The Challenges of Remote Work During Crisis

According to the telecommuting trend data published by Global Workplace Analytics, over 5 million US employees (3.6% of the workforce) currently work from home either on a part time or full time basis. Moreover, 56% of employees are in jobs which allow the possibility of remote work. With that said, whether you are used to working from home or not, now is an incredibly exceptional time for us all to reflect on the way we work. The current situation has forced us all to adapt. For some, these are uncharted waters, while for the percentage of people already classified as a remote employee, this is a chance for them to hone in on their abilities even more. 

“The Japanese Kanji, the sign for crisis, has 2 components in it, threat or opportunity”

We can look at this current situation as something that is happening to us, or rather, something that has happened for us. I had the opportunity to speak with Sophie Steffen, CEO & Founder of Kunoichi, a marketing agency focused on performance management. We talked about mental health, how to work from home productively, micromanaging, and spoke about the challenges managers face during this time. Sophie’s valuable tips to help employers and employees while working remotely, can be applied to any remote work situation.

Read or watch the interview here…

The Struggles of Remote Work 

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘doing’ and fail to notice the need to take a step back and ease into the ‘being’. The current remote work situation isn’t the easiest to deal with and is leading many people to mental exhaustion and burnout. 

I read a quote recently that said, ‘We’re not working from home, we’re at home during a crisis trying to work.’ I wanted to get Sophie’s insights into this and draw on her own personal experience from the coaching work she does. 

“The quote is quite interesting because it reflects that we think it’ll be automatic that we can just transition to work from home and we’ll be able to do our work as before. Every change results in a change in us. Managers should be very sensitive to these changes and focused on the team vibe and spirit”

Do you have any practical tips that managers can apply, to help support their employees during this crisis time?

Sophie recommends that managers should make time to check in with their employees on a regular basis. These routine check-ins should be used not only to discuss work, but to make sure the employer knows whether an employee is struggling and what their frustrations are. From these talks, you can also gather feedback to help you learn better what would motivate your employees. Many people’s roles have needed to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for this reason, it’s incredibly important to see the opportunity in this. Employees have the chance to step up and adapt themselves to the new norm. This opportunity forces staff to be creative, think outside the box, and grow in ways they may not have imagined.

“This is also an opportunity for your team to take a moment to see how everyone is doing in their current situation and see where they want to go”

Let’s Talk Micromanagement of a Remote Employee

Why is micromanagement an issue and how is it affecting employer/employee relations?

You’re now a remote employee, which means, you’re also now needing to be the master of working with more tools than you did before. Whether you’re an employee or employer, you’re probably quite familiar now with Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, and other tools to help optimize your work while working from home. Now, even though we are connected more than ever, this tends to lead to quite a bit of micromanagement. When your employees aren’t physically in the office, it’s in many people’s programming, to wonder whether their employees are actually working from home, or hardly working. This, according to Sophie, is one of the things that is causing employers to micromanage. 

“Micromanagement is a problem because it means that you don’t trust your workers”

Incentivizing the trust is great way to tackle micromanagement. As a manager, it’s important to ask yourself, what needs to happen so you can trust your team. This is a perfect time to set your OKRS and KPIs and look at where your team is as whole, and where you want to go. By asking for input from your employees, you show vulnerability, and in return will receive empathy and respect from them.

Productivity & Remote Working 

At Factorial, we’ve begun replacing one of our weekly check-ins, to focus on getting to know each better, rather than speaking about work. Many people are being digitally onboarded right now, and it’s a difficult time for those, as many are finding it challenging to feel fully incorporated into the team. This is why these weekly team building exercises are so important. Rather than being a waste of time, they are actually helping boost employee productivity. Vox, recently wrote about working from home and its effect on productivity; the conclusion was, although the majority of people who work from home are actually more productive, this tends to be the opposite during a pandemic. For this reason, it’s crucial employers create ways to boost productivity. This leads us to what Sophie and I spoke about next.

What are some ways to better manage remote employees while boosting productivity?

Many employee are feeling less productive during the day, despite working the whole day. Most people are finding they need to work longer, to compensate for the lost time. 

“Sometimes if we want to step things up, our mind thinks we need to do more, but sometimes, we need to take a step back”

Just as an athlete needs to take a break to let their body rest, employee’s should do the same if they want to boost their productivity. Overworking only leads to higher stress and fatigue. 

“The rest part is equally important as the work, in order to reach a goal;… it’s combining these two, in order to juggle the aspects to go where you want to go”

Sophie touched on many important nuggets of information about rest and the importance of quieting the mind in order to allow for space to digest all the information that we put it. 

What sorts of practices would you suggest for slowing down and quieting the mind?

Meditation is an invaluable tool for managing what Sophie calls, the treadmill (or also known as, our monkey brain). She shared with us that it’s vitally important to learn how to let go and to take a step back, in order to let the abundance of creative ideas flow to us. 

A practice of meditation may not be something your company is receptive to, but, manager’s should find out what will work for their employees as a strategy to help them calm their minds. Now, more than ever, finding a practice of rest within the go-go-go of a busy work schedule, is important for the survival and success of an organization. Not only that, but finding the right telecommuting balance is key.

What is the employee’s responsibility when it comes to maintaining their health and wellbeing as it relates to the job?

There is a lot of responsibility that is placed on the employer and what they can do to support the mental health of their employees, but employee’s need to contribute too. Sophie recommends employees to be very strict on their pauses and their breaks throughout the day. The moments of disconnection are what helps boost your productivity. In addition, maintaining focus while working from home does prove challenging. 

Some practical tips for keeping your focus include:

  • Turning notifications off
  • Setting structure to your workday
  • Taking designated breaks and pauses
  • Eating your breakfast and lunch off-screen
  • Focusing on your hobbies in your free time as they are equally important for your productivity as the actual work

“I would prefer my team to be working, rather than responding, because if they’re responding, that means they’re not working”

Employers cannot force their employees to adopt these practices; however, they can encourage them, by leading with example. By stressing the importance of finding your own formula, Sophie believes that employees will be able to find what works best for them. 

Final Reflection on Crisis

Our interview with Sophie, unraveled a goldmine of tips and helpful practices that employers can draw on to help support their workers during this time. If you’d like to listen to the full interview, check it out by clicking on the video below. Sophie and I dove more into how managers can pick up on the subtleties employees may not be openly expressing (10:45) and what employees can do to better manage their mental health (13:25). We also spoke about how a phased return to work approach is essential when transitioning employees back into the office.

We’d like to thank Sophie Steffen for sharing all her insights and tips on remote work with us, we hope you’ve benefited from them. Leave us a comment down below, on Youtube, or share this post on social. 

If you’d like to download our free remote working checklist, you’ll find it here.

This post is also available in: English UK

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