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Tips for Supporting Remote Employees Who May Feel Lonely

May 5, 2020 9:15:00 AM

2020 Blogposts_Remote Doesnt Mean Alone

We've already seen how COVID-19 has impacted the way companies do business, with employees across various industries breaking ties with their cubicles and desktop computers for the foreseeable future. The rapid nature of these changes has left many employees reeling, and the indeterminate return to normalcy may seem daunting for people who already feel like they need to relearn how to do their jobs, not to mention facing wholly new challenges and struggles in doing so.

Companies can ease this transition for newly-remote employees by understanding the challenges they're encountering and proactively finding ways to combat them. To that end, we scoured the internet and polled affected family and friends to identify a few of the more common concerns for those new to working from home, and we put together a handful of solutions that have helped us at Praecipio Consulting.

"I don't know how to get the support I need"

Many employees may feel that it's more difficult for them to get the support they're used to. Now that they're working at home, there's no deskmate to catch the eye of, no supervisor to roll over to, and no IT personnel to flag down as they're making the rounds. This can be especially true for employees at smaller, entirely-local companies who are used to regularly seeing all of the people they ever need to talk to.

If you're worried that your employees are having a difficult time getting the help they need, consider doing the following:

  • Set up a regularly scheduled forum for people to get help from and provide help to others.
    • We have weekly meetings for each department, but you could also extend blocks for already scheduled team meetings. It's important that there is time dedicated solely for employees to share issues they're seeing and get assistance from others. Complex or complicated problems can be difficult to solve over text, so make it easier for your employees to talk through problems with colleagues.

  • Create additional support channels in current communication tools.
    • And don't be afraid to limit the scope! Some employees may feel uncomfortable asking for help in general support rooms, especially if they're worried that their questions may come off as basic or unimportant. Having dedicated spaces for specific job functions, like one for a specific tool an employee may use, make employees feel more comfortable asking "stupid" questions. This also allows teammates to focus their attention on areas where they feel particularly strong.

  • Implement or improve upon a Service Desk aimed at providing employees with support.
    • Service desks are widely thought of as tools primarily aimed at IT/Ops organizations, but a number of other areas can successfully utilize them as well. If you have any group or team that commonly fields questions and requests from colleagues, a service desk could be used to provide structure and oversight to the process, allowing all parties involved to have a more organized exchange and reliable means of tracking.

"It's taking me longer to do my job"

Suddenly, transitioning from working in an office to working from home can leave employees feeling like they need to relearn aspects of their job, whether it's how to work with different (or less) equipment, how to account for things they don't have at home, or even something as simple as how to handle new distractions. Although studies show that working from home ultimately boosts productivity, there's certainly an adjustment period for those new to it.

 

If tasks seem like they're taking longer to complete than they would have in the office, one of the following may help:

  • Encourage the use of time tracking tools.
    • There are a number of time tracking tools and apps available across the web. Promoting these tools with employees will help them to better track of how they spend their time throughout the day. Employees can use time tracked to determine if they need to make some changes to their own routines, or possibly lean on others for assistance. A manager once told me that if you think it's taking too long to do something, ask around because odds are that someone has found a way to get it done in half the time. Accurate time tracking will help employees identify the areas where someone can help them improve.

  • Share productivity-boosting tips within the group.
    • Look to a best practice guide for working from home and take the recommendations to heart. Something as easy as setting up a dedicated office space instead of camping out in that comfy recliner can immediately have a positive impact on productivity and can help people get back into "work" mode.

  • Understand that some things may take more time.
    • If someone was able to walk down the hall to the mailroom before, but now finds themselves having to put on pants and drive to the post office, it's going to take longer to do tasks that may have taken only minutes before. The same rings true for those who are down from three monitors to only one or for those who are competing for bandwidth with neighbors. Likewise for people who now have to wait for others to get back to them versus looming over a colleague's shoulder until they get an answer. These are all acceptable reasons for tasks to take more time.

"Communicating internally is more difficult now"

Good communication can feel unachievable for those working 'alone' for the first time. No longer being able to tap a coworker on the shoulder to get an immediate answer or huddle together in a breakout room to work through a problem can leave employees feeling a bit lost. 

If your teams struggle with communicating well, the following steps are a good place to start:

  • Adopt a collaboration tool.
    • If you're not already using a collaboration tool internally, considering implementing one; and if you are already using one, consider how it could improve to drive better communication. We make heavy use of Slack internally. In our instance, we have dedicated channels for specific clients and tools, which is a great first step toward better communication, but we make use of a number of the lighter elements the tool has to offer too. Doing something as simple as customizing quick statuses or syncing your calendar with the tool will all ultimately help people communicate better. Even something like a custom emoji of a team member (we have a few!) can act as a quick way to get a point across.

  • Set guidelines for when a particular communication tool should be used.
    • Ask yourself, "When should we use email? When should we use the phone? What do we do when all hell breaks loose?  " Having guidelines regarding when to use each communication tool and standardizing those guidelines as much as you can between teams will take a lot of the uncertainty out of communication. 

  • Encourage documentation of everything discussed.
    • Even if you're just jotting down quick meeting notes or doing a two-to-three line recap of a Slack call, having something to reference later will help drive accountability between colleagues and act as a quick jump-off for conversations to follow. We try to keep all of ours stored in Confluence so that each participant can add in their own notes. Working from home often means multitasking for a number of people, so ensuring that there are records kept of items discussed and decisions made will keep everyone on the same page and make future actions and conversations easier.

"I feel so lonely"

Though this is one of the hardest things to help employees with, it's also one of the most important. Loneliness has a real and palpable effect on an employee's mental and physical health, and failure to address it can lead to increased stress, loss of productivity, and lessened quality of work. This is likely to be especially true right now, with many employees being isolated from friends and family for the past several weeks due to stay-at-home orders.

If you're concerned that your employees may feel isolated and lonely, the following can help:

  • Have employees turn on their videos during virtual meetings.
    • This is our internal policy for all meetings, regardless of the number of participants. Having each participant enable their video reminds other employees that they're not "alone," and it helps to keep participants more engaged. Talking to a "real person" instead of a computer screen can help to simulate at least some of the intimacy of in-person meetings, and it allows people to see a speaker's nonverbal cues, like body language and facial expressions, which can be useful in effective conversation. And if nothing else, it acts as a push for everyone to get dressed every morning, which also aids mental health.

  • Schedule virtual get-togethers.
    • We began hosting "Virtual Bring Togethers" for all employees at the onset of stay-at-home orders, and it truly does help. Laughing together over Pictionary or Bingo or receiving a virtual cooking lesson is a great way to keep employees engaged and to lessen the feelings of isolation. Slate has even found people who've successfully figured out how to play board games together over Zoom. Think of some fun things you and your team can do.

  • Don't be afraid to ask direct questions.
    • The easiest way to monitor an employee's mental well-being is to have a frank conversation about how they’re handling the changes. If an employee does feel isolated, you'll have the opportunity to start putting together individualized plans to help.

 

The recent surge of remote employees has already had a major impact on a number of companies, and the effects are likely to last, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Support your newly-remote teams well, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much happier and more productive they are. 

If you are searching for more resources on how to navigate remote work with your employees, consider implementing daily stand-up meetings, and you can also check out our tips for mastering the work-from-home lifestyle

Written by Courtney Pool

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