Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most disruptive situations that many of us have faced. What was a “luxury” for executives, and a “reward” for top performers, telework has become a necessity for many organizations in the present situation. For a few years, working from home was becoming a popular option for many Americans. In fact, by 2019, about 43% of workers were teleworking at least part of the time. An additional 25 – 30% of employees have had to work from home full-time since the “lock down” began. Many companies are anticipating that telework arrangements will continue after the pandemic. Some, like REI and Nationwide Insurance, have begun to close facilities based on that expectation.
The necessity of telework at this time has forced employers to figure out how to make that work and to invest in teleworking technology. Many employees have had to learn to use and adapt to this technology. Many of us who have, or are, teleworking now can appreciate its pros and cons. Most people prefer to telework. Teleworking eliminates commuting, reduces carbon emissions, reduces operating costs for employers, and generally provides a better work-life balance – especially for women, and increases average productivity. The challenges are that managing a remote staff can be difficult, professional isolation in a telework arrangement can have a negative impact on perceptions of job security and career development, and the long-term productivity of teleworkers is uncertain. If many of the teleworking positions necessitated by the pandemic will remain so after the crisis, how can leaders manage remote workers effectively?
One of the most important techniques is for managers to stay in “virtual” touch with staff through technology. Schedule team chats with apps like, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, and Slack. These virtual meetings can help people feel more connected, and a viable alternative to casual conversation between workers in the office.
Another technique is adapt teambuilding to the telework environment. Many companies have realized the importance of building and enhancing teams in a brick and mortar environment. It is just as important to do that with virtual workers. Among the most popular are online office games like virtual Olympics and scavenger hunts. Some provide opportunities to engage in friendly competition, while others are more “nostalgic,” like the virtual campfire where participants might use a candle to make s’mores. To get the team to know each other better, managers can consider online team-building bingo where each square contains information about an employee and players need to identify the employee to complete a row. There are hundreds of online options (check out this website).
Virtual meetings could include suggestions for home-based activities and projects to help overcome feelings of isolation. These could include reading, learning a language, engaging in a hobby, or learning a new language by setting goals and deadlines for the activity. Thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of meditation. What if the company engaged an expert to teach meditation techniques virtually? One of the most effective forms of mediation is mindfulness, which has been shown to improve physical health by relieving stress, treating heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain, improving sleep, and alleviating gastrointestinal difficulties. Psychologists and psychiatrists also recommend the technique to treat depression and anxiety. Some research even suggests that meditation can change the brain and body to promote more healthy behaviors. In our latest ebook, Mindfulness for Engineers, we outline some of the proven benefits, and even walk you through the basics of mindful and active meditation practices. Download our ebook.
It is a fair statement that America (and many other countries as well) were not prepared to handle the COVID pandemic. The government, the people, and businesses had to adapt quickly. Some of the “adaptations” will continue long after the present crisis. Experts predict telecommuting for many who were on site will be among them. So, company best practices for employee satisfaction and retention through teambuilding and virtual communication will be essential in the “new normal” of business.