Due to the unrelenting COVID-19 spread, the call to allow employees to work from home has been heeded. More businesses are going remote to keep people safe from COVID-19 and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Allowing employees to work from home and offering more remote jobs may have a positive impact on public health, but the transition from working in an office to working from home can be a stressful process for both employers and employees, especially if businesses are originally office-based. It is easy to assume that working from home is just a change of environment and people can still work the same way they used to in the office. However, this is not the case.
In fact, remote work has a different set of challenges with ethical implications, and they require unique solutions. First-time or inexperienced remote managers might find themselves at a loss at times without proper training in remote leadership and remote team management. Without proper guidance, employees who are not used to working from home may find their productivity and motivation dropping once their excitement from the idea of working from home dies down.
Remote Work Is A Two-Way Street
Successful remote working relationships are a product of both the employers’ and employees’ ethical decisions and behaviours while working remotely.
They are not just a result of employees’ remote work ethics—abiding by company rules, taking responsibility, having accountability, and showing trust and respect for their employers and colleagues or of employers being understanding and considerate of their staff, providing bonuses and incentives, or being fair in giving promotions and raises.
However, things have to start somewhere—or with someone. When it comes to dealing with remote work challenges such as communication, attendance, project management, technology, security, career advancement, visibility, consistency, and retention in an ethical manner, employers and managers are responsible for getting the ball rolling.
How Ethical Employers and Managers Deal with Challenges
Measure productivity based on results and not hours worked.
We understand that working miles away from your employees can make you feel more anxious. Less visibility makes you feel like you have less control over your staff. When you are alone in your home office, you probably ask questions like:
“Is my staff working?”
“Will my staff finish this task or that task on time?”
During these times, it is important to remember that physical presence is not a measure of productivity, nor are the work hours of remote workers. Results based on clearly defined goals and expectations are the true measures of productivity.
You can view these results in task progress reports (how much of the task has been done), timestamps (period of time a task is done or completed), and communication threads (what you and your employees agree on in terms of what should be done and completed at what time).
Hold regular check-ins instead of relying on remote monitoring tools.
Remote monitoring tools may be a more sophisticated way of tracking employee productivity while working remotely, but this solution can be easily misconstrued.
Employees may misinterpret the use of a remote working tool as a sign that you do not trust them enough to do their job on their own. Remote work monitoring tools can also be too intrusive for some remote workers, making them feel uncomfortable or pushed into a corner.
If you really want to use a remote work monitoring tool, it is important to be clear on your reasons. These reasons must not scream “I want to know what you are doing every second of your shift.” Reasons such as to record results in order to highlight achievements or to measure how long a project is completed in order to determine the budget needed are some of the valid ones that should be communicated clearly to your staff.
As an alternative, aim to have short weekly check-in meetings with your team to discuss progress. You can review their work, ask and answer questions, and address challenges. This is a proven way of increasing efficiency without taking so much of your precious time.
Provide support for employees in balancing life and work.
Even though employees work from home, employers still need to keep track of their wellness and well-being. When working from home, it becomes difficult for employees to stop working even though they can technically log out from work.
When you continue to send them emails and chat messages after work hours, your employees feel obliged to reply immediately. They think they can because they are at home and “available” anyway. Thinking that your remote workers have more time to work because they work from home can be dangerous not only for your remote workers’ health but also for your business.
Although employees enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working from home, some may feel the pressure to do more than they should. They feel like they have to be more available for their employers than needed. Combine this with the feeling of isolation and remote work becomes a reason for them to quit working for you.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that your employees maintain a healthy work-life balance even at home. Make them feel respected and included. You can give them the option to work atypical hours if it is possible with the role they have.
Keep them connected to you and their colleagues by checking in on them via your team’s watercooler chat group. It’s a space where you can talk about whatever’s going on in their personal life. You do not have to do this to the point of being nosy. Asking them how they or how their family members are doing is enough.
You can also hold organisation-wide meetings where your employees can provide feedback on their remote working experience. This promotes teamwork and lets your employees know that you actually care about their well-being. Company-wide meetings also give them a sense of belongingness and community. They give employees a chance to connect with people from the same company despite being part of a specific department.
Educate remote workers on cybersecurity and confidentiality.
It is normal to worry about the security of your company data when managing a remote team. However, instead of making them feel like you doubt their honesty, educate them. It is way better than setting up rules and layers of security without explaining how important they are.
Certainly, it is easier for remote workers to commit fraud or breach confidentiality agreements when they are working remotely. Nevertheless, it does not automatically mean that they will do so, at least intentionally. Accidents and mistakes are inevitable. That’s just how it is even with an office-based team.
One thing you can do as employers and managers are to strengthen your control and security systems. Think documentation and approvals. For example, if your remote worker wants to send a file, require them to CC you in the email. If you provide clothing allowance via reimbursement, require them to provide receipts.
Another (and not to mention, more effective) way is to educate your employees on cybersecurity practices such as the use of passwords and encryptions. Provide training on cybersecurity threats and new fraud schemes and how to deal with them. Most importantly, inform them of any security software you install on company-issued computers. Then clarify why such security measures are important not only for the company but also for their safety.
The era of remote working has come indeed. It is time to acknowledge that sooner or later, the world will become 100% remote. In order to adapt to and survive the changing times, let’s prepare ourselves for working remotely and think of ways we can make it work for us–our personal lives and our careers. Let us continue building a culture of ethics and excellence in remote work not only for our own benefit but also for the benefit of others both during the pandemic and afterward.