by Shayne Thomas
22 Jul 2020
It’s Your Time to Coach Remote Workers to Success
6 tips for ensuring your remote workforce stays productive and accountable
We’ve learned a lot of things throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve also busted a few myths, especially those about the productivity of remote workers.
For years, businesses have wrongfully assumed that “working from home” typically equates to “sitting around and doing nothing.” However, as the remote workforce trend has gained a lot of steam over the last few years, well before these pandemic times we’re living in, it wasn’t until the arrival of the novel coronavirus that remote working got its true “ah-ha!” moment.
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to keep the trains moving from home throughout the COVID-19 crisis quickly learned that your physical location doesn’t necessarily dictate your productivity or your ability to get work done—even if it took a little adjusting at first. Truth is, anyone who has already spent a lot of time working remotely has known this for years.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that being in the office, face-to-face with your manager and team isn’t useful or valuable, because it certainly is. For certain jobs it’s essential. However, for jobs that don’t require in-person interaction at all times, the plethora of new tools and technologies that keep teams collaborating and communicating in real-time have proven, in many ways, that the show can still go on, even when you’re working from home in your pyjamas.
In fact, the flexibility of working from home can go hand-in-hand with a few important benefits. A recent study found that remote workers are 20 percent more likely to complete their daily tasks every or most days and are also 17 percent more likely to finish the work day 'feeling accomplished’ about what they set out to do.
Stats like these have started to make employers think twice about their work from home policies. Not only can embracing a remote work strategy help them reduce office operations costs, but it can also help employees avoid oftentimes long and tedious commutes (that pollute the environment, too!). And given that stay-at-home orders continue to ebb and flow as the COVID-19 crisis runs its course, there’s a good chance that working from home could become less of an exception and more of a rule for years to come.
That being said, the world today is facing a slew of unprecedented new challenges, fears, and uncertainties that can easily rattle anyone to the very core and have a huge impact on productivity, employee morale, stress, and more. Even though this pandemic-imposed work from home experiment has debunked many remote working myths of the past, it doesn’t mean that certain struggles or performance issues won’t arise. After all, not everyone is cut out for remote working—much less when the weight of the world has got us all a bit down.
For managers, this is an opportunity to shine. Your team needs your attention and support more than ever before. Your employees rely on you to be a “coach” to help them weather this storm—through the good and the bad. And when there are issues that need to be nipped in the bud, seek ways to help your struggling employees overcome their challenges so they, too, can feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of every work day.
Here are a few coaching tips to get you started:
1. Spot problems quickly
We all have our good and bad days. That’s what makes us human. However, if you start to see recurring trends that feel a little “off” to you, there’s a good chance something’s actually “off” with your employee. Perhaps they’re not responding as quickly as usual, starting to fall behind on deadlines uncharacteristically , or suddenly becoming less participative in virtual meetings (i.e. turning off their video and muting their microphone). When these types of patterns become repetitive, it’s a sign that something’s wrong. It may not necessarily be tied to day-to-day work—for all you know, your employee could be facing a crisis at home—but whatever the case may be, it needs to be addressed quickly.
2. Communicate openly
There’s nothing easy about the world we’re living in today. The last thing a manager should do is govern with an iron fist—as that’s a surefire way to put employees on the defensive, decrease morale, and likely exacerbate existing performance issues. Instead, approach the situation with empathy and open up a dialogue with your struggling employees to give them the chance to open up and tell you what’s going on. Not only will this likely take a big weight off of their shoulders, but it will also give you keen insight into how to address the issue at hand. By showing that you’re there to listen to whatever is on your team’s mind, you create an environment of trust that can go a long way towards helping employees work through their challenges. It all starts with a simple, non-accusatory conversation.
3. Revisit your goals and objectives
At the beginning of the year, you and your employees may have put plans in place to achieve specific goals and objectives throughout the year. But there’s a good chance that a lot has changed since you built those plans. For starters, COVID-19 happened, throwing a wrench into pretty much everything. Suffice it to say, there’s really no better time than now—especially when you’ve noticed that some employees are struggling—revisit your plans and reevaluate both the short- and long-term goals you’ve set. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take work off an employee’s plate, but perhaps you need to re-think timelines or set new expectations at various project milestones. This is a great way to help your employees maintain accountability and stay focused at a time when so much is in flux.
4. Set reasonable benchmarks
As you revisit these plans, it’s also important to ensure that the goals you set are achievable and can give your struggling employees the structure they need to succeed. A great way to do this is by setting reasonable benchmarks around what success looks like and the steps they need to take to get there. By splitting up goals into easily digestible chunks, it can feel less daunting and, as an added perk, more rewarding when employees successfully reach each milestone. Doing so can transform a once discouraged employee—overwhelmed by a seemingly endless to-do list—into a high performer quickly.
5. Focus on skills development
Benchmarks don’t always have to be task-oriented, nor do they necessarily have to be 100% related to an employee’s day-to-day work. Learning and skills development is a great way to help employees set and achieve goals in a way that can get the creative juices flowing once again. Not only can this teach them new skills that they can apply directly to their work, but it will also give them a unique opportunity to shift their mind out of “task mode.” The goal here is to get them excited about their work again by, funny enough, getting their mind off of work. And once they’ve completed training and skills development opportunities you’ve assigned, there’s a good chance they’ll have a newfound sense of accomplishment that will give them added motivation to conquer their to-do list once and for all.
6. Celebrate the wins
As a coach, it’s your role to help your team succeed—through both the ups and downs. A big part of this involves celebrating the wins, even if they are small. This is even more critical when teams are working remotely. Whether it’s giving a shout out during a weekly virtual team call for hitting a specific milestone or, for bigger wins, offering up a coupon to order a free lunch via the local food delivery app—or anything else in between—by shining a spotlight on your team’s accomplishments, you remind everyone that their work is appreciated. For some, this kind of constant validation may seem a little too cheerleader-like of a management style. However, during these tough times, managers must go above and beyond to keep their employees engaged and happy. After all, everyone, regardless of the situation, likes to know that their hard work doesn’t go by unnoticed.
Be the coach your team needs you to be
Being a coach doesn’t mean being a drill sergeant. It means guiding your team on a path to continued success—even when there are a few bumps along the road. Simply by showing you care can give even underperforming or struggling employees the confidence they need to overcome whatever challenges they are facing. It just requires you to spot the signs of potential performance issues early on and engage your employees in an open dialogue about how to help them get over their hurdles. While this is a good strategy to live by during normal circumstances, this is even more important when many teams are working remotely.
If you need a few pointers on how to do this effectively, Cornerstone Performance can help. Our check-ins feature can especially come in handy when managing remote teams. If you’re ready to start coaching your team to success, we’ll give you the tools to succeed.