The Five Must-Haves for Remote Leadership Success

Posted by Toolie Garner and Alison Heller-Ono on February 15, 2021

Leadership successThe COVID-19 pandemic has turned our working world upside down, changing what we know about how work can be done. Whether you are thinking about how to get by with remote working now or are rethinking how your company will operate going forward, here are five must-haves your company needs to successfully lead a remote workforce.

1st Must Have: A Remote Work Policy

Will remote work continue past 2021? Yes, definitely. Why? Because of COVID-19 itself! This pandemic is unlike any national crisis we've seen in over 100 years. This is a deadly, highly transmissible disease that has ravaged the USA. We're fortunate now that vaccines are coming to the general population, but they're not yet widely available. As you know, the initial rollout has been difficult, but things are improving.

It's not clear how long the vaccine protection will last. The vaccines we have are available under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). That doesn't mean they're unsafe, it just means that we don't have the amount of efficacy data we usually have when a new vaccine is released.

And just in case you weren't worried enough, the COVID-19 virus continues to mutate (that's what viruses do). So far, it is believed that these mutations won't undermine vaccine efficacy, but that situation changes daily.

Even after a large percentage of the US population is vaccinated, employees will be reluctant to return to a "congregate setting" such as an office. Why? Because they're concerned about their own health issues or those of their families. Some workers are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions and need to stay away from congregate settings. Some workers will need to protect vulnerable family members by staying away from the office.

There will likely be a portion of the population who won't accept the vaccination. That means COVID-19 will be able to continue infecting people until enough people have immunity that the virus has nowhere to go. The latest projections on when we might reach "herd immunity" on the basis of vaccinations vary widely because the virus itself is mutating. There is currently no clear picture as to when this pandemic will be under control in the USA. Remember, we have to vaccinate the whole world to bring COVID-19 to a complete halt.

Given all these factors, it's time to prepare your company to accommodate remote workers by creating a remote work policy. This written document should include the five must-haves for remote leadership success: remote team dynamics, health and safety issues, legal issues, safety and ergonomics at home, and your company's desire to retain good workers.

What Should Your Remote Work Policy Include?

Remote work policy should include but is not limited to:

  • Eligibility to work remotely
  • Individual scheduling flexibility
  • Clearly defined working hours
  • Confidentiality
  • Safe work environment at home, including ergonomics
  • Equipment provisions and stipends
  • Reimbursement of expenses

Having a written policy protects both worker and management and ensures that expectations are correctly set for the productivity, health and safety of your teams going forward.

2nd Must Have: Training for Remote Team Management

Before continuing, let me ask you as a manager: do you feel anxious or nervous that you cannot see what your team members are doing at any particular time of day? Having a remote workforce can make you feel like you're not in control of the teams for which you are responsible.

Do you feel like you're getting from your employees the same amount of work, less work, more work, or are you just unsure? If you've been a "drive-by manager," interacting with employees as you encounter them, it may feel strange to not be able to approach individuals at any given moment, and that you need instead to be more intentional in your guidance by scheduling time with them.

If you have not been more specific in your expectations for the amount of work you need to see or receive from your employees, it may feel like the volume of work and/or overall productivity is down. If you start to break down the work to be done into trackable tasks and keep it in an online system like Workfront.com or Monday.com (collaborative work management tools), both you and your employees will have a sense of completion on a regular basis.

It's important also to include times of the week when team members can just relax together -- a late-afternoon happy hour, for example. Some companies have time once a week where they intentionally multi-task together on a video call. Each person is working on their own tasks, but the lines are open so that casual conversation can take place, just as if you were sitting next to them on-site. It's amazing how something that simple can improve morale and reduce the sense of isolation.

You need to set up training for managers to address issues like those referenced above. Don't assume that simply because team members are out of sight, the same managerial techniques used with on-site teams will work when dealing with employees remotely.

3rd Must Have: Set Employee Boundaries and Expectations

Employees tend to be more productive when working from home. The majority of people I've researched say that they don't miss that daily commute. Working from home used to be "private." If an employee had a dentist appointment in the middle of the day, they could comfortably start work in the morning, leave for their appointment, and come back without feeling the need to "check in" when they return. Now that we are all working from home, everyone can see into our workspaces because we are expected to be on video for meetings.

And thus, team members are more likely to be online working at all hours of the day and night. The distance between where they work and where they relax could be as little as 6 feet, from the kitchen table to the couch. It is harder to close the laptop and walk away when there is one more email to answer, or a document to finish.

It's important to set time boundaries for them so that they feel like it's OK to walk away from their laptop and have time with their families. If employees don't have a dedicated work area, encourage them to create one if space allows. Provide for them either a workstation or stipend that'll let them purchase the necessary equipment. It'll be easier for them to say to themselves and to their families, "OK, I am now at work, please do not disturb until it's break time" or something equivalent.

Speaking of families, do not assume that your team members will know how to have a conversation about boundaries with their families. Most homes are not set up with dedicated workspaces unless either parent run businesses out of their home. Provide guidance to your team on how to determine rules for their families that help preserve your team member's attention span, their energy, and their ability to deliver on the work your company requires.

4th Must Have: Reliable Remote Access, Technology, and Network Security

By now your company has probably addressed remote access to a limited extent if remote working was not previously a common practice. It's essential that the robustness of that network access be assured, so access is stable and daily work can continue unabated. There are networking and security companies that can assist you in evaluating your current network quality.

Given that team members are sharing Internet access with other family members, it's a really good idea to provide reimbursement of Internet connection expenses so that your employees can afford better and faster Internet plans. A company I worked with provided up to $100/month to their employees when they submitted their Internet bills on an expense report. That allowed their employees to boost productivity as a result of better Internet speeds.

When it comes to monitoring of employee activities on corporate networks, this is not a new concept. When employees are on-site, your company controls that network and has a right to secure it accordingly.

But now employees are accessing the network remotely, and they wonder whether their company is spying on them at home. It is legitimate to monitor remote network connections to anticipate network failures, but it becomes a grey area when you're monitoring their activity now that they're logging in from their own network. Your company's responsibilities and expectations need to be a part of your written remote work policy, and must abide by the privacy laws in your state.

5th Must Have: A Remote Safety and Ergonomics Policy

When it comes to safety at home, there is no Federal or State regulation for employers to comply. However, when thinking in terms of risk management and injury avoidance, a workers’ compensation claim can be filed anywhere your employee is performing their essential functions for you. An injury can be caused or aggravated by work. So, if the employee is working from home when they become injured, then it could very likely be compensable. For this reason, the final must-have is to tighten up your safety and ergonomics policy to include how to work safely and productively from home.

If your safety and ergonomics program prior to the pandemic was not that robust, you will need to update it to include work from home now. Employees need guidance on physical workstation set up, lighting and electric cord management, safe work habits and practices, and how to create a more comfortable environment with the tools and equipment they have at home.

Don’t assume employees understand how to set up an ergonomic home office with the laptop you provided. Employees need to be taught good ergonomics. Your remote work from home safety and ergonomics policy should offer guidance through a periodic live webinar or on-demand training stored in a learning portal (great for onboarding!). Training should cover ergonomic risk factors, home office setup and safety, quick fixes, and other strategies. Include an opportunity for coaching or a remote assessment by a qualified ergonomics professional, just as you would if the employee was onsite and needed help with their ergonomics.

Your Must-Haves for Remote Leadership Success

It’s no easy task to change on a dime! And that’s what we all did last March, 2020. Kudos for you for getting it done and thriving into 2021. Now, it’s time to tighten up your remote process for leadership success. To recap, our five must haves gives you plenty of scope and direction to move forward.

To review:
1st Must Have: A Remote Work Policy
2nd Must Have: Training for Remote Team Management
3rd Must Have: Set Employee Boundaries and Expectations
4th Must Have: Reliable Remote Access, Technology, and Network Security
5th Must Have: A Remote Safety and Ergonomics Policy

Let's keep the conversation going. Register for our upcoming virtual seminar on February 19, 2021 at 11:00am PST.

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