization?
The possible scenarios of the right combination include a primarily remote-hybrid (with workers in the office two to three times a week) or a primarily in-office setting.
To determine the best policy for your company, employers must consider the following factors:
• Nature of work:
Individual tasks that do not need collaboration or coordination are ideal for remote work. Activities and roles that need high cooperation are also successful remotely, but it will require significant effort from all the team members. Obviously, there are some roles that cannot be carried out remotely, so concessions will need to be made for those in terms of on-site work.
• Experience level of the workers:
New workers or those who have been promoted recently benefit from an initial period in the office to build a relationship with fellow workers and gain the required knowledge that will be easily absorbed in the workplace. As such, virtual orientation sessions or on-site retreats will be needed if the workforce is primarily remote, continuous, and frequent.
• Preferences of the Employees:
Choices of the individual worker must be taken into consideration, given the differences in personalities and preferences for remote work. Some employees may indicate preferences now; as work settings and patterns normalize, those conversations can be revisited.
2. Are you ready to consider working from anywhere (WFA) policy?
This enables your workers to work from anywhere they want, as much as they can productively perform their work for the company.
Research on WFA suggests that allowing geographical flexibility to your employees will enable them to pursue bigger life goals. In addition, this flexibility will increase employee productivity relative to Work From Home (WFH) conditions.
Considerations for WFA include competitive recruitment of highly sought-after employees and the potential for an increased talent pool. In addition, company leaders must decide how best to take advantage of asynchronous work in a WFA environment while managing to schedule and work coordination issues.
3. How can you maintain a strong company culture?
Company culture needs to be refined as work moves to more remote or hybrid models. Spreading the essential norms and values to the organization becomes more difficult with a dispersed workforce.
Recommendations for sustaining this culture in a virtual environment include special lunches to build and share experiences, pulse check surveys to check whether the shared values are coming across to employees, and lastly, intentional communication about programs and meetings that are important to the organization.
4. Which HR policies must be updated?
An organization that wants to consider complete remote work or hybrid will have to change many human resource policies and practices.
Recruiting strategies will have to focus on new skills and competencies for potential candidates, such as initiative-taking, effective virtual communication, and self-motivation. In addition, compensation plans such as adjusting salaries for working from home and scaling pay relative to geographic offices are vital to consider.
For example, Twitter and Facebook recently announced that they would adjust the pay of workers that choose to move away from their headquarters to areas with a lower cost of living.
Benefit programs must be adjusted to reflect the shift from traditional on-site benefits to remote options.
5. What new training will be offered?
Company leaders must realize that training in remote work's social and relational aspects is as essential as training in technology and organization policy.
A recent survey showed that 64% of executives plan to invest in training leaders to manage more virtual workforce. However, research was conducted, and it showed that only 30% of the company executives trained their leaders in virtual work skills.
Companies also need to provide training on relational skills known to enhance remote working productivity. This includes: building trust, effective virtual communication patterns, establishing work values, and incorporating social elements into virtual work relationships.
In addition to all these, companies must incorporate strategies to handle training on managing hybrid workers as it will be valuable in maintaining equity between remote and on-site employees.
Companies should consider adjusting to management practices and patterns that best suit a remote or hybrid work environment in conjunction with company policy.
Managers should think about these questions as part of the transition to a longer-term remote workforce:
1. How can you foster a healthy remote work condition?
One of the crucial parts of managing a remote or hybrid work environment, overall, is establishing an organizational climate that is encouraging, good, and positive for remote workers.
Organizational climate is different from culture. Climate is the perceptions employees have about their workplace. An effective tool is a leader-supported declaration or expectations related to remote work from the organization.
For example, when the pandemic first started, IBM employees created "a work from home pledge" that specified company norms such as how to communicate while working remotely. Similar leader-led statements significantly impact the remote work climate that evolves post-pandemic.
2. How can you help employees manage competing work and life priorities?
Leaders can help employees enact models to manage work in a remote or hybrid environment effectively. This involves demonstrating that the goal is not to find a perfect balance but a work-life rhythm that works best for them. Employees usually watch their managers for cues on planning and balancing life.
There are several types of boundaries that leaders can help employees establish. This includes having a dedicated workspace, finding the optimal time to work, and relational and interpersonal boundaries.
3. How to create a sense of psychological safety?
Research shows that high-performing teams have a sense of psychological safety where they can speak up, ask for help, and offer ideas without being criticized.
Psychological safety is paramount in remote working, and this can be increased when employers: Check-in on them, share experiences and let employees try out new ideas.
4. How can you consciously engage employees?
According to research, even tiny quantities of high-quality social contacts, such as those that demonstrate compassion or concern, can help to reduce stress, and promote well-being.
Repeated encounters with these people throughout the day might give you a sense of belonging, which can help you cope with the feelings of isolation that come with remote work.
According to a study of distant co-workers, a consistent communication cadence builds productive and trusting working relationships. In addition, managers can help employees develop a sense of routine by utilizing meetings as occasions for them to socialize and form personalized relationships by exchanging songs, images, or entertaining facts.
In addition, leaders might build team collaboration procedures. Creating a single attitude for distributed and digital teams fosters a sense of shared identity and understanding. Like team development in typical office environments, this can be built by creating team goals, providing a common knowledge context, and articulating the team's purpose.
Virtual coffee conversations and remote office hours, for example, should be maintained as events to link in-office and remote workers in the future proactively.
5. How can you nurture employee trust and accountability?
After the Covid-19 crisis has passed, employers will need to find ways to re-establish trust among remote teams on a longer-term basis. However, establishing competence and interpersonal trust can be difficult in remote work since knowing and understanding employee behavior and motivations is not easy.
Employers can use technology to define and maintain goals and objectives for desired outcomes and receive feedback on those goals to solve this problem. In addition, they should establish touch points throughout the year to assist people in developing professionally and building accountability. These technologies are not utilized to track employee presence; instead, they are used to exchange information and guide employees.
As we return to pre-pandemic work environments, strategic considerations regarding building a remote and hybrid work environment have become quite pertinent. It is necessary for organizations to proactively explore corporate policies and management strategies to adapt to a remote workforce. There may be challenges, but companies can achieve these goals with strategic planning.
Now is the moment to reflect on what you and your staff have learned over the last year. It is also a time to use your new knowledge and experience to design your ideal future workplace.
1. Effective Techniques for Managing Remote Developers on
2. A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers.
3. How to Manage the Performance of Remote Workers - Full Guide.
4. What Is Your Organization's Long-Term Remote Work Strategy?
Find out how to manage your business' health and safety better
Many employers are concerned about their reporting obligations for COVID-19/Coronavirus/SARS-CoV-2 under RIDDOR in the ongoing pandemic. You may be pleased to know that you do not have to report everything to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). We'll provide more info about when, what, and how to report.
The most common concern we've seen recently from employers is whether they need to report all COVID-19 and coronavirus testing results to the HSE. The short answer is no. According to the HSE: “There is no requirement under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) to report incidents of disease or deaths of members of the public, patients, care home residents or service users from COVID-19. The reporting requirements relating to cases of, or deaths from, COVID-19 under RIDDOR apply only to occupational exposure, that is, as a result of a person's work.”
Generally speaking, the ordinary RIDDOR rules already cover COVID-19. You should only make a report under RIDDOR when one of the following circumstances applies:
• an accident or incident at work has or could have caused the release of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). (Report as Dangerous occurrence)
• a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19 due to occupational exposure. (Report as Disease)
• a worker dies because of occupational coronavirus exposure. (Report as Work-related death due to exposure to a biological agent)
The bottom line is that existing rules cover most COVID-19 measures, and most of the COVID-19 guidance comes from public health authorities rather than the HSE. The environment remains chaotic, but you can minimize your legal exposure by continuing your existing compliance steps. This will include communicating with your insurer about risks, following public health guidance, and communicating regularly with your workers or unions on any of their concerns.
© Gavin Coyle, 2021
© Gavin Coyle, 2021