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New Challenges of Using Remote Workers

The pandemic has changed workplace culture, probably forever. As events unfolded over the last few years, many employers shuttered their doors completely or scaled back to using only essential workers at their regular workplace. Remote workers became a commonplace occurrence rather than an unusual situation, even for traditional work-on-site businesses.

Now that health conditions have generally improved, should your operation return to pre-pandemic business as usual? Some company leaders are advocating for a complete return while others are comfortable with a remote workforce. Still others prefer a hybrid.

On one hand, traditionalists with "production paranoia" maintain that output suffers when employees work remotely and that there are substantial benefits to keeping all workers on the premises. On the other hand, some businesspeople see productivity rising with work-at-home employees and have even expressed concern that they're working too hard and may experience burnout. These two schools of thought appear to conflict with each other — but they actually share a common objective.

Old School: Don't Trust Workers

Traditionally, supervisors have been reluctant to allow employees to work from home mainly because they feared workers would be distracted or simply goof off. How could you be sure that they weren't watching TV, doing household chores or taking a nap?

The problem was that the office couldn't monitor the work being performed at home. Now, however, it's possible to track keystrokes, mouse movements and onscreen activities to determine exactly what a worker is doing and when. Some jobs that aren't heavily connected to computer functions are more difficult to monitor but tracking other functions may be possible. Monitoring may seem like an acceptable compromise for some workers motivated to continue working from home. But many employees are likely to push back on monitoring as a form of surveillance and indication of distrust. Is there a better way?

New School: Expect More from Workers

A new wave of managers has embraced the concept of remote workers. In fact, some supervisors expect their remote workers to deliver even more than they did before the pandemic hit. After all, the reasoning goes, at-home workers no longer spend time commuting. Usually, their "commute" involves no more than walking from one room of their home to another room. So they have more time to devote to work.

Also, workers aren't distracted by social interaction with coworkers. There's no one to chat with around the water cooler. They're not dissecting last night's big game or their favorite TV shows. Again, this leads to a greater focus on work — the ultimate goal of many managers.

But it does create a different set of problems. Breaks from the daily grind are still necessary. Keeping employees in constant work mode while they're home — which means they're putting in even more hours than usual — isn't necessarily the answer, either.

Find the Proper Balance

A general desire for a greater work/life balance has largely driven the "Great Resignation." In the past two years, many workers have jumped ship when they felt dissatisfied with their work environment. How then can managers retain current employees and attract new talent? Consider these practical suggestions.

Emphasize outcomes over input. Take a closer look at what's most important to your company. If you're usually more concerned about quality than quantity, don't place undue significance on productivity. Concentrate on the value you're getting from employees rather than on insisting workers remain at their desk every moment.

Measure what means the most. Along the same lines, is it necessary to measure activity by monitoring an employee's keystrokes on their computer? You'll be better served by measuring the results stemming from employee activities while they're working from home. Check off goals achieved rather than the hours worked.

Be flexible. There's a lot to be said about adopting a hybrid approach that suits the needs of your business. For example, if occasional face-to-face meetings are essential, you might schedule employees to work at the physical building location once or twice (or more) a month

Communicate with employees. This discussion shouldn't be a one-way street. Ask your employees about their preferences. The answers may surprise you. For instance, employees may not want to work from home full time. Employee preferences may dovetail with a hybrid schedule you're proposing or encourage you to fine-tune your strategies.

Schedule work breaks. This can be a great way to get employees to take a deep breath and then refocus on their work. It also enables workers to avoid distractions that can come at critical times. Use software to accommodate scheduling that benefits your company.

Be judicious about meetings. Zoom, Teams and comparable videoconferencing programs have eliminated one of the main complaints that traditionalists had about remote work. They enable virtual face-to-face meetings with your staff. But that doesn't mean you have to overload on videoconference meetings. Gather your workforce together when it accomplishes specific goals, but be smart about holding meetings, just like you should when workers are on the premises.

Use, but don't abuse, monitoring software. No one likes the idea that "Big Brother" is spying on them. Many workers cringe at the thought of their supervisors micromanaging them in this fashion. But certain software can be less intrusive and even welcome if it offers resources such as providing reminders and notifications.

Customize Your Approach

There are challenges ahead for employers that choose to use remote workers in some capacity going forward. You may have to tinker with arrangements to find the balance your company is seeking. However, if you're willing to remain flexible, you should be able to develop a solution that accommodates your businesses — and your employee's — needs.

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