Covid-19: Tips for successful remote working

Leaders will need to adopt flexible work options and self-care for themselves – not just their employees

Covid-19: Tips for successful remote working

As the number of Covid-19 infections increase and with World Health Organisation’s declaration of a pandemic, many organisations are moving beyond their immediate business continuity and crisis response plans, according to Aaron McEwan, VP Research & Advisory for Gartner.

At this stage, travel restrictions and working from home directives are widespread. This is challenging for organisations from a technology infrastructure perspective as well as daily operations.

One interesting implication of widespread adoption of remote working is that IT and technology-centric staff have become critical for business continuity, due to the reliance on technology to support effective remote work, added McEwan.

“Leaders and managers must be supported by HR to understand how to effectively manage remote work and communicate in ways that might diverge from the status-quo,” he said.

“Additionally, the importance of leader and manager role-modelling the right behaviours during this period is vital.

“Accordingly, leaders and managers will need to adopt flexible work options and self-care for themselves – not just their employees – and proactively communicate that they are accepting these efforts.”

McEwan added that a disconnect between leaders’ words and their actions generally leads to cynicism and hesitancy from their employees to adopt the actions being recommended.

Another significant impact is the general disruption to operations, combined with market volatility. Consequently, whispers of imminent recessions are prompting significant levels of employee anxiety and psychological distress.

Workers are left wondering: is my job safe? What if I’m quarantined or my child’s school closes? Or my parent(s) need to be taken out of care? Will I need to draw down leave entitlements at a time when I’m concerned about my financial position? What if I’m a casual or hourly employee? If I can’t work, will I be paid?

“Thankfully we’ve seen many organisations respond positively to this, including the likes of Uber, Amazon, Woolworths and Walmart who have introduced emergency sick leave for casual employees,” he said.

“However, unlike typical crises that are usually once off events like cyber security breaches or natural disaster, for example, this crisis will likely unfold over months and nobody is able to predict the course this pandemic will run.

Again, this uncertainty adds to the anxiety and distress that employees at all levels are experiencing. Unfortunately, managers may not be well positioned to deal with either widescale remote work or employees’ (and their own) psychological well-being during this crisis.

“The biggest challenge that we are noticing is the lack of support managers are receiving as they respond to and navigate this pandemic. It is our managers who need the most support and direction as to how to effectively manage remote teams and recognise and respond to the emerging mental health concerns of their employees’.”

Around 80% of the causes of mental health issues at work are either directly related to problems at work or a combination of work and other issues, and 43% of employees would be uncomfortable with disclosing mental health issues to their manager.

Furthermore, 34% of managers say they would have difficulty identifying mental health challenges among staff their staff and 30% would not know how to act if a direct report came forward with mental health issues or concerns.

McEwan cited a recent study by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics which found that 86% of employees think their company’s culture should support mental health, while among millennial and Gen Z employees, the percentage is even higher.  We can expect that as the crisis continues to unfold, employees will become increasingly anxious.

This has a direct impact on their focus and productivity, further threatening the performance of organisations during a time when doing business is already incredibly difficult.

“HR leaders will need to plan for, and respond to, a significant increase in anxiety and psychological distress felt by their workforce. Traditional (and existing) strategies like offering Employee Assistance Support will likely be inadequate, and it’s likely that providers of these services will be stretched as service demand spikes.”

Gartner recommends the below for successful remote working;

  • Communicate openly and often
  • Remote-work success depends heavily on whether you trust employees to do their work even if you can’t see them. Share openly and often what the real impact of the crisis is on your business, and normalise what to expect. If you don’t, employees will simply turn to the distributed network of information — websites, social media, etc. — to fill the void
  • Trust in employees to be productive
  • Managers often worry about the lack of visibility into the workflows and routines of their direct reports when they work remotely. Gartner research shows 76% of HR leaders reported the top employee complaint during the coronavirus outbreak as “concerns from managers about the productivity or engagement of their teams when remote
  • Bolster technology enablement
  • According to Gartner, 54% of HR leaders indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working. “The first lesson learned from the coronavirus situation is to accelerate the development of a technology infrastructure that can support alternative types of working,” said McEwan. HR leaders can leverage this opportunity to measure the impact on employee performance and productivity to build a business case for technology investment and more progressive policies for effective remote/flexible working

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