The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a dramatic increase in the number of people working from home, driving uncertainty for both employees and employers. Today’s landscape includes more people working remotely for an indefinite amount of time, while having other worries top of mind.
Not even businesses and employees who are accustomed to remote work are exempt.
“We all have to recognize that this isn’t business as usual,” said Ravi Gajendran, associate professor of global leadership and management at FIU Business. “Everyone is focused on getting the work done, but it has to get done against a backdrop of so much uncertainty – managing the kids, school closures, buying groceries.”
Key to success is having proactive communication from both sides.
“Employees have to be proactive in reaching out to whoever they’re working with and be willing to overcommunicate,” Gajendran said. “They shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to their manager or boss and ask what’s needed from them on a weekly basis or how to break up those responsibilities into daily to-do lists.”
The advice is the same for managers and the business’ leadership.
“If you’re a leader, daily check-ins with subordinates once or twice a day will let you see that the person is able to get their work done,” said Gajendran. These check-ins will also provide a closer look at the employee’s circumstances – whether they’re coping or overwhelmed, if they have children at home, or if they need deadline flexibility. “You help them troubleshoot and you provide reassurance that you’re there to help.”
The challenges faced by workplaces have become an important component in the battle against the coronavirus. Since mid-February, 46 percent of U.S. businesses have implemented remote work policies and by all indicators that figure will continue to rise, according to a survey conducted by consultants Willis Towers Watson.
One of the most serious threats to employees and companies impacted by the coronavirus outbreak is the lack of face-to-face interaction that telecommuting results in. Working in teams, getting input from others, walking over to someone’s desk and even knowing someone’s availability are put to the test.
“A lot of things are more obvious in an office setting, but within the context of working away, things become a little more uncertain,” said Gajendran. “That’s where being proactive is important.”
Telecommuting as a whole has been on the rise since 2005, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census. The BLS’ 2017 American Time Use Survey indicated that 23 percent of U.S. employees did some or all of their work at home.
For companies and employees accustomed to remote work, transitioning to the current state should be relatively simple, Gajendran explained. By contrast, those who have never done it, or whose managers haven’t been properly trained, may find it a terrible experience and never want to do it again.
“It’s too early to say what kind of experience people are having, given that they’re forced to do this,” said Gajendran. “There’s no blanket case to determine if working remotely will be more or less popular. It depends on the circumstances.”