How Companies Can Support Remote Employees During COVID-19

Due to recent CDC recommendations around the coronavirus, nearly half of Americans are working remotely as of mid-February. For many employees, this may be the first time they’ve had to work from home. 

Before this crisis, working from home was already on the rise. In the past 12 years, the number of employees working from home had risen 159%, and over 5% of Americans now regularly work remotely. To support these remote workers, companies have also increasingly adopted systems that enhance remote communication and collaboration.

But in the past few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has forced countless companies to scramble to set up full-time work-from-home solutions for their entire staff. Thanks to technological advances, this switch can be just as productive (or even more so) than working in the office.

Since the majority of employees are accustomed to working at the office full-time, how can you quickly transition your staff to online work while still being productive?

Here are four tips to make the switch to online work as painless and efficient as possible:

1. Set Expectations

Having ground rules is essential when working from home. Most of your employees will likely be new to remote work and unaware of the expectations. Since it’s difficult to supervise remote work, set daily, weekly and even monthly schedules and hold frequent check-ins. Make it clear what work is due and when, and get your team into a recurrent virtual meeting routine. You can even set up a work-from-home contract that lays out all the expectations for your employees, including the hours they should be available online. 

2. Make Sure You Have the Right Technology

Ideally, employees should have access to the same tools and software on their home computers that they did on their work computers. Using your company’s VPN can ensure that crucial company data remains secure. You can also consider using a Google Drive so that your entire team can access and edit documents, or just ask that employees place work in the correct shared folders. If your office does not use a chat tool yet, such as Zoom or Slack, consider implementing one now.  Zoom and Slack also offer video chat options, as does Google Hangouts.

While email chains and instant messages are useful, don’t forget to incorporate video chats into your schedule. These help employees feel better connected, allow you to keep everyone in the loop (without creating a painfully long group email chain), and lessens the likelihood that something gets lost in translation. It also decreases the chances of employees zoning out or multitasking while in a meeting, attests Srini Koushik, Chief Technology Officer for Magellan Health. In addition, 59% of employees claimed that they prefer video chats to other forms of work communication when they’re out of the office. 

3. Encourage Employees to Take Their Breaks

When working from home, hours on the clock and off the clock can easily get muddled.  Encourage employees to take set breaks to refresh their minds. Ideally, these breaks will be taken away from their at-home office to help them distinguish between work and personal space (which many experts highly recommend). 

Furthermore, having a firm schedule alleviates stress by letting employees know that, even though they’re working from home, they don’t need to be working around the clock. Keep your team accountable for tracking hours worked, sick leave, and breaks honestly and with precision.  Ensuring that your employees always clock in and out encourages them to still maintain a good work-life balance, even when their work is at home.

4. Be Understanding

Most employees won’t get into the routine of working from home immediately. Give them time to adjust, and understand that working from home is not the same situation as working from the office, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. An employees’ children, spouse, and/ or roommates are likely to be home as well during this time, so try to be flexible and empathetic of their responsibilities at home.

Working from home doesn’t have to be a last-resort option. If done properly, working from home is a great way to cut costs on office space, improve efficiency, and keep your team happy year-round. According to a survey by Owl Labs, 83% of employees claimed the ability to work from home would make them happier at their jobs, and another 74% said that it would make them less likely to leave their positions. Though many managers fear that the CDC’s urging of companies to transition to telecommuting will equate to weeks of paid employee vacation, companies that set guidelines, implement the correct technology, and keep up communication with their team will find that working from home actually can work.