The COVID-19 pandemic means that remote work, telework and working from home are the new norm for millions of typically office-bound or travel-heavy American workers.
Concerns about contagion have brought about travel bans, self-quarantines and a pause for in-person gatherings, including office work, as curbing these group events is an effective way to limit or slow the spread of viruses.
For many American workers, this is their first time working from home and/or managing a remote team. Those who are fortunate enough to take their jobs remote and keep working are also dealing with the mental and emotional stress of the pandemic, such as watching over children who aren’t physically in school, caretaking for elderly family members, seeing their hours or salary reduced, and more.
It’s still too early to tell how the many aspects of the pandemic will play out, but for those companies keeping the lights on by converting to a virtual workforce, it’s safe to say that communicating cultural values and recognizing employees for their contributions are more important than ever.
Companies that have entire groups or even 100% of employees working from home, seemingly overnight, may struggle to create new routines and behaviors that keep everyone engaged and help them feel the connection and continuity of an in-person team.
As employees get office spaces in their homes set up, managers should encourage workers to plan a reasonable schedule, take breaks, take care of their bodies and connect regularly. In addition, here are five tips for fostering continuity and recognition for your remote employees:
1. Get to know them on a more human level
Continue to schedule one-to-one meetings, or better yet, make sure to proactively call employees to check in — both professionally and on a human level. Communicate via video for face-to-face conversations and make time for informal conversation, much like you would have around the conference table or in the hallway during a coffee run. And appreciate the sounds of life that will inherently be in the background — kids, pets, etc.
2. Coordinate convenient meeting schedules
Schedule meetings at a convenient time for all or rotate the time so one group or individual isn’t the one who always has the lunch or dinner-hour conference call. This is especially helpful now that workers have in-home caretaking responsibilities without the usual out-of-home support. With video conferencing, make a concerted effort to pause and solicit input from those who may not be as vocal. Rotate which employees present to the team.
3. Leverage technology
Use technology to establish informal communication. Collaborative software like Slack, a closed Facebook group, a group chat or other internal system provides an online water-cooler spot. Encourage employees to follow your lead in using such systems to keep in touch, get to know each other, share human moments and spark creativity.
4. Keep celebrating milestones
Whether it’s an employee’s birthday, a years of service milestone or the accomplishment of task that seemed daunting in a remote environment, keep recognizing employees and keep team members in the loop. Although no one is able to physically “attend” a celebratory event, Skype or FaceTime them and send them a special note.
5. Leverage existing recognition systems
If you already have a cloud-based recognition program in place, leverage it wherever possible to engage remote workers. Generate more recognition companywide, create special award initiatives and send them out as a show of solidarity, or use in-built social recognition features to stay in contact and comment on achievements.
Together while apart
A positive work culture means that employees talk with each other, build ideas off of each other and are efficient at making decisions, even while everyone is remote.
In today’s uncertain climate, the certainty of recognition is comforting. Employers that continue to foster trust and managers that ensure workers feel included in this remote environment will be essential to weathering this storm. By making a consistent effort to continue to recognize and appreciate all of your employees, you can create a collaborative environment that ultimately benefits all members of your team.
Cord Himelstein is vice president of marketing and communications at HALO Recognition.