The topic of the remote workplace has never been more popular. As we enter a new decade, we are living in a unique time in history — a time when technological wonders evolve, improve and manifest on an almost daily basis.
Do you feel ready to tackle the management and training issues associated with technological advances and the growing remote workforce? Moreover, are you ready to support the increasing number of side effects of these advancements?
With the good often comes the bad. While there are endless articles praising the rise of remote work, there has also been an influx of articles about the potential negative impacts of working remotely. Some of the most common concerns include workplace stress and anxiety, personal and professional isolation, and difficulty “disconnecting” from work.
We will never return to a completely in-office workforce, nor are we likely to become completely remote. Remote work is not for everyone or for every position — which is OK. It is here to stay, but it’s going to keep growing until it hits a plateau of need, availability and desirability.
While there is an element of personal responsibility on the part of the employee to determine whether or not remote work is for him or her, it’s as equally important — if not more so — for managers and trainers of virtual employees not only to provide traditional workplace tools and training programs but also to offer some that are focused on the side effects and cultural norms that accompany the remote workplace.
What does this approach to training and management look like? Let’s look at three challenges individually to offer some insights.
How to Avoid an Increase in Workplace Stress and Anxiety
Remote work doesn’t naturally increase stress and reduce well-being for every person, nor will it naturally decrease stress and increase well-being for every person. However, the stress that remote workers do experience is typically driven by unclear communication and unknown expectations.
The best thing managers can do for their remote employees is create an outline of what they believe every remote and on-site employee needs to have in order to be and feel successful in his or her role. This outline is often different than what is reflected in a job description; rather, it includes the expected goals and objectives for the role. The next step is to note any gaps between current tools and processes and what is necessary to ensure success in a remote role.
From here, it’s important to reestablish a communications expectations. How often will the manager communicate with the employee? Is the culture one in which an employee can freely approach his or her manager to ask questions or discuss challenges if and when necessary?
Identifying potential pain points, developing resources and then training employees accordingly will go a long way in reducing workplace stress and anxiety. Otherwise, employees and managers will make many assumptions about expectations, process, tools and communications — which is where stress and anxiety can quickly take unwanted root.
How to Avoid Personal and Professional Isolation
The topic of isolation is popular among remote employees and managers alike. The concern is that remote workers, especially those who work mostly or completely from home, may isolate themselves, to the detriment of their social well-being. While this isolation happens for some people, it is important to note that the workplace is full of individuals who have different social expectations, preferences and tendencies.
Is it a manager’s job to focus on employees’ levels of personal isolation? No, but managers can minimize professional isolation by making the effort to check in with employees; set expectations for the level and frequency of communication; and hold meetings, whether one on one or with the full team, via video conferencing. These strategies are fantastic ways to build a stronger platform for professional connectivity at your organization.
How to Avoid Difficulty Disconnecting From Work
Advances in technology often make it more difficult to disconnect from work. From smartphones to apps and tablets to smart watches, there are a million ways to access the workplace digitally. However, everyone — whether working remotely or in the office — needs and is entitled to time off and an idea of what constitutes the end of the workday.
Although a manager cannot control what employees do on their off time, training and communication are paramount in promoting a healthy work/life balance for each employee. To help their employees disconnect, managers can:
- Communicate their expectations for work time and the structure of a workday.
- Create policies on working or sending emails after standard work hours.
- Train their employees on the negative effects of working too much and not enjoying personal time.
These solutions are easy to implement with a little bit of time and effort, but they become much more difficult when they’re used reactively to navigate a situation that has already gone awry.
The remote workplace is here to stay — and so might its challenges and struggles, if organizations don’t consider them in their management and training. It may take additional time and effort up front to establish new tools, policies and training, but the benefits of doing so far outweigh that cost — and the time it will take also far offsets the time it will take to try to solve problems in real time with no tools, no policies and no training.