Tails and Tales of Remote Work

“I’m sorry, I’m working from home and my dog is barking.” How many times have you said or heard this lately? I have a mini schnauzer with a not-so-mini personality, so I’m an experienced “I’m sorry my dog is barking” professional. So is the HR leader who said that exact sentence on our call this morning. 

By now, many of us have been working remotely for months. Some for years. We’ve adopted new methods, like wearing pajama shorts under that sharp shirt and blazer because no one really ever sees below our shoulders. We’ve found a new rhythm. We work when the kids are doing homework or the baby (and/or dog) is napping. We’ve got this. 

But are we engaged? Are we growing? Do we feel connected to our colleagues, our leaders, our organizational and personal purpose? We’re working longer hours and producing great work, but we don’t know if it’s sustainable. The events of 2020 are taking a collective toll on our mental health. If you are an HR leader or a manager of people, consider some best practices for supporting remote workers. 

  1. Offer options. Remember that employees have different learning styles, different engagement preferences, and different abilities. We have more options to accommodate differences when we can be in person in an office setting and use technology. Our options shrink when we’re forced to rely exclusively on technology. However, shrunk isn’t nothing. There is really great HR tech out there. There are free online tools. We’re not stuck. We can still offer different options for communication, learning, and engagement. Employee wellbeing is negatively impacted when they’re boxed into a corner. Give them some wiggle room.  
  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it. If you had systems in place prior to the disruption that still work in a remote environment, leave them be. For example, if you used to send an email or pick up the phone and call when you had a question, but now you’re defaulting to a video call, take a step back and ask yourself why. Do you feel required to use video calling because it’s “more engaging” than phone calls? Video calls certainly add value to a remote work environment, but they should be limited to scheduled group meetings that you would normally have in person, just like scheduling a conference room. Video fatigue is real, and our mental health slides when we feel forced into unnecessary camera time. If the good ol’ telephone ain’t broke, don’t break it.  
  3. Seek feedback. I know you know this one. Are you doing it? Openly, regularly, meaningfully? The only source that can tell you if employees are feeling energized or overwhelmed, engaged, or burned out (or Zoomed out) is…drum roll…employees. Talk to them. Remember #1 and offer options to talk to them by email, phone, video, anonymous survey, etc. Pay attention to the options they choose; that’s immediate feedback. The employee who always uses video calls may be signaling that they need social interaction. The employee who emails at midnight may be navigating a schedule with a newborn baby. Next time you’re in a virtual meeting with everyone, use a polling feature or link to a 3-question survey in the chat feature to ask for anonymous feedback about wellbeing and engagement. Here are some tips for effectively using pulse surveys

We all have barking dogs and laughing children who are equal parts of our remote work environment, and with the right support and good leadership from HR, we can find high work engagement and general and mental wellbeing in this new worklife. We’ve got this. 

Jillian Miles

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