In early spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it. Schools shut down, toilet paper disappeared, and thousands of employees suddenly found themselves working from the kitchen table. As many of these impromptu remote workers and their employers soon found out, however, not all work-from-home environments are created equal. Remote work sounds like a cushy gig, but it takes the right combination of factors to make virtual employment beneficial for both parties.
If you’re thinking about hybrid or fully remote work for your staff, take note of the qualities that make for a productive, morale-boosting virtual work environment.
1. Flexibility is a cornerstone.
Not everyone wants to work from home all the time, and some don’t want to work from home at all. Rather than dealing in absolutes, giving your employees a choice empowers them to make the decision that suits their needs and preferences.
This may or may not be possible, depending on your industry. Teachers, for example, can’t easily switch back and forth between the classroom and the home office. But accountants, attorneys, and even therapists can perform at least some of their duties without physically coming to work.
Consider how flexible you can be in extending remote work options to your staff. When you can, let your employees choose if and when to take advantage of the opportunity to work virtually.
2. Expectations are clearly defined.
Employees are more likely to perform at their best when they know what’s expected of them, especially when the work environment changes or when they don’t have managers or supervisors nearby for direct guidance.
If you opt for a hybrid environment, where employees are sometimes in the office and sometimes at home, your staff needs to know what days they can work remotely, when they’ll be required to show up in person, and what protocols to follow when they choose to stay home.
Even for a fully remote setup, make your parameters crystal clear. Do employees still need to report at a certain time? If so, how will they let you know that they’re “clocked in” from home? How will you ensure that they’re taking legally required breaks but not taking advantage of minimal oversight?
Figure out what a successful hybrid or virtual work situation looks like from your company’s and stakeholders’ perspectives. Then, develop easy-to-follow guidelines for your employees.
Make sure your expectations are fair, however. One of the great appeals of remote work is its freedom, so avoid micromanaging unnecessarily. Requiring staff to dress professionally for Zoom meetings is reasonable, but telling them not to wear pajamas while they send emails is a bit much.
3. Employers help with the logistics.
Especially if your company has only recently shifted to remote work, your employees might not be totally prepared. Believe it or not, not everyone has a computer or WiFi at home, nor does everyone have a distraction-free workspace outside the office.
Get ahead of these issues by directly asking employees if their homes are prepared for remote work, and take inventory of how you’d be able to help them get there. Can your company afford to give out remote work stipends? Is there any tech you can invest in, like wireless headsets or laptops?
It’s important, too, to be aware that W2 employees can’t deduct any work-from-home expenses on their taxes. If they have to pay for equipment, furniture, software, or extra utilities in order to perform the job they do for you, you’re the only one who can reimburse them for those costs. Take care of your staff–particularly if working remotely is a requirement–and they’ll take care of you in the form of company loyalty and heightened productivity.
4. Support is extended proactively.
Aside from stipends or reimbursements, remote employees need to know that the same resources they had in the office are still available from home. Don’t assume that no news is good news in a hybrid or remote work environment–your staff might be struggling but not be comfortable enough to tell you.
Periodically reach out to and check in with your employees. Let them know how they can access human resources, supervisors, upper leadership, and tech support. Ask how they’re doing and what would make the remote work experience better overall.
This is also a great way to keep tabs on if remote work is worth offering long term. If your employees adjust well and maintain or exceed their in-office performance, you will have successfully modernized your company’s work model.
5. Patience is a company pillar.
The transition to remote work, even in the best of situations, will inevitably come with hiccups. It also comes with an understanding that the lines between your employees’ personal and professional lives blur somewhat. Their Internet may go down from time to time, or the occasional toddler may waddle past the camera during an important Zoom meeting.
These things are bound to happen–even to you–so you may as well take them in stride. Your employees will appreciate your recognition of the fact that they are indeed human, and they’ll be grateful to see you acknowledge your own humanity, too.
This doesn’t mean that expectations for decorum and responsibility go to the wayside; it simply means that you intentionally cultivate a company culture that acknowledges the reality of a hybrid or virtual work environment.
By resisting the urge to wield discipline where you can use humor or compassion instead, you’ll improve the remote work experience for both you and your staff. By viewing these moments as opportunities to build connections, you’ll strengthen rapport, learn more about your employees, and make an unforgettable (and inexpensive) investment in your #1 resource: human capital.
Some companies have used a hybrid or fully virtual work model for the last two years, while others are just now making the switch. Either way, it’s become abundantly clear that remote work is here to stay.
Implementing virtual work options is a learning process, though, for leadership and staff alike. Don’t be afraid to innovate and adjust as you go. As long as you remain patient and flexible, you’ll ensure a good experience and healthy environment for employees working remotely.