COVID-19 has been a force to be reckoned with in our lives. The world’s worst pandemic in over 100 years is linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of illnesses, an economic downturn, and a complete alteration in the way in which we do business. It can be a lot to take for anyone.
Many business leaders are still navigating how to adjust their companies to the new realities that COVID has put in place. Organizations around the country are reimagining how work can be completed and still getting an amazing amount done given the constraints. All while doing their best to safeguard and protect employees.
It hasn’t always been easy though. Maintaining a productive workforce and vibrant company culture while working remotely is a business challenge for the ages. Leaders have been forced to step up to guide employees, and new workplace requirements that we have never seen before are cropping up.
It Takes a Leader
Leadership, especially mid-level leadership, in the workplace has never been more important than during the pandemic. Employees are confused, adjusting to work and home life realities for various reasons. They may not thrive working at home and are more than likely dealing with personal things that don’t always come up at work. Leaders who can guide them through the challenges, communicate company policies, and provide a stable work environment are essential.
Being an empathetic manager has never been more important. Regular check-ins with employees are valuable tools, both for keeping people on track and for providing support and brainstorming ideas to promptly solve problems. Both team check-ins and updates as well as one-on-one employee calls are valuable. Even something as simple as being an understanding ear to listen to the challenges employees are facing and coming up with workable solutions is important.
Social opportunities and company culture have been really difficult concepts to translate into remote work. Here again, leaders can shine by creating the setting for employees to thrive. Management style here is everything — strive to be the manager that balances company and employee needs, promote recognition of successes, and bring people together by treating everyone with respect and building people up.
Another unique challenge you may face as a manager of remote employees is making sure that everyone is actually able to participate to the fullest extent. Yes, that does mean encouraging those who hate video calls to turn on their camera when they are chatting and finding creative ways to keep people involved when they are more likely to fade into the background. But it also means making sure people have the simple tools necessary to work from home.
It could be surprising to some leaders, but many people can’t necessarily afford to create a home office space that they can work from. More often, employees are working setting up and taking down their office space at the kitchen table every day or sharing limited internet with a spouse or child in school. Still, some don’t even really have a good computer to work on at home or may not find it easy to jump on Zoom, Skype, or Teams for meetings.
Helping to make sure employees are set up to work from home when they have no other choice should be the company’s responsibility. Allowing employees to take their work computers home or providing some level of internet coverage can make a big difference. Something as simple as having reliable WiFi wherever employees are working can help relieve stress and improve productivity in the remote workplace.
We’re All In This Together
Working from home can be a challenge in about a thousand different ways, but one of the big ones that many researchers are noticing is loneliness. Workplace interactions provide a substantial subset of all social interactions that many people have in a day. Staying home from work — and perhaps staying away from most normal social outlets — can have a profound impact on our mental health.
As a leader, your job here is to be an advocate for productive social interaction at work and encourage a company culture that can still thrive. Most employees feel as though company culture is suffering a great deal during the COVID-19 pandemic and many say their company isn’t doing anything about it. We all know how much company culture can play into greater company loyalty, workplace satisfaction, retention, and overall productivity.
Some of the things you can do as a leader to keep culture strong involve creating social opportunities and virtual team building events such as:
- Professional development sessions
- Online coffee breaks
- Virtual birthday celebrations
- Online Lunch hours
- Outdoor, COVID-safe meetups
- Book club discussions before or after work
- A virtual Reciprocity Ring
Remote office culture is weird and largely still developing. As a workplace leader, you are in a prime position to help guide the creation of your company’s online culture. Provide regular check-ins, make sure everyone is set up to work from home, and create opportunities for social interaction and you are well on your way!
About the Author
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and leadership topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.