remote employee on phone while working

The shift to remote work can quickly become a quagmire. With no one to look over their shoulder or answer their questions, employees aren’t always clear on expectations. Moreover, the familiar environment of their home as a workplace can lead to the development of less-than-amenable habits.

Simply put, it’s easy to meander to the kitchen table at 10 a.m. to start working—and even easier to pass the buck on a problem without a readily apparent solution. Leadership and clarity are essential for managing expectations in a virtual work environment.

Stop bad habits before they take root.

For most employees, working from home full time is a new concept. They might not have a space set aside specifically for work, or they could get distracted by their surroundings. It takes time for people to adapt, so be sympathetic to this process. At the same time, a gentle, guiding hand may be required to prevent bad habits from forming.

Simple checks and balances can be enough to prevent absenteeism, productivity issues and lax standards. It’s best to set expectations with three types of guidance: steadfast rules, flexible guidelines and personal freedoms.

Lay down the law.

Start with the hard-and-fast rules. What is expected of your employees while they’re working remotely? While it varies from company to company, these expectations generally revolve around the same concepts—mission-critical processes and procedures that need to remain repeatable and rigid. For example:

  • Sending documents via secure transmissions
  • Remaining presentable on video chats
  • Not doing personal work during billed company hours.

Pinpoint the rules to which every employee will be held accountable and make them the standard. With everyone on the same page, there won’t be any confusion about expectations.

Provide flexibility where possible.

Some aspects of remote work are necessarily flexible. For example, in the time of COVID, consider employees with kids at home. They might need freedom to step away from work to make lunch or put them down for a nap. Examples like this signal the need for broad flexibility when it comes to things that impact how employees work.

Flexibility is about determining what’s acceptable and what’s not, and making these bounds transparent. It’s okay for employees to get up and go for a walk in the afternoon. It’s not okay for them to mute a conference call and play video games in the background. Build flexibility into rules and guidelines for telecommuting, and address them as they arise on a case-by-case basis. If a behavior is unacceptable, make that clear before it becomes a habit.

Embrace personal choices.

Some of the best results come from letting people figure things out for themselves. Encourage your employees to ease into their work-from-home environment by exploring what works for them. If a 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. schedule shows more productivity than a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., great! Good leaders will ask themselves where simple concessions yield big results, then capitalize on these opportunities.

As you enable personal choices and embrace the rewards that come with them, help individual employees settle into their own scope of expectations. If you afford them X freedom, they need to satisfy Y requirement. Creating this dynamic keeps employees on task and comfortable while giving you the oversight needed to manage your remote team.

Above all, be transparent about expectations. There’s enough uncertainty as it is right now. Employee should know what’s expected of them so they can focus on what’s relevant, rather than what’s unknown.

Finally, contact an HR professional if you need help establishing or enforcing your standards. It’s not easy to walk the line between ensuring work gets done and providing autonomy for your employees. A human resources consultant can help you strike that balance to create a harmonious yet productive (virtual) work environment!

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