Recognizing and Rewarding Employees in a Remote Work Environment
In the first quarter of 2020, a lockdown in response to the COVID-19 virus caused a record number of businesses to transition some, or all, of their workforce from in-office to a remote work environment. For many employers and employees, this was a brand new (and unplanned) experience. And, in addition to a crash course in virtual meetings, the situation challenged long-held norms—requiring teams and managers to communicate differently and trust more.
Pre-pandemic, the debate over flexible and remote work schedules had reached the doors of most organizations. Nationwide, the combination of more reliable Wi-Fi connections, increasing pressure from younger, tech-savvy generations, and the desire for a healthy, more family-friendly work/life balance was beginning to tip the scales in favor of more flexible schedules. But it was COVID-19 that catapulted even those organizations most resistant to working from home into the world of a remote workforce.
After initial kinks were ironed out, the majority of those working remote showed they were up to the task. Projects continued, deadlines were met, and goals were achieved. Despite the many changes and challenges thrown at employers and employees, the work from home model has proven to be a viable and successful option—and this unexpected, nationwide test will likely change the landscape of workforce models forever.
How the pandemic has revealed the benefits of a remote workforce.
- Reduction in overhead expenses (office space rental, utilities, etc.)
- Productivity levels remain steady or even increase (no commute time)
- Teams still meeting companywide performance objectives
- Thinking outside the box / potential to grow and evolve
- Remote technology concerns put to rest
- Increased retention through improved work/life balance
- New ways to connect and adapt
- Reduced costs (gas, clothing expenses, parking, car maintenance)
The sudden shift to a remote workforce.
As of the writing of this article, COVID-19 is still a threat and after nearly nine months of lockdowns and increased safety measures, many organizations have team members that are still—fully or partially—working from home. This extended period of time away from coworkers and set schedules has revealed a new set of challenges. Where the immediate days after lockdown called for a quick set up of processes and home office essentials, the long-term needs of a remote workforce are now coming into focus. And although employees have risen to the challenge, the lingering effects of the pandemic—increased stress and anxiety, health concerns, balancing work and at-home schooling, and more—have highlighted the importance of communication, support, and recognition.
According to G&A Client Advocate, Denise Macik, setting remote employees up for success includes the basics, like providing access to office equipment, supplies, and IT staff. But it’s just as important—if not more important—for employers and managers to provide team members (who may be feeling isolated and overwhelmed) with the support and guidance they need to feel appreciated, motivated, and inspired.
Tips: How to recognize and reward remote workers.
- Acknowledge the small stuff. A simple “thank you” or “I appreciate you” can do wonders for an employee who’s feeling uncertain, unsure, or even anxious.
- Recognize difficult situations and help provide solutions: “I understand balancing work and your child’s at-home schooling are a challenge. How can I help?”
- Continue 1-on-1 check ins. Consistent communication and a link to the familiar provides a sense of belonging and stability.
- Don’t forget performance reviews. Adjust, if necessary, for a changing environment, so your team has a guide to stay on track with goals and milestones.
- Just like you would in the office, recognize employees who are doing a great job / going above and beyond. Call out those employees in weekly emails or in a team video conferencing call.
- Keep traditions. Just find a new way to do them.
For employees who have never worked from home, the transition can be a real struggle. “I have some team members who are brand new to remote work,” Macik says. “For this group, it’s critical that they feel included.” Macik suggests placing newly remote employees on a team that will work together to suggest a topic for the next meeting or set goals for the upcoming month. This camaraderie and teamwork will help to maximize connection and minimize feelings of isolation.
The transition from in-office to remote work: Business as usual?
Whether you have one or multiple employees now working from home, the transition has probably had its ups and downs. Even those considered highly organized, self-starters in the office, can struggle at home. “Some employees become energized or more productive when surrounded by coworkers,” says Macik. “When working from home, these folks can have trouble starting or finishing projects, and their productivity can take a hit.”
To help remote employees—especially those relatively new to the environment—consider the following:
- Revisit current policies and review what is, and isn’t, working since you transitioned to a remote setting. Include team members in discussions to gain valuable input and suggestions as you update guidelines and procedures.
- If you have a policy about punctuality, define what that means for remote employees. Is it being online by a specific time, responding to requests quickly during work hours, or checking in throughout the day?
- Increase communication, trust your gut, and get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. For employers and employees, this can be a tough time. “The key is to balance empathy and professionalism,” Macik says. “If you suspect an employee is having a hard time, get on the phone or set up a Zoom call. An open and honest check-in can help you understand the issue, suggest a solution, and re-establish a connection with your team member.”
- Set individual expectations. If an employee has a child in a remote school setting, work out a schedule that allows for work and parenting. Come to an agreement and put it in writing. Reevaluate as needed.
- Set up weekly, face-to-face (videoconferencing) team meetings. Discuss work, but also have some fun. This allows you to see your employees’ faces, focus on teamwork, and reinforce your commitment to helping them succeed.
- Set boundaries. When working remote, many employees suffer from what Macik calls “turn it off” syndrome. “The line between work and home can get blurred,” says Macik. “Responding—at all hours—to the constant pinging of emails or messages can have an impact on their personal lives. Empower your team to disconnect at a certain hour and reconnect with family or friends.”
- Celebrate. Don’t let special events go unnoticed. Throw a virtual retirement party for a valued, long-time employee, or a virtual wedding or baby shower.
- If you notice a dip in performance or a lack of regular communication, reach out. Remote work presents its own challenges, especially during universally difficult times. Offering a kind word or providing your employee with a list of helpful resources can make a meaningful difference.
- It’s worth mentioning again. Remember to say thank you.
The impact of recognizing (or not recognizing) your remote employees.
Recognizing or rewarding remote employees is likely more important now than at any other time in our recent history. And helping your team to feel valued and trusted will only serve you, your employees, and your company well today, and in the future.
Impacts of NOT recognizing and rewarding employees:
- High turnover—usually amongst your most productive and valuable employees.
- Team members feel used and unappreciated—lowering productivity and increasing negativity.
- Teamwork disappears.
- Poor customer service and communication.
Positive impacts of recognizing and rewarding employees:
- A more dedicated and productive staff.
- A more united team.
- Better communication and feedback, resulting in more creative ideas and solutions.
- Better customer service. Happy employees are more patient and positive with clients.
- Less turnover.
For information on how a PEO, like G&A, can help you build a strong, resilient, and productive remote team, schedule a consultation with one of our business advisors or find more useful information in our Resources section. You can also check out our COVID-19 Toolkit for information and tips to get you and your team through the days ahead. As always, we’re here to help.
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