Addressing Remote Work Productivity and Employee Safety
In this post, we discuss common challenges employees face in a remote working environment and ways employers can improve remote work productivity and safety.
In a matter of months, the coronavirus pandemic transformed remote working from a rare perk offered by a small subset of companies into the norm for millions of millions of employees. Before the pandemic, only 3.6 percent of American workers primarily worked from home. Today, nearly half of all employed adults are working remotely, and researchers expect many will never return to a corporate office.
While opinions about remote work vary from person to person, most agree spending day after day between the same four walls has its challenges—particularly when it comes to remote work productivity. In addition to technological hiccups, working remotely for long periods can lead to loneliness, weariness, and ambiguity concerning where to draw the line between professional and personal time commitments.
Whether you’re a fan of the home office or you’re missing your daily commute, remote working is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Although many businesses have begun to re-open, addressing remote work productivity and employee safety should be a critical component of any business continuity planning.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the most common challenges employees face related to remote work productivity, opportunities for organizations to improve both remote employee safety and working conditions, and the tools you need to make those initiatives successful.
Remote Work Productivity Statistics
As employees transitioned to working from home offices seemingly overnight during the pandemic, many began to speculate remote work productivity would suffer. With organizations left with no viable alternative other than to adopt remote work—including many that were previously resistant to the idea of employees being away from the office—researchers were keen to understand if, and to what extent, remote work would impact employee productivity.
- An August 2020 survey by Harvard Business School found that one-third of organizations that switched to remote work due to the pandemic expect it will remain more common after the health crisis ends.
- A September 2020 survey of 1,200 chief information officers conducted by Enterprise Technology Research found that 48.6 percent felt productivity had improved since employees began working remotely compared with only 28.7 percent who reported a decline in productivity.
- Similarly, Upwork’s annual Future Workforce Report found that roughly one-third of hiring managers felt remote work had a positive impact on productivity—a greater share than those that felt productivity suffered.
As it turns out, while remote work productivity differs from that of in-office employees, the net impact has been a positive one for the majority of organizations.
Common Remote Work Challenges for Employees
The shift to remote work is different for everyone. Some employees enjoy the extra time saved not commuting and the comforts of working in a familiar environment. Others may find their new remote work environment fraught with distractions and a blurring of the line between work and home life. Regardless, employers should be mindful that working from home may not be a home run for every employee and actively look for opportunities to help them address any issues impacting their productivity.
Let’s examine some of the most common issues that impact remote work productivity.
A pandemic originally expected to last a few months has stretched well into the new year and employees are caught in the middle. Remote working provides little opportunity for regular human interaction, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. For those who live alone, social distancing can easily feel like social isolation. It’s no wonder why there are increasing levels of anxiety and depression among workforces across the world.
To meet their duty of care, companies need to actively reach out to employees and check in on their well-being.
Lack of face-to-face collaboration and supervision
Employees and employers alike are struggling with the lack of face-to-face collaboration and supervision in remote working environments. Many managers worry that employees won’t be as productive without in-person supervision while employees are often left with less access to leadership and managerial support. While not all companies are experiencing reduced productivity, there is no denying that supervisor-employee relationships are strained by a lack of in-person communication. For that reason, it is important to implement tools that allow managers to monitor the progress of those under their supervision and give employees access to managerial support when they need it.
Work from home distractions
Eliminating distractions is one of the biggest challenges employers face in the physical workplace. Working from home increases this challenge tenfold. Family members, playful pets, and household duties are now common distractions in the workplace. Empathy is more important than ever when facing this challenge. Employees need to know that you know there will be distractions and that it’s okay. However, there are ways that you can help employees limit the impact that distractions have on their workday.
Lack of structure
Working in an office breeds structure and routine. Working from home, however, often means the opposite. While employees can create productive routines from the comfort of their sweatpants, it can be difficult to separate work life from home life when the two are intertwined. It is important to strike the right balance by encouraging structured workdays while also giving employees the flexibility they need.
How Better Employee Communication Supports Remote Work Productivity
Now that we have discussed the biggest challenges your employees are facing while working remotely, let’s explore how to solve them. The following four steps will help your company address the challenges of remote work while creating a productive and safe environment for your team.
Step #1: Provide emotional support
The first step to boost productivity among remote workers is to listen to employee anxieties and concerns before stepping in to try to fix them. Here are a few steps you can take to provide emotional support to your remote employees:
- Encourage employees to take mental health days if they are feeling overwhelmed
- Host virtual coffee chats or happy hours
- Send employees small gifts or care packages
- Provide your team with virtual mental health or counseling resources
- Allow time for employees to share their pandemic experiences with each other
Research shows that many employees look to supervisors for cues about how to respond to stressful or unforeseen situations. If managers show empathy and offer emotional support, that can have a trickle-down effect on your entire organization.
Step #2: Establish regular check-ins
Your people need to know that you care. Wellness checks are critical for managers to stay informed on the well-being of employees and provide any necessary accommodations. Your organization should implement two types of check-ins: team and organization-wide.
- Team: Managers should implement regular check-ins with those on their teams to give employees a chance to align with their managers, ask questions, and provide a status on their wellbeing. These check-ins should be face-to-face calls as human interaction is, unfortunately, a rarity during the pandemic.
- Organization-wide: Your company should also implement organization-wide wellness checks by sending out a survey every week or two, asking how employees are doing. This allows companies to identify who needs help and ensure that no one slips through the cracks. This also lets employees know: We care about you, and we want to know if you are okay. This is a critical message for employees to receive—not just from their managers, but from the very top.
- Help employees limit distractions: When it comes to distractions, it is important to strike the right balance. On one hand, employees need to know that you understand disturbances will arise from their unconventional working environment. The last thing you want is your employees terrified at the prospect of their child running in during a video conference. However, it is important to encourage employees to take smart steps to keep distractions at a minimum. This includes setting up a consistent workspace, ideally in a room alone. Many companies have stepped up to help employees purchase items they need to set up a distraction-free home workplace (like computer monitors, desk lamps, and noise-canceling headphones).
- Encourage a structured workday: Finally, employees need to have a structured workday—even if that structure looks different than before. Although there are benefits to your team following similar schedules, this may not be possible for every team member. Nevertheless, you should encourage employees to set up a routine to the extent that they can. Maintaining normal business hours will keep your team connected and lower lag time in intra-team communication. However, if someone needs to feed their kids at a certain time, check in with an elderly relative, or has a non-negotiable obligation—encourage them to build that into their routine. Having structure allows employees to stay productive and provides a sense of normalcy in abnormal times.
Tools that Support Remote Work Productivity
The previous solutions can go a long way to helping your business run smoothly during the remote working stage of the pandemic. However, effectively putting those solutions in place requires reliable tools to get your company ahead of the game. Here are the must-have software tools for productive remote working:
Collaboration and messaging
Messaging tools like Slack can provide a helpful alternative to email—especially for smaller companies or teams within a larger company. Even without remote work, email inboxes are liable to get flooded quickly, so having a tool for quick communication eases the load on your employees’ inboxes. Likewise, project management tools like Wrike, ClickUp, and Trello are built specifically for team collaboration. Keeping track of multi-faceted projects is challenging under the best of circumstances—it is far more so when your team is working separately with little to no face-to-face interaction. Luckily, there are plenty of modern solutions that provide features tailored to remote teams, helping everyone stay productive and on the same page.
While Zoom fatigue is very real and can be a struggle for remote workers, video conferencing solutions like Zoom and Microsoft Teams remain critical tools for any organization with multiple offices or large remote teams. Phone conference calls are not an adequate substitute for in-person meetings, so face-to-face interaction is a crucial part of preventing social isolation among your team. Don’t succumb to the temptation to replace meetings with calls. Tools like Zoom make it easy to set up meetings and provide valuable functionality like screen-sharing.
Mass notification and emergency communication
Finally, it is crucial to have a mass notification system at your disposal during the pandemic. Company-wide communication is much harder with a dispersed workforce—but is perhaps even more necessary. Here are just a few reasons you need an emergency communication system when your workforce is remote:
- Wellness checks: A mass communication system like AlertMedia allows you to easily send surveys to all your employees and check in on their wellbeing. Doing so allows you to stay informed and act quickly to accommodate employees who have tested positive for Coronavirus, are struggling with their mental health, or are dealing with unprecedented challenges. These check-ins should not replace one-on-one check-ins from managers, instead, they should be sent to every employee from your organization.
- Multichannel communication: When everyone is in a physical office, company-wide announcements can be as simple as calling everyone into a room or sending out an email and allowing word-of-mouth to fill in those who miss it. Gathering everyone around is a more tedious task with remote work, however, and emails are far more likely to be overlooked. To ensure your entire company receives a message, you must send it out via multiple channels—SMS, email, and voice. You can even utilize AlertMedia’s conference call feature to replicate the effect of calling people into an impromptu meeting in the conference room. Multi-channel communication will streamline your communication and ensure that no one slips through the cracks.
- Two-way communication: Routine announcements, quick exchanges, and back-and-forth discussions between small groups are all well-served by email. But when your company needs to communicate critical information to everyone, an email will simply not suffice. A mass email is just a broadcast message, with no invitation to open a dialogue or ask questions. You might as well be using an office-wide loudspeaker. Sending individual emails to every employee is not a realistic alternative either unless your organization is incredibly small. An emergency notification system, however, solves this problem for you—sending individual messages to every employee and consolidating every response thread into an easily accessible dashboard for your administrators to manage. This is why nearly 70% of AlertMedia customers use their system to provide direction around business operations. For sensitive topics like your organization’s COVID-19 response, two-way communication is essential.
- Threat intelligence and monitoring: Advanced systems like AlertMedia also include threat intelligence capabilities, so that you can keep track of emerging and ongoing critical events around the world. A powerful emergency communication software can help you achieve 24/7 situational awareness based on your employees’ locations. From severe weather and local COVID-19 restrictions to political demonstrations, this tool is invaluable for tracking which areas are at-risk and which employees are currently working in those areas.
Your remote working plan is only as good as the tools you have to support it. An emergency communication system with threat monitoring capabilities, like AlertMedia, can create a sustainable and productive remote working plan. These tools help monitor employee wellbeing, track the course of the pandemic, stay in line with ever-changing government regulations, and most importantly, help you keep your people safe and productive despite being apart.