Since the nationwide implementation of social distancing measures put in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many companies have shifted to operating a remote workforce. Since mid-February, Forbes reports that almost half of all American companies have asked their employees to work from home. For many business leaders, this has resulted in major disruptions to daily operations, and while there are many benefits to working from home for both employers and individuals, not having the opportunity for face-to-face interactions creates practical challenges for effective communication that many leadership teams are grappling with for the first time. In this blog post, we’ll offer guidance and advice for having tough conversations with remote employees.
Become familiar with new communication platforms
As meetings started to migrate from the conference room to a virtual landscape, many of us have had to learn to navigate new communication platforms and applications, such as Teams or Slack. There’s no way around it—video conferences can be awkward. There are more potential distractions and technical difficulties to overcome, and not being able to pick up on the nuances of non-verbal communication is challenging. Becoming familiar with your company’s preferred communication channel for virtual meetings and 1:1 conversations will help you develop a sense of ease with the format and make communication feel more natural.
As with any new system, there will be a bit of a learning curve while everyone adjusts to using the platform. One important problem to circumvent before it happens is technical difficulties. Before an important meeting, try doing a test call to ensure that your camera and microphone are working well. This will help ensure that the virtual conversation goes smoothly and is not interrupted with, “Can you hear me now?”
Addressing performance concerns
There are always going to be sticky situations with employees, and the transition to working for home may exacerbate troubling behavior or performance concerns for some members of your team. If one of your team members has bad work habits in the office, chances are they will continue while the employee is working from home. A few things to watch out for include increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, unsatisfactory performance, inappropriate attire or appearance on video chats, and decreased engagement with team members or clients.
While it can be uncomfortable to address issues such as these, communicating with remote employees about performance concerns might be necessary to maintain the long-term health of your team. There can be a ripple effect with negative behavior, even in a remote workplace. Disruptive patterns of absenteeism, decreased productivity, or unsatisfactory job performance in one employee can adversely impact your whole team, as well as the needs of the businesses and clients they serve. Addressing these issues early and head-on will help you establish an appropriate level of expectation from your employees.
When it comes to interviewing employees in the current environment, the biggest challenge that hiring managers are facing is not having the opportunity to meet candidates face-to-face. To adapt the interview process to work for a remote workforce, more employers have started conducting virtual interviews via phone call or video conference.
When you’re interviewing a candidate remotely, make sure to set up an optimal virtual environment—don’t hold the interview in a space where you can be easily distracted by children or pets. Know your equipment, and test it out ahead of time for video and sound quality, especially if you’re using a platform that you’re unfamiliar with. Dress professionally and come prepared like you would for a normal in-person interview. Lastly, be yourself and try to make a connection. The physical disconnect of virtual interviews can be awkward for both the manager and the candidate, but it begins to feel more natural once the conversation gets going.
Related Reading: Recruiting and On-Boarding New Employees in a Remote Workplace
For many employers, the shift to operating a remote workforce has been a challenging transition, but there are benefits to hiring remote employees, including reduced costs and higher productivity. HR departments and businesses across the country are already making adjustments to their culture to ensure that their companies can perform at optimum levels with a remote workforce. Learning to communicate effectively with your remote employees is the first step in building a productive workforce for your business. The next step is arming them with the tools, knowledge, and resources to perform their best while working from home.