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How to overcome common remote work challenges in the wake of COVID-19

by Sirius People

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Estimated Reading Time: minutes

As we’re now starting to see more cases of COVID-19 (commonly known as the Coronavirus) pop up around Australia, it’s imperative to have a business plan in place in case your employees are stuck in isolation/quarantine or can’t travel back to Australia at the moment.

Namely — a remote work plan for your employees.

Firstly, it’s important to note that while the fear of the Coronavirus is very real and valid, the risk of an individual contracting COVID-19 in Australia remains quite low, at the time of publication (16/03/2020).

Whilst organisations and individuals should have a plan in place in case COVID-19 becomes more widespread, there is no need to enact these emergency plans unless one of your employees has come into contact with an individual who has Coronavirus or who is undergoing quarantine/isolation after an international trip, according to the Australian Government Department of Health at time of publication (16/03/2020).

DISCLAIMER: Please note, this blog post does not outline the legal obligations of organisations in the event of Coronavirus becoming widespread and is to be used as an information starting point and guide only. We encourage you to seek legal advice to ensure your company is up-to-date and compliant with legislation in your respective state. For the most accurate and up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, please visit the government website.

Here’s how your business can prepare itself and your employees for remote work in the event that Coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts your business:

 

Define how Coronavirus could potentially impact your business

The first step in preparing for any emergency event is to identify the key ways in which your business could be impacted. As we’re already seeing how some cities, regions and countries are handling the outbreak, the most probable way your business could be impacted is by quarantine or isolation.

Thankfully, for most industries, employees are able to work remotely from home to keep your business running.

 

Can your business support remote work?

However, your business will have to evaluate whether your organisation is prepared to have its employees work from home. This includes answering questions, such as:

  • Will your business have a mobile phone allowance for employees working from home?

  • Will your business have internet allowance for employees working from home?

  • Will your business provide dongles or Mi-Fi for employees who do not have internet at home?

  • How will your business measure activity levels for employees working at home?

  • How will remote work impact your business targets? Will business targets be reduced to account for the change in the work environment?

  • For employees with children or employees with disabilities who require disability support workers, how will your business support them should their child care provider or disability support worker not be able to support them during isolation/quarantine? Will they be required to take forced annual leave or sick leave? Or, will your business pay all employees for the duration of isolation/quarantine?

 

Can your employees work remotely from home?

Your organisation also needs to learn about your employees’ home to ensure they will be able to work remotely if need be:

  • Do they have access to consistent, high-speed internet?

  • Who is their internet provider?

  • Do they have access to a laptop or computer at home?

  • Has Work Health Safety (WHS) signed off on their work area?

  • Do they have a quiet area in their home that has said table and chair to ensure they’re able to work uninterrupted, should they have children who are at home during the day or flatmates/partners who are also working remotely? 

  • If your employee has young children who require constant supervision, will their child care provider be able to come to them if isolated/quarantined? How will your business support your employees with children should their child care provider not be able to support them during isolated/quarantine?

  • Does their home have consistent mobile connectivity?

  • Who is their mobile phone provider?

  • If your employee has disabilities that require a disability support worker, will their disability support worker be able to come to them if isolated/quarantined? How will your business support your employees with disabilities should their disability support worker not be able to support them during isolation/quarantine?

 

What are the common difficulties of remote work?

Once you have established the eligibility of your employees working from home, it’s important to account for how work may become more difficult in the event that your employees have to work remotely from home.

Some of the challenges of remote work include:

  • Working collaboratively when everyone is not at the office;

  • Scheduling meetings or informal conversations;

  • Unclear written communication;

  • Miscommunication;

  • Feeling isolated (particularly with extroverted employees);

  • Inability to access software/tools at home;

  • Lack of direction for more junior employees;

  • Lack of motivation; and

  • Lack of work-life balance.

Whilst there are many challenges with remote work — they’re not unmanageable. And they all boil down to three core issues: Communication, motivation and resources.

 

How to overcome the common issues of remote work

Having a remote work gameplan in place can help mitigate some of these roadblocks from occurring and alleviate the difficulties if they do.

Here are some ways you’re able to overcome the three core issues of remote work:

 

Communication

At work, chances are you were communicating with your team primarily in person. But, when your team are all working remotely, there’s a high chance that your main form of communication will shift to emails and a form of messenger. (i.e. Slack, Google Hangouts, etc.)

This leaves lots of room for ambiguity or miscommunication, as not everything will be communicated as clearly over text. 

A great way to handle this is a video call. Not only does it mimic an in-person conversation, but you’re also able to screen share, which saves times explaining what you’re looking at as opposed to just showing your colleague what you mean. Some great free video calling software include FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype and ZOOM.

Similarly, if something isn’t immediately clear, encourage your team to call rather than waste time going back-and-forth over email or messenger. If it’s a one-off quick question, give them a call; if it requires something a bit more in detail, encourage them to do a video call.

Once you’ve clarified the issue, encourage your team to send a follow-up email to ensure that the issue has been resolved and they’re able to refer back to that email to re-clarify the task at hand, if needed.

 

Motivation

It can be tough to cultivate motivation in a team that’s not together. Particularly if you’ve cultivated a strong team dynamic that thrives when your team is all together.

One of the biggest worries of employers when it comes to remote employee motivation is perceived lack of routine, structure and schedule of working from home. After all — how can you get work done when the TV is right there?! 

It’s surprisingly less of an issue that you might expect. According to a study by FlexJobs, only 3 per cent of respondents felt like they were less productive at home, while 32 per cent didn’t notice any significant difference and 65 per cent think they work best at home.

The key is to replicate as many aspects of your office routine at home. This includes checking in with your team members and scheduling time to work for certain prioritised tasks, meetings and breaks.

This also helps to set a work-life balance to ensure that your employees are able to switch off at the end of the day.

Another great way to encourage motivation — particularly with extroverted employees who may be feeling lonely not being able to go into the office to socialise — is to start the day with a one-to-one video call with each member of your team to go over their priorities for the day and as a general check-in with them, just as you would any normal day.

While a phone call is great for a quick question, a video call helps foster more connection in teams, as seeing your team members will help them feel less isolated and more productive.

You can also be proactive and ask your staff how they prefer to be motivated throughout the day, whether that’s a video call check-in at lunch, or marking in your calendar to send them a message around the 2 pm slump to see how they’re getting on. 

By taking the time to encourage your employees and support them where you can, you’re showing them that you care about their wellbeing and about keeping them happy — two motivators that are difficult to accomplish whilst your team are working remotely.

 

Resources

While resources are often issues that can be easily fixed, as they boil down to technical or logistical issues, such as access to internet, mobile service, mobile phone or laptop, when it comes to remote work — you have to account for the fact that resources may impact just one member of your team and your team of IT staff may not be able to help them. They may need to figure it out for themselves.

For instance, if their internet or mobile service is cut off, your employee will have to contact their internet or mobile provider on their own to address the issue. If this is an issue that affects a particular provider, then some of your team members may have to wait until the problem is resolved to continue working.

This may also be a logistical issue, where if someone in your building has contracted Coronavirus and your business chooses to have your employees work from home in the interim — what happens if an employee has left their laptop at the office?

These issues place the onus on the employee, as opposed to the business, to resolve, it takes up your employee’s time, as opposed to your operations or IT teams time.

While it’s not an ideal solution, email the other employees who may be impacted by that particular individual or group of employees not having access to resources to ensure they are aware of the issue and check in with your affected employee every so often to see if they’ve been able to resolve the issue.

Remote work isn’t all doom and gloom!

Despite its difficulties, particularly for teams who aren’t used to working from home, a recent study found that 22 per cent of remote workers reported being happier in their jobs than employees who never work remotely. 

Remote workers are also:

The key is to remain proactive in supporting your employees through motivation, communication and reminders that isolation/quarantine isn’t forever — you’ll be back in the office in no time!

Whilst remote work shouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate in 2020, some projects do require its employees to be physically there. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our specialist recruitment consultants should you require any temporary or contract employees.

 

 

2020 11 17

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