Today, organizational leaders and managers find themselves in the difficult position of helping workers navigate a work-life crisis. In addition to the daily battle to stay healthy, many team members are still struggling to adjust to the new and uncertain reality of social distancing. Employees hastily set up home offices, teams are using ad hoc collections of apps to collaborate and managers are doing the best they can to provide support in a completely unfamiliar environment.
The consulting firm Global Workforce Analytics determined that around 75 million of Americans can do some aspects of their jobs from home. That statistic provides little assurance at a time when U.S. employers are asking at least that many (and likely more) workers to succeed in a fully or mostly remote work environment.
For those of us who have preached the benefits of remote work for years, the sudden mass migration of employees from offices during the COVID-19 pandemic has been fascinating. Engagement was high early on as many employees saw an opportunity to prove their value and teams went the extra mile to create shortcuts and efficiencies in their newly remote environments. The workforce demonstrated an admirable professional spirit. While not every day was perfect, people found ways to connect and collaborate in the face of a new threat.
Fast-forward to today. Many teams have entered their third month of remote work. When that will end is uncertain. And even when “normal” returns, nothing will look the same.
Parents are frazzled, domestic relationships are strained and, as human beings, we are just plain tired. Team members are starting their days earlier, working later and living in a constant state of worry about job stability. To many employees, days off and vacations seem as luxurious and scarce as hand sanitizer.
To say we have an employee engagement problem is to understate the challenge managers face. The actual situation is a total crisis of work-life balance.
Organizational leaders cannot get caught up and carried away by the chaos of the sudden transition to remote work. Improvising may have been fine for the first few weeks, but it is past time to permanently shift strategy.
Assisting team members with achieving a healthy work-life balance is not just important for the duration of the pandemic, but well beyond. Joel Goh and a team of Harvard Business School researchers estimated that health care costs related to stress and burnout reach as high as $190 billion each year. Emerging from the current crisis with a stronger, more engaged team requires managers to focus on fostering a healthy work-life balance. Here are four suggestions to do this.
Be Transparent and Honest
The less uncertainty employees experience, the better they will feel. No matter how difficult, leaders need to lay out organizational realities to employees. This is the only way to help them understand the true extent of the challenges the organization faces. Speaking openly and honestly also helps employees understand how they might become a part of the solution.
When leaders give employees a clear view of the challenges ahead, they lay important groundwork for gaining employees’ trust. And when employees trust leaders to give them a transparent assessment of the present situation and possible futures, they will feel more empowered to speak up when they face struggles of their own—including issues with work-life balance.
Lead With Empathy
No employees are immune to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Consequently, leaders must empathize with the unique situation each employee finds themself in and show some humanity. For many employees, work and life have merged into one—and so have their calendars.
Leading with empathy means encouraging employees to set 30-minute calendar blocks so they can go for a run, walk the dog, play with their kids or just perform some self-care. It means excusing employees who are a little late to a call or may have missed an important communication because they were not used to collaborating online. An effective leader of a remote team takes every opportunity to give employees flexibility to navigate their new personal and professional realities.
Get Ahead of Problems
A Thrive Global survey of 5,000 U.S. workers conducted just as the pandemic hit revealed that more than 85 percent of respondents felt they could be more supported by their organizations during the crisis. For HR leaders in particular, this time is critical, especially as experts caution that COVID-19 cases could surge in the fall.
Organizations that do not already have a centralized, holistic resource for all remote work policies and procedures must develop one. Properly planned, assembled and linked, such a resource allows individual team members, select teams and the entire workforce to transition quickly and seamlessly to remote work.
A comprehensive remote work plan should include logistical considerations. For example, employees should know who to contact to make IT upgrades in their homes, or what the procedure is if they leave the organization and need to return equipment. Such considerations may seem small, but not figuring them out ahead of time is a wasted opportunity.
Many organizations have never had so many remote employees. As a result, the organizations have no data to inform decision-making.
Just a few of the question that require definitive answers are
- Which departments use what software, and how often?
- How long does it take for an employee to find contact information on the intranet?
- How many people are typically using a software license at once?
Now is always the time to start measuring data points. It is also never the wrong time to use quality data to influence how managers support employees.
It is natural for anyone who suddenly finds themselves in charge of a remote workforce to feel anxiety amid the uncertainty. However, organizational leaders and managers cannot let those feelings get in the way of supporting team members.
A new era of thinking about the workplace must dawn—one in which remote teams may be the rule rather than an exception. Leaders who are able to protect their team members’ work-life balance now amid one of the biggest disruptions to everyday life in a century will emerge from the crisis with even greater employee engagement.
01 June 2020
HR News Article