Managing remote teams differs from in-house practices due to the simple reason of physical distance. Building relationships and trust can be hard to do over email or Skype, yet these are essential in ensuring high-quality output. Furthermore, not having the chance to communicate face-to-face can make it easier to miss the warning signs of employee burnout.
So if you're worried about the wellbeing of your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and want to make sure you're helping them achieve maximum productivity without pushing too hard, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Learn to recognize an overworked employee
Although most employers tend to be worried about their workers not doing enough, it may be a good idea to check whether yours are doing too much.
While the flexibility that comes with remote employment removes time-wasters such as commuting and office distractions, it also makes it easier to work overtime. According to data from 2019, remote workers are 43% more likely than in-house employees to log 40+ hours per week.
The biggest reasons for this include team support, enjoying what they do, and catching up on assignments, but it's also important to note that unrealistic expectations can play a big part in leading to employee burnout. Also, don't forget that work can act as a distraction from stressful life events, so be mindful of whether your team is using it as a coping mechanism.
As a team leader, it’s your job to consider both sides of the coin. In addition to tracking productivity and performance, make sure you're also keeping an eye on employee wellbeing. Look out for signs such as:
- Longer than average working hours
- Diminished quality of work
- Mood shifts, irritability, or cynicism
- Increase in sick days
- Unfinished tasks
These could all be clues about your employees' state of mind. Paying attention to them could help you make better decisions regarding how to manage to maximize engagement, without asking for too much.
Make work easier with software and hardware
One of the easiest ways to boost productivity without sacrificing job satisfaction is to look for efficient software, hardware, or workflow solutions which could help your team do more with less time.
With remote employees, you won't have much influence on environmental factors such as lighting, temperature, or air quality, all of which influence job satisfaction. But you can invest in technology that may make their job easier, more satisfying, or simply less frustrating.
Setting up a project management tool to ensure smooth collaboration or using productivity apps to encourage focus are both excellent ways of getting things done without sacrificing happiness or sanity. Even more, they can be especially helpful during overwhelming times when dealing with stress is proving to be more difficult than usual.
Encourage rest as much as hard work
Though it may seem counterintuitive, rest is an important contributor to productivity. But data shows that people often sacrifice sleep to finish tasks. For team leaders worried about efficiency, this is bad news. First of all, it's because insufficient sleep could lead to diminished creativity and slower problem-solving. Secondly, don't forget that a lack of rest could lead to a weakened immune system, which could put your team at a higher risk of becoming ill.
So how do you ensure that your team is getting enough downtime?
Well, for one, you can encourage employees to take time off. Secondly, consider offering benefits such as gym memberships and mindfulness training, or provide access to mental health resources. Any of these will encourage them to take better care of themselves, which is sure to result in better performance in the workplace.
You could, of course, take things even further and provide grocery deliveries, laundry, or childcare services so your employees aren't overwhelmed by their never-ending to-do lists and can focus on relaxing a bit more.
Give up on control and shift your focus to trust instead
Finally, if your goal is to build a well-functioning team that's not only productive but, even more, cohesive and exhibits high job satisfaction, it might be time for you to relax a bit as well.
Instead of micromanaging all work processes, teach yourself to let go of control and invest in building meaningful relationships with your employees. Prioritize effective communication through video-chat services, take the time to get to know your team members on a deeper level, and look for ways to support and mentor them. Offer constructive feedback on their work, and find ways to organize in-person or online team building activities that will promote collaboration and camaraderie.
If you're worried about your employees' workload during the COVID-19 pandemic, don't be afraid to ask how they're doing. If you've done the work to build an open and trusting relationship, they'll feel safe enough to tell you when they've got too much on their plate. This way, you'll be able to make any necessary adjustments to their list of assignments and allow them to focus on doing good work without sacrificing mental or physical health.
Managing a remote team comes with many challenges, even without the added stress of a worldwide health pandemic. Nonetheless, it's more than possible to nurture a team that's not just productive, but healthy and happy as well. While it will take more work initially, you'll find that investing the time is worth it – not just when it comes to results, but in terms of job satisfaction as well.
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