Self-isolation and Coronavirus: How to manage a remote workforce

Governments around the world are recommending or mandating home working to minimise the spread of the coronavirus, and to protect the most vulnerable in societies. How can organisations best make home working "work" during a time of self-isolation?

Self-isolation and working from home: tips for a better workforce
Stuart Duff, Head of Development at workplace psychology consultancy, Pearn Kandola, comments about the psychological impacts of home working on people in the workforce - and how you can work to ensure that all members of your team are bringing their best selves to projects.

Know your team

You might assume that introverted people, who are more comfortable spending time alone and working under their own steam, are more accustomed to working flexibly than extroverts, who feel a much greater need for social interaction. The reality, however, is that extroverted people are much more likely to adapt well to agile working.

It’s vital that remote workers remain in touch with their wider team, and this is something at which extroverts excel. They are much more likely to proactively make contact, while introverts find it harder to initiate conversation and risk becoming even more detached.

Managers should be encouraged to get to know their remote workers as well as possible. If you know that you have an introverted person on your team, it’s likely that you will need to provide that extra bit of encouragement for them to communicate.

Don’t rely on email

The vast majority of managers over-rely on email. It’s a great tool for communicating facts and figures but hearing someone say something is very different from reading it, and this has the potential to create all sorts of underlying tensions and confusion. Pearn Kandola's research has found it to be the biggest source of workplace conflict.

Consider the following scenario. Your manager has asked you to carry out a task, but in a way which you know is not the most efficient. You send an email, explaining that you are happy to carry out this task, but that you would suggest doing so in a slightly different way. Your manager replies with an email that simply reads, “OK. Fine.”

If this conversation was in person, or even over the phone, you might know from the tone of your manager’s voice if they are happy with your suggestion or frustrated that you have questioned their instructions. It’s much more difficult to interpret how they might feel when you’re reading their reply in an email - managers of remote teams should pick up the phone as much as possible.

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Coronavirus – what steps should employers and staff take now?

Find time to socialise

It might not always feel so, but the workplace is an incredibly social environment. Whether it be the comradery that comes with sharing a joke or simply taking turns to make a round of tea or coffee, when you’re working remotely, you miss out on these interactions. This might not appear to have a huge impact on job performance, but it does affect inter-team relationships.

One way that leaders can encourage more interaction within their teams is by factoring social time into teleconference calls. Try to set aside a few minutes at the beginning of the call for social exchanges, or if there is time, even invite colleagues to dial into the call early for a quick catch-up.

Where possible, it’s even more beneficial to communicate with video-conferencing facilities such as Skype and Facetime. The ability to make eye contact, and to read facial cues and body language, adds an additional layer of connection which can’t be achieved over the phone. 
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Establish trust

One of the key challenges when it comes to managing a remote workforce is that of establishing trust. This hinges, in part, on understanding that there are two types of trust. The first is cognitive trust, which is trust in someone’s experience, knowledge and ability. This can be developed remotely, through means such as conference calls and emails. The second type is emotional trust, which determines how much one person likes and believes in another. Emotional trust can only be grown through face-to-face interaction and is therefore much more difficult to establish in a remote workforce.

Leading a team of people who you can’t physically see working requires a great deal of trust. Leaders must, therefore, build an atmosphere of psychological safety, in which their team can work without fear that their managers don’t trust them. It’s vital that leaders understand the mechanics of trust, in order to identify where it might be missing from their team.
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