Having remote workers on your team wasn’t exactly the most common situation before the pandemic, but as many cities enforced physical distancing measures earlier this year, remote work has quickly become the norm for many teams.
Even though some businesses have begun working in their offices again, the option to work from home has become much more popular with employers across all sectors. According to a study done by Statistics Canada, around four in ten Canadians work jobs that can be reasonably done from home and almost one quarter of employers across all industries expect that 10 per cent or more of their workforce will continue to work remotely after the pandemic ends.
With that said, remote work is no longer an exception — it’s part of our new normal. With the sudden shift to digital office, it’s been easy for managers to miss issues or concerns that some of their team members are facing. The differences in people’s personal situations have become more prominent through remote work, and it’s up to managers and team leaders to keep this in mind.
This piece will go through some general considerations that managers should keep in mind when working with remote employees, including possible accommodations and questions to ask themselves.
1. Encourage Employees to Reach Out
First and foremost, it’s crucial to create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable and encouraged to tell their employers of their needs, whether they’re personal or work-related.
This shouldn’t be something that sits at the back of a manager’s mind, and it shouldn’t be something that employees feel awkward bringing up. Employees shouldn’t have to dig around and ask HR about getting help where they need it before being aware that they can just ask for it.
Managers should ask employees if they have everything they need to work effectively from home (like software, technology, and Wi-Fi access) and outline the clear steps on how to make requests. Try to frame remote-work accommodations as something available to anyone in conversations with your team to create an environment where they’ll feel more encouraged to come forward with their needs.
A good practice that managers might want to try implementing is holding regular check-ins with their team. Brief one-on-one’s during the week to check in on team members can give them a designated space for them to express any issues they have or accommodations they need. Regular check-ins will also show your employees that you’re committed to creating an open, honest work environment where they can come to you with concerns so they will feel comfortable bring something up later.
2. Considering Family and Living Situations
On the surface, there are a lot of benefits that come from remote work, including the ability to enjoy the comfort of one’s home. But, home situations can vary greatly.
From staff who live by themselves to those who have now taken on the added labour of taking care of their kids full-time to those who live with multiple family members or roommates, your team’s home situation is no longer something personal — it has a direct impact on their work.
A requirement to have cameras and mics on for team meetings might have initially seemed like a good idea to try to emulate in-person meetings, but it almost might be an added stressor for an employee who doesn’t have access to a private, quiet work area or doesn’t want to show where they’re working from.
Being flexible about work hours can be a great help to working parents, whose schedules may become dependent on their children’s. With fewer childcare options and online schooling seeing many children staying at home, being mindful of employees who now have to simultaneously work and care for their children should be a mindset that all managers have.
3. Think About Virtual Accessibility
Before COVID-19, most people thought of accommodations as flexible work hours and accessible physical workspaces. Now, as large populations of people work, learn and socialize online, virtual accessibility is often neglected.
A major aspect of accessibility that is often overlooked in online meetings are considerations for conference platforms like Zoom and Google Meets. Is there captioning or sign language for hearing-impaired employees? Are the platforms you use to work, such as the company website and communication platform, able to be read by screen readers and keyboard only users who are visually-impaired?
These are questions that all managers should be thinking about. Thankfully, many of these features are easy and free for companies to implement. Keeping virtual accessibility in mind when working internally will hopefully transcend into your company’s interaction with clients and create a more inclusive online experience for everyone.
As the world continues to navigate through the pandemic, welcoming your employees to voice their needs will play a part in supporting their mental health and wellbeing, as well as managing their workload. Being empathetic, receptive, and responsive as a manager is now more important than ever.
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By: Kayla Zhu – Kayla is a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University with a background in content writing and journalism.