When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, most people were glad to work from home. The new arrangement offered a host of tangible benefits such as flexibility, the end of tedious commutes, and savings on transport and rising fuel costs. As time wore on and the remote working arrangement continued, though, the novelty began to wear off, and many employees began to experience the downside of work-from-home. Given that the pandemic is still continuing, and many companies have adopted a hybrid model of working from home as well as the office, managers need to be more mindful of the challenges of remote workers and offer helpful intervention whenever required.

As organisations look for ways to maintain business continuity in the face of adversity, how can leaders help manage the stress of remote employees?

Working from home: What are the stresses and challenges?

The transition from an office to a home setting comes with its fair share of challenges. The more apparent problems involve equipping your team with the right tools, including hardware and software and ergonomic equipment for a comfortable experience. Once these are taken care of, there are other, less straightforward challenges in terms of the wellbeing and performance of your remote workers.

Some common challenges include video conference burnout, juggling parenting responsibilities, time management disasters, distraction, lack of supervision and direction, and most importantly, being physically separated from other team members. Added problems include unclear performance metrics, inadequate coordination, and blurred lines between employees’ personal and professional lives. The same team that was sharp, diligent, and responsive may now experience uncertainty, lack of confidence and burnout in the absence of managerial support.

Managers are attempting to communicate via all their reports, get work done, maintain team morale and engagement, and help their subordinates shed non-essential work. Remote working has cut employees off from instant responses and informal streams of communication and mentorship. The biggest setback is the lack of consistent support, inclusion and acceptance that one is privy to in a bricks-and-mortar workplace setting. Other problems such as eating and sleeping difficulties, difficulty making decisions and concentrating, and worsening of mental health issues can plague remote workers.

As a manager, you are able to see your team virtually but may struggle to help them with less obvious issues. With mounting economic uncertainty, fear of health risks and responsibilities of school-going children, your remote team has a lot on their plate. What steps can you take to help mitigate remote employee stress?

What you can do to support your remote team

In addition to demonstrating genuine concern for the wellbeing of your team, it’s also necessary to take steps to address their stress before it affects the organisation. Picking up on the signs of employee stress when they’re not immediately in front of you can be difficult. Managers can support remote employees with these proactive measures:

  • Maintain consistent daily contact.
    Ensure that you update your remote team with all the latest information on a daily basis. This will help them feel like a part of the bigger team and minimise uncertainty. Reducing ambiguity helps ease stress about the future.
  • Use tracking technologies.
    One of the hurdles of remote working is the lack of access to coaching and mentorship. Use the latest tracking technologies, not because you don’t trust your employees, but to help them address mistakes and errors. Doing this also helps prevent stressed employees from accidentally breaching security protocols or exposing confidential company data.
  • Give space.
    Allow your security and quality control software to monitor work but avoid constant interference in the form of messages, emails or calls. Giving employees adequate space to work on their own fosters trust and allows them to become more confident of their skills. Offer your support whenever they need it, but avoid micromanaging.
  • Implement a buddy system.
    Pair off your team in twos so that every remote employee has a partner they can share their concerns and stresses with. If one notices a problem with the other, they can always communicate the information to the manager and pave the way for support.
  • Stay social.
    Implement regular breaks or virtual water cooler chats during which employees are allowed to blow off steam and discuss things other than work. End each of these with an informal chat with your team before signing off for the day.
  • Establish realistic expectations.
    Managers need to help their remote teams to be productive and cut them some slack at the same time. Management needs to value employees while showing a deeper understanding of the pressures and stresses of work-from-home.

Finally, here are some additional tips to offer support to remote workers:

  • Emotionally proofread messages before you hit the Send button.
  • Be mindful of different time zones, set clear boundaries, and adopt a consistent time structure to avoid burnout.
  • Invite your employees to share their problems, stresses and questions without fear of blame.
  • Regularly remind your staff of the availability of your employee assistance program.

At ESN, we understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations and employees to change their approach to work in several ways. Our highly trained consultants can help managers address morale, workflow management, motivation, and engagement problems and help your organisation continue to achieve its goals during this challenging period. We offer a range of short webinars to assist employees with coping and building resilience.

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