Balancing Empathy and Accountability with Remote Workers

Written by Hannah Kirkland

Maintaining a supportive environment while still encouraging employees to be productive is a tough balancing act. Requiring employees to work from home with family staying hone as well, adds a new element to the balancing act. However, there are a handful of ways that you can maintain contact with employees this balance and ensure that your employees will come out of this situation productive and happy with your organization. 

Empathize

Staying productive while working through a traumatic event is hard. It’s essential that you and your managers are available to all employees. Leaders can help work through this time of uneasiness by setting a positive tone for employees and creating a calm presence that maintains a composed environment so employees can focus on their work. Additionally, consider encouraging self-care practices while people are working from home. With the daily overabundance of COVID-19 updates, encourage your workers to exercise, establish a routine, and take walks throughout their day. And remember to take this advice for yourself as well.

Initiate stress checks

Many employees will adapt well to working from home. But even in the best of cases, there are distractions, surprises and challenges that all employees will face. This will result in one of two things, added stress or reduction in performance. While HR and Managers need to be flexible and understanding, the work still needs to be done. Ensuring you have some scheduled time to check in on how employees are doing in this difficult time is more important than ever. But time is limited. Try checking in with your whole group using surveys to let your employees know you care. Or set up a group chat where workers can reach out to each other, their manager or HR. so they know they are not alone. There are a number of of different programs that are easy to setup, including Slack or Microsoft Teams. Consider asking questions regarding if they feel like there is enough communication throughout their team, if it is clear what their goals are, and if they have all necessary items to complete their work.

Establish clear performance expectations

We all know that you can’t hold employees accountable for requirements that they do not clearly understand. With remote work, it is easy to miss a message or misunderstand what is meant in a written message as opposed to a discussion. This is a great time for HR to spend some time working with managers on how to effectively communicate direction and clear goals. It is expected and encouraged that they will be empathetic to their employees challenges and fears right now, but that conversation needs to move into what is needed to ensure the work is also getting done. This requires clear communication on a regular basis. These can be one-on-one meetings or in small groups. They can be via email or chat, but expectation communications are best done via video chat to ensure everyone is providing their full attention. These types of meetings will work to provide support while also measuring a worker’s success and productivity. Which will provide a smoother transition when it is time to return to work.

Offer flexible schedules, time management resources, and clear work-from-home rules 

In order for your employees to be productive and reduce time theft, it is important to be flexible with working hours when possible. Employees that are allowed to break up their work day while working from home will often get more work done due to having more time when they can focus. This doesn’t mean that you need to allow employees to work when they want, just to have a means to allow for work outside of the standard 8-5. Providing a time management system Allows managers insight into where employees are spending their time, and allow employees to communicate when they will be working so that teams can schedule proper interaction and ensure workflow is effective. Working with employees to determine hours that will work within their home, especially if they are trying to manage their children’s homeschooling schedules can create loyalty, reduce stress, and make it more likely that the employee will return when this time is behind us. And communicating clear rules of when employees are required to be available and when they can have flexibility will ensure coverage for customers and that deadlines are met.

Make sure your employees have what they need to be productive

For many, working remotely is more difficult than coming into the office. More than likely, your company is already working from home if it is possible due to most states being under Stay-At-Home orders. In order to hold employees accountable at this time, it is up to the employer to provide the tools needed to get the work done. Encourage workers to have a dedicated workspace if there is an area in their home where they can do so. Provide a means of communications for employees who realize they do not have something that they need to do the work. Provide guidance on how to set up an ergonomically friendly workstation at a table or desk. Allow employees a small budget for obtaining items that are generally available at the office, such as file folders or a stapler, that they might not have at home. And most importantly, ensure the proper so software and/or applications needed to discourage employees from downloading solutions that may be damaging to your IT infrastructure or their individual devices. establish a working routine, and ask them if they are unable to fulfill certain aspects of their job because they are not in the office. 

Bring attention to company resources for mental health

Your benefits program is a good place to begin. Ensure employees understand and know how to access medical, and mental health providers covered under their plan or an Employee Assistance Program. Communicate relevant policies such as paid leave, benefit continuation or work-related product reimbursements. Don’t just explain these benefits one time. Provide regular communications regarding local and state provisions avaiable to those who are ahving difficulties managing such as food distribution. Suggest taking mental health breaks including yoga, meditation or walking outside. You may even want to provide a resource for employees to use such as an online exercise program. As uncertainty mounts and we are unsure of when we can go back to the office, workers will need different resources at different times. So ensure communication is plentiful.

Offer opt-in team building activities

Working from home can be isolating and mentally taxing. Offer different ways that employees can continue to interact with each other. Examples could include a virtual “water cooler” lunch every Friday, playing trivia games with each other, and creating humor channels on Slack (or whatever messaging system you use). It will be beneficial for employees to interact with their coworkers in ways that are not solely work-focused. This can help to raise organizational morale. Be mindful that these events should be optional, but available to all. 

Throughout this time, HR and managers should work together, listen to employees’ concerns, and engage everyone individually and also as part of a group, so that productivity and support both remain high. 

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of the Employers Guide for Post-COVID-19 “Plan to Return Your Employees to Work”.