4 Ways for Employers to Help Ease the Sudden Shift to Remote Work Because of COVID-19

Across the world, every workforce is experiencing the ramifications of COVID-19. While some employees face the reality of having their regular sources of income ripped out from under them, others are struggling to adjust to suddenly transitioning to isolated remote work.

In the face of these unprecedented challenges, employers need to be thoughtful and intentional about supporting individuals experiencing the full spectrum of COVID-19’s impact. This article is focused on easing the abrupt transition from in-person office work to solitary remote-work that many online workers are experiencing today. To be clear, the strategies recommended in this article should be some among many measures companies adopt to support their workforces as well as possible during these uncertain times.

The Unexpected Shift to Remote Work

People who have experience with partial or completely virtual teams have long known that there are a unique set of challenges that come with remote work. Peer-to-peer relationships must be built and maintained with much more intentionality; the necessity of clear, proactive communication increases tenfold; and striking a healthy balance between personal and professional demands becomes both more important and difficult.

Layer the fact the coronavirus-induced shift to remote work is both involuntary and indefinite, and the problems increase tenfold. Understandably, anxiety and loneliness are both running extremely high. So, what can employers do to help?

4 Ways Employers Can Help

By putting a few proactive practices in place, you can make this transition a little less difficult. Below are four of our best recommendations for supporting a typically collocated team as they transition to remote work.

1. Keep Your Team Connected

As health authorities increasingly emphasize the efficacy of isolating practices like social distancing as a strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus, people are feeling starved for social interaction. For many employees, office interactions comprise the majority of their socialization throughout the week. Take these away, and the value of small-talk and casual desk banter becomes all too apparent.

Even when working virtually, it's important to keep employees feeling connected.
Even when working virtually, it’s important to keep employees feeling connected.

There are virtual substitutes for these micro-social interactions that can be extremely impactful in maintaining morale, despite physical separation. Informal Slack channels are great for quick, casual conversations that can brighten the work day. Sharing an interesting article, funny anecdote, or quick message about the struggles of working from home can help people feel connected to their colleagues. You might even have coworkers participate in a virtual group lunch or happy hour where everyone connects via video to check in with each other. Face time that comes through a screen is better than no face time at all.

Keep in mind that these conversations do not need to have anything to do with work. They’re about feeding employees’ need for social connection, which raises morale, and keeps employees in a mental state where they’re capable of producing the same great work they do under normal circumstances.

2. Don’t Let Hard Work Go Unseen

Another common challenge of going suddenly remote is the feeling that hard work goes unseen. Perhaps an employee typically sits side-by-side with their manager, who sees them furiously typing away all day, diligently at work. Whether it’s true or not, this person might feel that there is a significant decrease in visibility when they switch to remote work.

Recognition can help ease the abrupt shift to remote work.
Recognition can help ease the abrupt shift to remote work.

An extremely effective way to combat the illusion that hard work produced in a remote environment goes unnoticed is by making an effort to explicitly acknowledge displays of excellence, both big and small. Regular recognition is a standard management best practice as is, but it means even more as people make this sudden transition to virtual work.

If you can enable managers with a platform that allows recognition to be delivered via a social feed that the whole company can access, all the better — this lends employees insight into the great things their colleagues are accomplishing. It also creates an opportunity for the person being recognized to feel celebrated not only by whoever recognized them in the first place, but by peers who seize the opportunity to pile on the praise. Through regular social recognition, your team can continue to celebrate one another’s success every day, even through this sudden shift to virtual work.

3. Follow Best Practices of Virtual Teams

It’s important to remember that there are many employees who have been practicing successful virtual work since long before COVID-19, and although they may have made the transition to full time remote work under less dramatic circumstances, they experienced a transition nonetheless.

There is lots of great literature available on how to do successful virtual work.
There is lots of great literature available on how to do successful virtual work.

Now is a good time to pay attention to key learnings these people have to share. Many remote workers emphasize the importance of maintaining a routine even when working from home. Other highly recommended practices include frequent manager check-ins, diligence in keeping calendars up-to-date, and thoughtful project management.

If there are members of your team who are used to working remotely, don’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions and expertise. They have experience in this arena and can almost certainly provide useful insight. Additionally, keep in mind that with the increasing popularity of virtual teams in recent years, there’s no shortage of literature on how to make them successful under non-pandemic circumstances. Leverage this existing knowledge to establish best practices and  support your team in what could be a relatively long-term adjustment.

4. Ask Employees What You Need

As we make this unplanned, monumental shift to remote work, keep in mind that everyone is learning together. Some of the support employees need — like regular check-ins and fast wifi — will be more obvious, and others might only come to mind after they manifest as obvious pain points.

In this abrupt shift to virtual work, don't forget to ask employees what they need most.
In this abrupt shift to virtual work, don’t forget to ask employees what they need most.

Perhaps the best practice employers can adopt as the consequences of COVID-19 continue to unfold is a policy of open, and even vulnerable, communication.

Everyone is weathering this together, with the shared goal of minimizing struggle and ultimately, loss. Encourage your online workers to speak up about the things they’ve found most challenging about suddenly going remote, and create spaces for team members to share their experiences. Connecting with others both about the things that have been difficult and the solutions they’ve responded with is perhaps the best way the workforce can cope.

Finally, don’t neglect the members of your workforce who are experiencing consequences of COVID-19 other than a sudden shift to remote work. In the coming weeks, we’ll share tips and resources to support deskless workers throughout this crisis, as well as stress management strategies that apply to the workforce more broadly. As stated at the beginning of this article, the measures recommended above should be just one element of a diversified strategy to support your workforce throughout this pandemic. Stay tuned for our next article, which will cover how businesses can provide stress-management in a world dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.