Name an office function – team meetings, management reports, watercooler chats, and yes, even happy hour hangouts – and you’ll find it these days on Zoom. The pandemic has dramatically shifted the traditional workplace experience, requiring rapid adjustments to protect the workforce and the nation at-large. With the transition to remote work, comes greater responsibilities for business executives and managers. This article explores new challenges executives are facing, tactics for surviving and thriving while managing remote teams, and finally, how the lessons learned during early 2020 are likely here to stay.
The traditional workplace has been disrupted in the following ways:
- The workplace and workforce have gone virtual. Since everyone is working remotely to reduce human contact and slow the spread rate of the virus, communication and job descriptions in different businesses have been done virtually. Zoom, Webex, and other video conferencing platforms are booming as people seek ways to keep in touch from home.
- Changing management and leadership competencies. The new workplace necessitates managerial skills that can direct team members who are in disparate locations. Managers that lack these skills risk not meeting the expected results.
- Unstructured work hours. Most pre-COVID-19 workplaces had structured work hours so that commitment and performance of employees are measured at par with the work hours. Now, performance is equal to what is accomplished and the value delivered.
According to Social Europe author Maria Mexi, the future of work in the post-COVID-19 era is working remotely and it is here to stay. “It looks near impossible to put that digital genie back in the bottle, once the health emergency is over,” says Mexi.
For business executives, this implies a vast, added responsibility — managing employees, ensuring effectiveness, and meeting projected business targets.
Challenges Business Executives Face In Managing Employees Remotely
It is easy to oversee a workforce when employees are in one location; however, as employees separate and transition to communications in a total virtual mode new hurdles are presented. Some of these challenges include:
- An information disconnect tracking work and productivity. Knowing how much a remote workforce can accomplish while maintaining a successful track record is quite tricky with everyone working at their own pace. It’s difficult to tell if someone is underutilized, overworked, or not pulling their weight through online platforms. This is usually a result of a lack of physical supervision. Managers may perceive that employees are not working as hard and efficiently as they ought to, even though this has proven to be untrue with jobs like sales.
- Distrust between business executives and employees. A manager might feel the team is not carrying out their job roles or might not even trust reports about completed work. When workloads and productivity are called into question, the mutual trust between supervisors and employees can erode.
- Complications with effective communication. Remote workforce communications are restricted to coordinating virtual models, which can be stressful to organize. Connectivity, and even timezones, may differ. For businesses with a workforce from different time zones, scheduling a virtual meeting time might be a little confusing if messages may be overlooked or delayed.
- Little or non-existent company culture. With employees working from different places, creating a company standard or culture and maintaining a status quo can be next to impossible. This is because there is no one physically present to ensure the rules are followed judiciously.
Surviving and Thriving While Working Remotely
With surging case numbers and stay-at-home orders, the traditional workplace has been left with no other option than to adapt to the remote work experience. As a business executive, it is essential to effectively shift and manage your remote workforce while maintaining productivity and profitability. This is achievable by evolving the strategic vision to answer and accommodate the challenges. The next step is to effectively align communications, platforms and tools, and teams.
Here are five tactics on how you, as a business executive, can successfully manage your remote workforce:
- Set targets (or KPIs) early and often. A remote workforce’s productivity can be tracked and measured if it meets a set target. You cannot know what has been achieved if there is no way to measure milestones. To make this easier and more straightforward, the manager’s focus for a specific period should be split into smaller goals for each employee to pursue. For example, if the collective goal is to acquire 20 customers for the firm in a week and there are five employees in the department, the 20 targets should be divided among five people which gives a person the goal of four customers each. Each employee’s productivity will be measured with the numbers of customers they can bring on-board (also known as a Key Performance Indicator).
- Embrace flexibility and organization. Certified business leadership coach Angela Civitella says, “When it comes to remote work teams, the key is to allow flexible hours to maintain consistency.” Planning should be flexible and able to be adjusted if tasks are hazardous for the employee and/or customer. For example, work hours can be left to the discretion of the employees as long as the job is done. Slack, project management platforms, and other collaboration tools can be integrated to feed organized threads of information into central locations.
- Schedule short frequent meetings. The team should set consistent time and day virtual meetings with Zoom, Webex, or Microsoft Teams to discuss issues, update on projects, and collaborate on ideas — i.e., whatever items you’d cover in the office! Though these meetings might not be as long as an in-office meeting, they should happen as frequently as possible so that employees don’t lose touch with the company’s shared mission and their team dynamics.
- Track the productivity and progress of your workers. Civitelle suggests asking employees for a work schedule along with tasks they are expected to accomplish within a given period. This mutual understanding has the power to allay your fears and give your team the structure they need to play their roles. Digital platforms can also aid in streamlining tasks, sharing information, and empowering collaboration
- Be an exceptional listener. Listen to feedback, your employees’ opinion about work, and ideas that can further improve the remote workforce and its productivity. Doing this brings a form of satisfaction to your team and elevates morale and performance. “The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging and err on the side of over-communicating,” says Justin Hale.
The Future of a Post-Pandemic Workplace
There are a host of challenges facing large enterprises as they work to re-open and navigate new waters, such as a significant threat in the form of employee job loss with managers having the option to replace traditional workers with remote workers or contingent workers for cost-efficiency. Business closures could possibly lead to an immense drop in sales for existing companies; therefore, resuming business in a traditional workplace might be difficult if there isn’t enough income to sustain having all employees in one location. Not to mention, organizations may need to consider getting necessary protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves, and thermometers, as well as employing sub-medicals or medicals who can perform the specific functions to ensure that staff and clients are kept safe. Undertaking extensive safety procedures can be incredibly burdensome to employers and managers.
As a result, remote work is likely for many to be the new normal moving forward. In fact, Gartner Research says an “increase in remote working” is the number one trend on its “Future of Work” list. Being highly adaptable, humans have gravitated towards virtual tools to keep up communications. According to Apptopia, Zoom usage increased 67% between January and March 2020. Another way to look at it: During coronavirus surges, Zoom added more users than its entire year for 2019. And that’s when it was already trending upwards.
Organizations will need to consider their employees’ well-being moving forward, which will require logistics like expanded data collection for tracking virtual activity and productivity, streamlined workflows designed for resilience and efficiency, and providing a social safety net for physical, mental, and social health. Video conferencing is a key to this transition, and it easily interfaces data with other productivity and collaboration management systems to holistically centralize workplace activities.
A time like this is an excellent opportunity to embrace transformation as video conferencing, platform technologies, and collaborative communications hold the key to successfully navigating the new remote-work-normal.Some job descriptions may not fit the new remote work model while other departments will require downsizing. In this midst of this, business executives should look out for the well-being of their employees and find ways to transition roles that are currently underutilized into ones that will yield profit for the business. Despite disparate locations, unstructured hours, and virtual management, leadership can effectively move forward by setting sustainable, achievable goals, keeping morale high, regularly communicating with employees, and being open-minded in listening and seeking out new solutions. 2020 may have posed an enormous shock but it can also be the catalyst for a growth-oriented, revitalized workforce.
C Via Unsplash by Chris Montgomery. Via Unsplash by Manny Pantoja.