The COVID-19 pandemic has left the world shocked and shaken. Millions of businesses, both large and small, have been forced to go remote all of a sudden.
While some companies pulled off the transition well, many firms are going berserk with this sudden switch. They have to reset their work systems at a fundamental level, craft long-term work-from-home policies, invest in remote working tools, and go the extra mile to keep their business running.
In short, they have to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to ensure business continuity.
This blog will cover the various challenges that businesses encounter while adopting the new remote working model, and the best practices that can be followed to survive successfully.
The Daunting Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
Buffer’s research on the State of Remote Work suggests that remote working provides big benefits. But it also poses unique challenges related to communication and collaboration, distractions, staying motivated, and many more.
Let’s look at some of these major remote working challenges in detail-
1. Collaboration And Communication
This is one of the most obvious challenges of remote working. Face to face communication is undoubtedly more transparent as compared to communication over calls or messages.
While talking to someone in person, it’s not just the voice or tone that is noticeable. The team member’s gestures, eye movements, and facial expressions play a significant part in delivering and understanding the message.
Remote working doesn’t offer this leverage. Employees have to interact with one another behind the screens. This increases the chances of a message getting misinterpreted.
Also, most of the work can’t be done in silos. It requires collaboration with one or more teams either to get specific information or to complete a task that can be done only by an expert working in a different team. Remote working can be utterly challenging in such situations.
2. Distractions at Home
In remote working, employees have the flexibility to work from the comfort of their homes. While there is comfort at home, there are distractions too.
Distractions at home can’t be avoided, especially when there’s no help. There are household chores, family members, kids, and in some cases, pets too.
Imagine a parent working and dealing with a child’s tantrums, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning all at the same time.In case this was a planned transition, things would still be manageable. Parents would have got the opportunity to plan their spaces and schedule, get resources to plan the activities for kids, etc. But the sudden change has left employees, particularly parents helpless. They have no option but to juggle between parenting responsibilities and work duties.
3. Accessing Information Is a Task
Fetching information from co-workers in the office is convenient. The same work, when done in a remote set up, becomes a time-consuming task.
Employees have to resort to calling or emailing one another for the exchange of information. This can be troublesome due to various reasons, such as:
- The other person might be on another call
- Network issues leading to disturbances during a call
- An employee might miss an important email by a colleague, and a simple task can take more time than expected
This directly impacts the productivity of employees, resulting in delayed deliverables.
4. Lack of Offline Training and Supervision
The concept of remote working puts managers in a position of doubt, where they start questioning the productivity of their teams.
No immediate face-to-face guidance or training and least interaction with members makes managers a little apprehensive of their teams’ sincerity. This is especially when there are no remote work guidelines, policies, and tools in place.
On the other hand, employees tend to feel that managers are not concerned with their immediate requirements. They do not offer the support employees need during remote working.
Employees also express concerns regarding the incorrect evaluation of their performance while working remotely and reduced access to guidance.
This reduces their motivation to work, affecting the overall quality of deliverables.
Besides these, there are countless other challenges to remote working, such as:
- social isolation
- poor internet connection
- issues with devices, and more
These challenges are also prominent in their own way. Take, for instance, the challenge of feeling left out at work. According to HBR, a major chunk of the employees surveyed felt left out and became prey to office politics.
With the remote working system posing various challenges, what can you do to keep your workforce motivated and provide them excellent support during COVID-19?
Here are some of the work from home best practices to help you support your remote workforce during COVID-19 and stay afloat during these tough times.
Tips to Provide Support to Remote Workforce During COVID-19
1. Adopt a Culture of Self-Help
The concept of self-help started gaining traction, long before the coronavirus pandemic had hit the world. Adopting self-help in full swing can be immensely beneficial during these times when you need less fuss and more clarity in your work systems.
The reasons why self-help can save you from scores of problems:
- It makes problem-solving utterly simple
- Employees become self-reliant and don’t feel the need to contact their colleagues or seniors for trivial issues
- Employee onboarding gets a lot easier with a self-help mechanism in place
- It boosts up work processes, increases productivity, and ensures deliverables are submitted on time.
For creating a culture of self-help, all you need is self-help knowledge base software. It helps you create an online knowledge-sharing platform where information can be stored and accessed anytime and using any device.
Employees can access this self-help portal to get information on your:
- business processes
- work guidelines
- HR and employee policies
- products and services you provide
- client information, and much more.
2. Induct new employees with an Internal Knowledge Base
Hiring and onboarding employees remotely is a challenge. You cannot interact with them in person or organize offline training to familiarize them with their new work.
An internal knowledge base solves this problem easily. It works like an in-house company-wide wiki that has everything your new employees need to understand your work processes and their respective roles in your company.
It is like a buddy that guides employees during their initial few months in your organization and helps them blend in their new roles. Employees also get the freedom and flexibility to train themselves anytime they want, without any restrictions.
Some of the ways you can use an internal KB to onboard new employees and provide support to the remote workforce:
- You can have videos of your office premises in the knowledge base. This will help employees get a virtual tour of how your office looks like.
- Ask the members of the team that the new employee will be a part of, to add short welcome videos to your internal KB
- Ask senior management team to add a welcoming note for new employees, so that they feel motivated during their initial days at work
- Add training courses on the subjects related to the employees’ area of work. Make these courses mandatory for new employees. This will enhance their knowledge of the subject and give them a holistic understanding of their new roles.
3. Create a Collaborative, Knowledge-Sharing Environment
As mentioned above, collaboration and communication is a major bottleneck in a remote working environment. It’s a hydra-headed problem out of which you will find various issues arising, such as:
- poor decision making
- delayed deliverables
- low productivity, and many more
Embracing tools that help your employees collaborate better is the only solution to this problem. A tool like an online knowledge base can be of tremendous help here. It allows you to:
- Define the roles and responsibilities of employees
- Empower employees to give suggestions on knowledge base articles
- Help them track the progress of articles using workflows
- Enable them to seek help from other teams in writing or editing articles
All of this helps employees work with combined synergy in building and managing your business knowledge.
This video will provide you more clarity around how you can improve team collaboration with a knowledge base tool in these challenging times.
4. Encourage Remote Social Interactions
Remote working devoids employees of the small office chit-chats where they share the goings-on of their respective divisions such as –
- A new product launch
- A new employee joining the team
- A new feature roll-out, and more.
Given the sudden shift to remote working, social interactions can take a hit. This can make employees feel isolated and completely detached from your organization.
The best way to keep the remote work environment light, fun, and boosted, is by embracing a social networking service to encourage communication across different teams.
The best example of such a tool is Yammer. It works like an in-house social networking platform where employees can post about:
- the new projects they are working on
- recent product launches
- new client acquisition, and much more.
Embracing a social networking system keeps your workforce connected and updated on the latest company news. Besides, it also keeps the isolation at bay. Employees also get the opportunity to convey their gratitude towards someone, cheer a peer, or announce anything major happening in their team.
5. Provide Emotional Support
In testing times like these, the least you can do is empathize with your employees and reassure them that things will soon return to normal.
Here are some of the gestures that can make your employees’ day and keep them motivated at work:
- A phone call by the HR once in a while
- A concerning email by the CEO
- Regular calls by senior managers
For new employees, these actions can be a great morale booster firstly because they have joined your organization in such trying times. Second, as the employees are new, they will require your reassurance now and then to feel comfortable working with you.
A simple question like – “How is the situation at your place?” or “Are you finding remote working comfortable?” can help you extract crucial information about the employee’s situation, which you might not get otherwise.
These simple gestures can be instrumental in providing support to a remote workforce.
6. Encourage and Show Confidence
Just like COVID-19, anxiety too is contagious. If the boss shows signs of anxiety, restlessness, and under-confidence, the effect is likely to trickle to the lowest echelon.
In a crisis situation, it’s the senior management that employees look up to. Despite the challenges, you cannot let it reflect on your face, voice, or words. If this happens, it will impact the morale of employees, and they will instantly lose all confidence.
As a leader, your approach should be to acknowledge the situation and convey seriousness while being confident and calm. Show your employees that you care and are ready to combat the situation.
It’s time for you to exude positivity in your words to keep the environment boosted. Phrases such as “I know we can win this together,” “Let’s do it,” “Let’s not lose hope,” “We can handle this pretty well,” etc., are a great way to keep your employees in high spirits.
Look at how Sameer Bhatia, CEO of ProProfs, addressed his employees with positive words-
We are building a 100-year company and understand that in a period that long there will be many events that happen. We plan for dynamic and unpredictable challenges and take responsibility for our people and customers seriously. With all our planning for unfavorable events, this was certainly not something we anticipated. Nevertheless, we have strong resilience and contingency plans to help us cope with COVID-19.
-Sameer Bhatia, CEO, ProProfs
Leaders have a significant role to play, especially when a disaster strikes. If they lose hope, the chances are high that their organization will crash down like a house of cards, sooner or later.
7. Create Remote Working Policies and Rules
No one ever anticipated at the beginning of the year that a catastrophe will bring life and business to a halt. But, this is the bitter reality.
Organizations didn’t see it coming and that’s why no plans were made to manage the sudden transition to remote working. Now that businesses have come to terms with the situation and implemented remote working, it’s time to have concrete policies and rules in place.
Crafting employee-friendly policies and rules around remote working will assure you that work is not compromised. You will be confident that employees are working at home with the same seriousness as they do in the office. It will also give employees clarity and remove all confusion around what they can and cannot do while working remotely.
You can even adopt a tool that can help you track your employees’ work time, productivity, and efficiency level.
Tools like ProProfs Project and DeskTime work great.
Let’s see how.
If you are looking for a tool that makes online project management incredibly effortless, look no further than the ProProfs Project.
The tool helps you:
- Bring all your projects on a single dashboard
- Collaborate with multiple teams via notifications, comments, and discussions
- Track project status, time spent on a project, schedules, and more
- Create and manage tasks from start to finish
- Meet deadlines faster with the project calendar
Another tool that’s perfect for a remote work setting is DeskTime.
It gives you detail information regarding:
- Log in time of employees
- Log out time of employees
- Productivity level
- Efficiency during work
- The tabs opened on a laptop while working
- The number of breaks taken during work time and much more.
8. Equip Employees With Resources To Serve Customers Remotely
This is majorly for your customer support team. Customer support requests can rise to a large extent due to the current situation. Therefore your team must be equipped with the right tools to manage customer issues and address them on time.
You can adopt a help desk ticketing system to ensure that customer tickets are managed easily and resolved promptly.
Here’s what a help desk can help your agents with –
- Bring all tickets coming from multiple communication channels to a centralized shared inbox
- Assign tickets to experts and relevant teams
- Break complex tickets into child tickets that can further be assigned to different agents
- Track who is working on which tickets
- Set priorities for customer issues
- Notify customers and colleagues through emails on any progress or updates on a particular ticket
- Resolve customer issues instantly via canned responses
- Capture customer feedback through surveys
Help Desk can also be used to measure agent performance through metrics like –
- New tickets generated
- Total open tickets
- Pending responses
- Replied tickets
- Average rating of agents
You can leverage this information to monitor the performance of your customer support agents and teams while working remotely.
Another way to deal with a large number of tickets is to take measures to reduce them in the first place. This is possible when customers are able to solve most of the questions on their own.
Here, the role of online FAQs and customer support help center comes to the fore. These tools help you in remote customer onboarding. Customers can quickly go through your FAQs or help center to find any information they need regarding your products. This way, trivial customer questions do not reach your support staff.
This also ensures that your customer service staff is not overloaded with work and can provide customers with seamless support during COVID-19.
9. Keep Your Security System Strong
Remote working poses various security challenges as well since employees access your internal help center remotely. During this time, there is a high possibility of information leakage and security breach.
To avoid this, ensure that you have a robust security mechanism in place. The tools you use to support remote workforce during COVID-19 should have advanced security settings so that confidentiality is maintained and the chances of data leakage are minimal.
Take measures like two-factor authentication and data encryption to secure your company’s crucial data regardless of the network and device used by employees while working remotely.
10. Embrace Remote Training
A remote working set up doesn’t mean you can’t train your employees. In fact, now is the best time to instill in them the skills required to take up new challenges and be ready for the future of work.
That’s what employees seek these days – an organization that invests in nurturing their skills and providing ways to further their careers. If you think it’s not possible in a remote working scenario, think again.
Remote training tools can help you provide real-time, on-the-go online learning to employees regardless of which corner of the globe they live in. Some of these tools are online knowledge base software, wiki tool, and training maker.
All of these are unique in their own ways. While a knowledge base software helps you impart instant self-help learning to employees, a training maker is ideal for creating online courses and providing a holistic learning solution to your workforce.
Whichever tool you choose, it’s going to help you in multiple ways:
- Save you from the frivolous expenses of organizing training sessions across different office locations
- Provide self-paced learning experience to employees
- Make training easily accessible across various devices and browsers
- Increase knowledge retention among employees
- Reduce absenteeism as employees can learn at their convenience
If you want the best of both worlds – self-learning via a knowledge base and goal-based learning system using a training maker, you can do that too. This video explains how.
Prepare for a New Future!
Well, the abrupt change due to the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly hard, and anxiety-inducing. But, we cannot let it overpower us. We have to grow through what we are currently going through.
Your success in managing the workforce remotely will reflect whether you have the power and the resilience to work smoothly in this calamity of staggering magnitude. Once you are able to win over it, there’s no looking back.
The world has been gripped by pandemics many times in the past. Mankind has somehow managed to come over it with flying colors. Also, epidemics were successful in bringing significant changes in the way we live.
Likewise, the current crisis is changing us for the better. It’s time we get ready for a new, bright, and promising future by taking the right steps today.
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