In our recently released whitepaper, we discussed some of the unexpected work-from-home benefits the COVID-19 quarantine has uncovered. Now we turn to some pitfalls companies and managers must navigate in order to realize all those advantages. To get the most productivity out of employees, companies should avoid making these mistakes.
Sticking to office protocol
Managing remote workers requires everyone to operate on the same page, with consistent processes and guidelines. A certain amount of rigidity is necessary to maintain order; however, the structured practices that governed office workflows may not be effective when the workforce is dispersed. No matter how strong your communication, delays and bottlenecks are inevitable. Documents will get misplaced. People will mistakenly work on older project iterations. Key contributors will need to step away to attend to family matters. Good managers will recognize these hindrances and make allowances. The best will monitor workflow and take note of processes that work, implementing them as standard operating procedures for working from home.
In the absence of established work-from-home standards, front-line managers will be instrumental in minimizing disruptions caused by COVID-19. With workers hidden from managers’ constant and direct supervision, active leadership will spell the difference between action and malaise. Quiet confidence and leading by example may work fine in an office setting, but managers must be visible during the crisis. Show your face often, both in a group setting as you lead virtual meetings, and in one-on-one talks with team members. Your presence will serve as a rallying point for your workers. It also will keep your finger on their pulses. You will be able to spot signs of burnout, frustration, and friction.
Failing to articulate expectations
Keeping the above pitfalls in mind, flexibility is one of the greatest appeals working from home holds for employees. The non-work pressures and time demands generated by the novel COVID-19 require employers to be even more flexible in terms of work schedules. Still, for teams to function, all members must be able to collaborate. Barring any emergencies, insist all participants be available for daily or weekly committee meetings, client pitches, and other critical times. Establish firm deadlines and milestones, individual responsibilities, etc.
Using the wrong technology
COVID-19 eliminates the opportunity for all but the most essential in-person contact, relegating communication and collaboration to electronic devices. Ensuring workers’ homes have adequate internet speeds and cell service is a no-brainer. So is building a stack of project management, teleconferencing, and other tools. But sometimes organizations fail to take into account which platforms are most appropriate for the type of work being done, how these tools interface with each other, and how they perform on the multitude of devices their workers will use to access them. Compatibility issues and slow connections rob workers of productivity.
Neglecting to delegate
When things need to get done remotely, managers sometimes decide it’s easier to do perform the tasks themselves rather than delegating to team members. This attitude risks overworking managers and focusing their attention on details and tactical actions when their brain power could be better used planning strategy and rallying the group. It also sends the message that managers may not trust their team to carry out important project steps. Delegate tasks that match workers’ strengths, but don’t always give the most important duties to the same few. This could be a sign of cognitive bias – the tendency to favor people we like or with whom we share interests or traits.
Ignoring data risk
Employees working from home, often using their own devices and local networks, are susceptible to data breaches, phishing expeditions, and other security concerns. Ensure they secure their WiFi, turn on firewalls, and delete suspicious email attachments without opening. Of course, they should also keep passwords private. Competitors, thieves, and vandals have ingenious ways of infiltrating networks and stealing or corrupting data. Times of upheaval also bring the bad actors out of their hiding places to perpetrate scams on unsuspecting employees. Remind them to protect their personal information, as well.
Leaving learning to chance
As the quarantine persists, companies will find it necessary to up-skill and cross-train current employees and interview and onboard new ones. Learning and development opportunities need to be both flexible and accessible. Professional development already has gone largely virtual, so remote workers easily can take advantage of online and digital training. Time that previously was spent commuting to the workplace could be devoted to coordinated learning of new skills. But it will not happen without dedicated employer encouragement and allocation of resources.
Managing time rather than performance
It is unrealistic to track remote employees’ activities and time spent on the job. That should not matter, because team accomplishments – not the time it takes to achieve them – should be managers’ primary focus. Doing otherwise runs counter to the techniques that experts recommend for reaching maximum productivity – taking frequent breaks, establishing boundaries, and maintaining work/life balance. Much like employing freelancers and contract workers, employers need to measure performance based on deadlines met and quality of work received. How and when workers get the job done is of little significance during the current pandemic.
COVID-19 is providing a large-scale test of the feasibility of work-from-home productivity using traditional employees as well as freelancers, consultants, and other non-staff workers. To gain a true picture of the benefits and downsides remote work brings to your company, you need to judge it on its own merits. Avoiding these managerial mistakes prevents outside influences from clouding the real impact a comprehensive work-from-home policy will exert on your business. How you approach hiring, training, and managing workers’ performance during the COVID-19 pandemic could usher in a new era for your business. Done correctly, remote workforce management policies will not only maintain your business’s continuity through the COVID-19 pandemic, but also save you money and give you access to critical talent once the crisis passes.