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Sustaining engagement with newly remote workers

Flexibility and communication are key.
By: | March 19, 2020 • 2 min read

Ordinarily, telling employees they must now work from home would be greeted with joy by most. Dispensing with the daily commute and instead opening up a laptop in their favorite chair with perhaps a pet snuggled next to them might feel like a godsend.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, these are not ordinary times.

Brian Kropp, group vice president of HR research at Gartner, says managers will need to develop a new skillset in order to effectively keep employees engaged and focused for now, and possibly over a sustained period of time, given the unfolding pandemic.

Even seasoned teleworkers can occasionally struggle with feelings of isolation and disconnection from the larger organization, he says. By using effective strategies, however, managers can help keep their direct reports feeling plugged in.

Related: Coronavirus-HR’s role

“To keep employees engaged, managers need to actually give them a lot of flexibility about how, when and where they’re working,” says Kropp.

Managers will need to adjust their thinking about productivity to less in terms of work processes that are followed and more in terms of the outcomes they want their direct report to achieve, he says.

Ultimately, managers must accept the fact that they’re simply going to have to trust their employees to a much greater degree, says Kropp.

“You can’t monitor them the way you could before,” he says.

Recognition Still Matters

None of this is to say that managers should take a hands-off approach to communication, says Kropp.

Indeed, they should be “intentional” in their interactions with teleworking employees, he says.

“As a manager, when you’re doing check-ins with your remote workers, take moments to recognize them for specific things they’ve accomplished—not just ‘You’re doing a good job,’ but ‘You did a good job with this document, with this customer,’ ” says Kropp. “You want to really start recognizing individual employees for the specific work they’re doing rather than the team for the general work it’s doing.”

See also: Answering your legal questions about coronavirus

Routine check-ins should be done by phone, and ideally video-conference if possible, as should team meetings, he says. These regular check-ins can serve multiple purposes—such as fostering innovation and collaboration.

“We’ll no longer be having those serendipitous encounters at work, and at the same time, employees may discover new and improved ways of doing things while they’re working remotely,” says Kropp.

During fraught times such as these, employees have a tendency to “lean out” rather than innovate because they’re worried, he says. Regular check-ins can be a way to head off those tendencies.

“As a manager, it’s your job to communicate to them that it’s OK to continue taking smart risks.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.

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