Home COVID-19 Leading remote teams in a post-COVID world

Leading remote teams in a post-COVID world

Rosie Cairnes
The future of workplaces is changing and businesses have to strategise to successfully manage a growing remote workforce
Vice President, Asia-Pacific at Skillsoft
A laptop with a coffee mug beside it on a table showing several people in the midst of a video conferencing

The ongoing pandemic, and the resulting social distancing measures, are having a lasting impact on everyone’s lives. World Mental Health Day, on 10 October this year, highlighted an issue aggravated by COVID-19. According to the Wesley Mission, the mental health of three out of four Australians has been affected by COVID-19. 

With employees confined to their homes for weeks on end, COVID-19 has disrupted the way we work, interact and socialise. It has also served as a trigger for businesses and employees to reflect on how the future of workplaces will look, with wellbeing and mental health thrust to the forefront.

Employee wellbeing matters more than ever

Skillsoft’s research found that nine in 10 workers in Asia-Pacific are against a return to ‘normal’ working life and want to see at least one COVID-19 practice adopted permanently.

The top practices that workers want to see introduced are flexibility in their working hours (59%) and working from home (58%), with almost half wanting more time dedicated to their physical and mental wellbeing (47%) and increased family time (47%). Interestingly, 27% workers ranked health and safety as the number one issue they want business leaders to prioritise.

The Wesley Mission research shows 40% of Australians say they feel uncertain about the future, a third feel stressed and 27% say they feel more anxious during the pandemic. With our health and safety at risk from COVID-19, we’ve all been sent cascading down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s safe to assume that having had the opportunity to work from home, be more flexible in managing their time and prioritise their own health and wellbeing, workers are keen to see this continue with support from their employers.

Supporting a remote workforce

With more and more employees working remotely for the foreseeable future – how can businesses support the wellbeing of a disparate team?

With normal routines disrupted, many business leaders have upped their communication and engagement with remote workers – implementing regular virtual huddles and ‘coffee mornings’ using video technology to banish feelings of isolation, fill the social void and nurture team bonds.

Today’s digital HR and learning platforms make it easy for employees, no matter where they are based, to access the learning and development resources they need to extend their capabilities and know-how.

Some companies have issued helpful guidelines to remote workers on everything, from the work protocols that are in place, such as new policies around flexible hours and security at home, to encouraging them to take regular breaks from monitors and go for walks. Others have offered employees free counselling sessions and webinars on how to nurture their emotional and mental health. Meanwhile, some are offering employees access to an EAP programme and providing a wellbeing budget for staff to take fitness classes or buy equipment and sometimes even pushing the envelope further by providing virtual guided meditation classes.

But nurturing the mental outlook and wellbeing of a remote workforce in the long term will require an appropriately structured approach that features new tools and processes that take into account both personal and organisational development needs.

Building connections that support healthy working practices

With a disparate workplace, it’s not always evident when there may be issues in an employee’s life that are impacting their wellbeing. It is imperative for business leaders to make a point of checking in with employees to ask how they are and what’s going on in their personal lives.

One of the huge advantages of working from home is that employees have flexibility to manage their own time. With that in mind, encourage employees to schedule their day to prioritise their own needs. They can start the day with a run or rest in the afternoon, provided they are meeting their objectives.

Establishing effective daily communication with a remote workforce is essential; email alone won’t suffice. Use multiple channels to communicate, particularly work chat platforms that are more casual and personal, encouraging greater connection between employees. Also plan regular face-to-face meetings with teams via video conference. This can be weekly, or fortnightly. Consistent interaction and engagement will help remote workers feel included, accountable and supported. However, you have to trust your team to get the job done. Micromanaging someone from afar will only lead to frustration and resentment.

Respecting the boundaries between work and leisure time is also critical. With employees no longer limited by 9 to 5 office commute routines, it’s easy for the boundaries to blur between work and personal time. To avoid burn-out, organisations will need to adhere to appropriate working hour protocols; don’t schedule conference calls out of hours or expect late night responses unless someone is rostered for shift cover.

Building a community where isolated workers feel engaged and included will become increasingly important as digital working becomes embedded into company and national culture. With annual get-togethers and social celebrations no longer on the table, companies will need to find new ways to call out individual staff successes and recognise the special occasions and life events that matter to their people. Consider initiating options like virtual birthday cards, or online shopping vouchers, or plan to host ‘company-wide’ virtual conferences or ‘parties’.

Don’t lose sight of personal development needs

Today’s digital HR and learning platforms make it easy for employees, no matter where they are based, to access the learning and development resources they need to extend their capabilities and know-how.

Many people will be anxious that being based from home, means their career aspirations will be on hold. So, employers will need to deploy tools that make it easy for workers to share what roles or skills they’d like to transition to in the future, identify competency gaps and acquire the new qualifications they’ll need. Organisations should provide a dedicated time each week for learning and suggest tools such as habit calendars to build it into employees’ routines.

Nurturing the mental outlook and wellbeing of a remote workforce in the long term will require an appropriately structured approach that features new tools and processes that take into account both personal and organisational development needs.

Best-in-class learning platforms today offer a wealth of learning options in the form of watch, read, listen and practice that make remote learning an enjoyable experience for people with a range of different learning styles. From bite-sized learning that can be consumed in small chunks, to video resources, and signposting to additional reading and learning they can tackle if they’re keen to further broaden their knowledge and expertise in a particular area. 

We’ve seen a tremendous spike in learner activity since COVID-19 lockdowns came into effect around the globe. We’ve witnessed a significant increase in key metrics like average time spent in learning; number of resources accessed by learners and the number of return visits to the platform. It appears that learners are preparing themselves for what’s next and taking this opportunity to upsell and reskill.

Adopting a more holistic approach

The COVID-19 crisis has fast-tracked new workplace models that are set to change the world of work as we know it today. For many business leaders, the experience has highlighted the importance of adopting a holistic approach to managing a remote workforce that is not focused only on the practical tools required for their jobs. Keeping people happy, productive, skilled and engaged will depend more than ever on nurturing every aspect of their professional and personal lives. And paramount to this will be nurturing their mental health and wellbeing.

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Rosie Cairnes
Vice President, Asia-Pacific at Skillsoft

Rosie has more than 23 years’ experience working with both national and global organisations across industry sectors and with government agencies. Specialising in cloud-based learning and performance support solutions, Rosie's goal is to help organisations align learning with strategic business goals to deliver quantifiable results and impacts that benefit both the organisation and their employees. Rosie has led the Skillsoft Australia and New Zealand business for the past seven years and has recently taken on responsibility for the Asia-Pacific Region.

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