As companies pivoted to working from home, managers and workers alike approved; in fact, 60% of Americans say they believe COVID-19 has changed the way we work for the better. Despite this enthusiasm for working from home, challenges persist, and a key concern for many leaders relates to workforce productivity—how do you know if the work is getting done if you can’t see it in progress?
In the absence of existing work-from-home policies, managers at many organizations have been left to create guidelines on the fly. And although it's tempting to check-in more frequently when you can't physically see your employees, working from home productivity—not to mention morale—can be thwarted by micromanagement. In fact, according to Gallup, the top four reasons people experience burnout are all related to their supervisor’s actions.
That doesn’t mean that you need to take a completely hands-off approach, though. Here are seven tips to help you ensure your team can thrive while working remotely.
1. Be Considerate of Their Obligations
Employees who are balancing caregiving duties with working from home face a double whammy of strain. And while they might have been successfully holding it together throughout the spring, most expected that kids would head back to school this fall. That's now looking increasingly unlikely in many areas.
Although work still has to get done, it’s more important than ever that you be understanding of these childcare gaps, which can lead to defections if you don’t handle them right. Businesses are particularly at risk of losing women, who shoulder the majority of the childcare burden. Women were nearly twice as likely as men to say they plan to leave their workplaces within the next year, reports Werklabs.
Employers can encourage those working remotely to create a schedule that works for them as much as possible: One survey finds that nearly three-quarters of employees say that “windowed work”—the ability to break up their day into personal and professional time—improves working from home productivity.
2. Hold Regular Check-Ins
When employees know they have a consistent time to touch base on projects, they feel more comfortable asking for help. They also feel ownership in their ability to do their work on their own timetable.
These scheduled opportunities can offer peace of mind on both sides. Employees can ask managers questions, and managers can get a clearer picture of their progress. Resist the urge to request updates at other times in a one-off fashion. Remember that employees are likely planning to fill you in during one of these meetings.
3. Request a Project Plan, Then Get Out of the Way
Sometimes, an assignment requires other departments to weigh in, and that can present a challenge in a distributed workforce. In fact, managers may even be concerned their teammate hasn’t thought ahead and covered all their bases.
But rather than undermine your colleague’s sense of responsibility by assuming they haven’t planned accordingly, ask for a rough schedule. That way, you can help identify potential roadblocks without appearing as though you are jumping to the conclusion that they wouldn’t have recognized the issue on their own.
4. Don’t Cry Wolf
If you mark every assignment as a top priority, your team will soon realize they are pulling out all the stops to meet a faux deadline. That kind of "rush" mentality can actually be counter-productive, as employees reach burnout status.
Naturally, of course, there are often times when a quick turnaround or a firm deadline is real. Workers will prioritize these critical deadlines if they trust you are communicating an actual need. But managers should realize their staff may be less apt to move into full-throttle mode if they are accustomed to frequent fire drills.
5. Prioritize Output Rather than Work Hours
It's tempting to micromanage employees’ working hours and schedules, but tracking working from home productivity should take into consideration the actual work that gets done, rather than the time it took. Trust your team to put in the hours they need to do a great job when they are working remotely while avoiding a set schedule as much as you can.
Of course, if you find that work is suffering, have a private conversation with the employee to try to get back on track. And it’s probably necessary to require attendance at team meetings if collaboration is essential for a project. Still, each meeting should serve a specific purpose; avoid scheduling meetings just for the sake of a meeting.
6. Share Praise Publicly
Working from home can leave people wondering if their accomplishments are being noticed, and they can increasingly become detached if they aren’t getting the recognition they crave. It’s important for managers to make sure to thank the team for a successful project and acknowledge their hard work.
But thanking them privately is only half of the equation. Use your company’s Slack channel, newsletter or other public forum to share their names and let them bask in the spotlight at an upcoming meeting.
7. Consider All Aspects of Tracking Tools
There are many new devices that can aid in measuring workforce productivity, and some companies have turned to tools that measure keyboard strokes, take webcam videos or otherwise use surveillance methods to see who’s working and what they’re doing.
While these tools may have their place in some workplaces—they can provide insight into what your employees are doing—they can also undermine trust for team members who find this level of reporting intrusive. Think twice about whether the possible increase in working from home productivity is a healthy tradeoff for the potential dip in morale.
While it’s human nature to want to “hover” over your employees when they are working from home, you’re likely to find you’ll get better work—and better attitudes—when you move aside and let your team do the work they do best, in the way that works best for them.