The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of employee health and well-being, and for many Americans, the sudden shift to a fully remote workplace was a welcome one. Although it inevitably created new challenges for managers who weren’t used to leading distributed teams, the change produced plenty of benefits for those who were able to adapt thoughtfully.
Indeed, recent studies suggest that a strategic redesign of workplace conditions can positively impact employee wellness while also improving performance, perhaps reducing the likelihood of burnout. With this in mind, it might not be surprising that many companies have actually experienced an uptick in overall productivity during the pandemic.
If your company plans to continue using a remote or hybrid work model as we enter 2022, then you’ll continue to reap the benefits—but you might also continue to experience challenges as a result of extending these arrangements. To overcome those obstacles and build a team that truly transcends the boundaries of the physical world, these habits are essential:
1. Conduct regular check-ins with your team.
A remote work model is only effective if managers can trust employees to get high-quality work done when it needs to get done. Jeff Pozen, chief of staff and CFO at Jelmar, the family-owned cleaning products manufacturer of CLR products, believes that making time each week to touch base with your team is critical to building and maintaining that trust. “When you’re in an office, you don’t need to make as much of an effort to check in with your team,” he writes. “After all, they’re right in front of you and you see them in the hallway or break room. When you have telecommuters, though, you need to make check-ins happen by design.”
These regularly scheduled chats will help you avoid the temptation to micromanage employees, which is a recipe for driving remote talent away from your company. Regular conversations also provide an opportunity to assess team morale and collaborate on solutions to any process-related problems that might arise from a distributed team. If you sense that an employee is struggling, don’t simply ask them what’s wrong. Instead, encourage open discourse and be candid about your own challenges to show them it’s okay to ask for help or voice concerns. By creating space for transparent two-way communication, you’ll foster stronger relationships and uncover opportunities to improve your team’s well-being over time.
2. Ensure team members have the resources they need.
When employees know that they have all the resources they need to succeed, they’re more likely to hold themselves accountable for their success. Of course, you won’t always know when your team needs additional support, and some team members might be hesitant to ask for it. Rather than waiting for them to come forward, use your weekly check-ins to assess everyone’s resource needs.
It’s also part of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit throughout your company. By simply listening to your employees and equipping them with plenty of tools for success—without requiring a detailed explanation for each request—you’re showing respect for their ability to create an efficient process, making the most of their individual capabilities. Moreover, offering your team increased autonomy and control can also help prevent severe negative health consequences. Research suggests that professionals working in a demanding environment with low levels of control over how their work gets done are at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, depression, and numerous other health complications.
3. Don’t make every conversation about work.
A strong workplace culture depends on strong bonds between co-workers. Those bonds can’t form if all communications center on deadlines, tasks, and job requests. Especially if your team isn’t always together in person, it’s imperative that you encourage and create time for interactions that aren’t attached to some business objective.
Although most Americans seem to prefer the freedom and flexibility that comes with remote work, many remote employees miss the opportunities for spontaneous, informal conversations that an office environment can offer. In the absence of a centralized workplace, you’ll have to provide other avenues for these types of interactions to take place. Those could include dedicated Slack channels for topics that aren’t work-related or impromptu Zoom calls to talk about weekend plans. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone on your staff, but research does show that people who have a “best friend at work” are more productive and engaged.
If you’re managing a remote team, it’s vital to create an inclusive environment that promotes trust and accountability. Invest time and energy into fostering relationships with and among team members, even though it might be challenging at first (especially if you’ve spent your entire career in an office). Ultimately, that investment will pay dividends in the new normal.