Many organisations the world over are noticing the characteristic and behavioural changes in some of their employees who are working remotely.  These same changes are being noticed by their customers too! The automated systems are processing away, churning out pre-prepared standard letters and responses, despite the many customer interventions by email, phone and physical post to change the process or to close an account etc.  The cohesion of a team working alongside each other in the same building, is being sorely tested during the pandemic.

In a recent global study, the following were determined to be the primary challenges with remote working.

Table showing challenges of remote employees

A lot of your employee’s lives are now more challenging and uncomfortable in every sense, particularly if they also have to home-school their children. They have no set routine, no distinction between their work and home life and absolutely no time for themselves, to just take a breath and relax for a while. They miss the stimulation of a separate work environment and the social interaction with their colleagues – but not the dreaded commute!  In most cases, there is a large percentage of your employees who favour remote working over onsite working, while lesser percentages favour either a mix of onsite and remote working and fulltime onsite work.  Have you been able to identify which of these categories your own employees fall into?

It is estimated the future of work practices will be a mix of onsite and remote work, and it is important to remember that for many people, remote working causes increased stress levels which impact on memory and cognition, to digestive issues and at times, high blood pressure.  Knowing how to re-engage all your employees fully will help improve their wellbeing and sense of belonging to your team and to your organisation as a whole.

The term ‘duty of care’ refers to the obligations placed on you as a leader and/or manager to act towards your employees and colleagues in a certain way, in accordance with certain standards. Now more than ever the emotional health and wellbeing of your employees must be a priority.

Virtual-based interaction has likely left some of your employees feeling detached, isolated and despondent, which makes it difficult for you as a manager to keep in contact with them.  In a remote-working environment, or a split-working environment, it is almost impossible to interpret how well your employees are coping when you communicate predominantly via email or screens.  Your body-language is limited and you cannot observe the subtleties of in-person communications.

There are proven warning signs of emotional trauma when employees are working in a virtual or remote environment. Use them to guide you in understanding your employee’s behaviours and as a benchmark for your own work practices while working remotely.  You are a role model for your employees and before you discuss any of these behaviours with your employees, make sure they cannot relate them back to you.

  • Distraction:
    • Are your employees focused or having difficulty concentrating on simple tasks?
    • Are they missing deadlines without being aware of it and have they begun to procrastinate?
  • Not participating in virtual meetings:
    • While they may be in attendance and you can see them on screen, are they actively engaging in the discussion and giving you a sign that they understand what you are saying and they are following the discussion?
  • Unusual fidgeting, unnecessary movement or stepping out of the screen:
    • Do any of your employees engage in these actions, which would normally be unusual for them?
    • Have they become more impatient at being in this meeting?
  • Emotional outbursts or anger:
    • Do any of your employees show signs they feel overwhelmed or under severe stress?
    • Do any of them become hugely defensive and respond sharply, aggressively and at times, possibly offensively?
    • Is this unusual behaviour for them?
  • Camera off:
    • Is there a policy in your organisation of all cameras being ‘on’ during virtual meetings?
    • Are your employees making eye contact with you and other colleagues during the virtual meetings – are they engaging ‘face-to-face’ with the team?
    • Do your employees suddenly turn the camera off and mute themselves?
    • Are they emotionally overwhelmed, completely disengaged and/or close to tears?
  • Non-attendance at virtual meetings:
    • Are any of your employees a ‘no-show’ at the prescribed virtual meeting time?

Managing the emotional and thus physical engagement of your employees takes time, empathy and patience.  Without this effort being made by you and the entire leadership team in your organisation, the risk to the mental health of your employees is great and the consequences of this on them, on your team and on the organisation will potentially be far-reaching.

Key Recommendations:

  • Conduct a weekly observation of each employee, using the warning signs above to guide you, particularly for those whose performance or engagement has dis-improved or changed noticeably.
  • Become more aware of the trends and behaviours of your employees; consciously observe them – over and above the operational activities – and apply the weekly process of checking the warning signs.
  • Exercise empathy (the ability to emotionally understand what your employees feel) in your communications to enable you to manage your own feelings of frustration, impatience or concern without becoming overwhelmed, while dealing with the emotional trauma of your employees.
  • Develop and sharpen your active listening and communication skills to increase your understanding of your employee’s feelings and behaviours.
  • Develop your coaching skills to enable you to offer support to understand the cause of their changed or new behaviours, and to guide you and your employee towards corrective measures.
  • Guide them through the remote working process and convey and confirm to them that you value them as part of your team, and as part of the overall organisation.

There is an old saying “Desperate times, require desperate measures!”

I hope you don’t resort to anything desperate, but please do contact me for a quick chat if you would like to know more about how to manage the difficult situations you and your employees find yourselves in, particularly relating to remote working.  And don’t forget about your customers in all of this!

Keep safe and well.

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