Just a few years ago, remote work wasn’t as popular as now. It was merely an option – an attractive benefit – offered by the largest IT or e-commerce companies..
Just a few years ago, remote work wasn’t as popular as now. It was merely an option – an attractive benefit – offered by the largest IT or e-commerce companies. However, in 2020 the employers faced the challenge almost overnight. They had to find an optimal way to create a smooth transition from on-site work into a home office. After the first shock caused by the new reality, another problem has heaved in sight: how to keep employees productive while they were working from home and how to take care of their well-being at the same time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how significant the companies’ response to crises is for employees today, not giving them a choice and forcing them to reorganize the processes and actions of all employees. As a consequence, remote work has become for most employers a kind of standard. And the proof of this is that the demand for office space has decreased (Bankier.pl). A significant number of employees are much more productive and focused on working from home. They declare with confidence that they would like to continue working on such principles. On the other hand, it brings many challenges and difficulties because employees complain about ineffective work organization, miscommunication, and the negative effects of social isolation (Statista). The well-being of individuals leads to a healthy organization, therefore the key value is caring for the peace of mind (in 2021, 50% of companies in the UK have had a standalone wellbeing strategy in support of a wider organization strategy). So, how to ensure an employee’s well-being to stay efficient and motivated regardless of a worksite even after the pandemic?
Growing importance of well-being, home office, and work-life balance
The beginnings of remote work initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic were not a piece of cake, neither for employers nor their employees. People not used to this form of performance of the duties were trying to figure out a way to keep their professional and private life separate (work-life balance). Working away from the office is thought to be something normal e.g. for sales representatives, but employees occupying other groups of positions might feel a lack of motivation related to new specificity of work and stress caused by long-term social isolation. Considering that the majority of employees (more than 50% according to Aon & IPSOS report openly declare that they prefer working from home, and maintaining mental health brings benefits to the organization and their employees, the well-being concept and solutions aimed at improvement of strong working relationships with a remote employee have gained in importance.
Effective communication bears fruit
Remote work has made a huge impact on the way we communicate. Quoting Michael Page 37% of employees complain about the lack of feedback or praise from the boss, and 36% see the problem with poor (communication between managers and their subordinates. If there’s no time for feedback, the organization won’t find it for taking care of employees’ needs, which may result in avolition and a sense of uselessness.
Open and effective communication is the foundation of project implementation, identifying and achieving the goals. Moreover, clear communication has a positive impact on time and task management, and transparent division of responsibilities. The employees being in constant contact with others stay more productive and motivated. That’s why the proper flow of information and time allotted for communication is the core of resultful remote work.
We’ll know a recipe for teamwork success by adding open communication, an employee reward and recognition program and constructive criticism.
How to improve and enhance communication? So, from the technical side, it’s worth starting with ensuring a proper digital workplace and reducing the number of IMs to the necessary minimum. By using one, carefully selected communication channel the organization minimizes information overloador misunderstandings, having key issues at hand.
Setting limits on business contact after-hours is a significant element of improving an employee’s comfort (such a solution has been recently legitimized by the Portuguese Government). What’s more, the same set of rules known as the “right to rest” regulates that the employers are obliged to help remote employees pay for their home gas, electric, and internet bills, which seems to be fair and reasonable. Poland has also started working on amendments to the Labour Code, that provide for many similar regulations. Time will tell whether this law will enter into force. Transparent division of the day into private time and working hours will surely confirm employees’ belief that the organization cares about their well-being.
Employee benefits in post-pandemic reality
The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed employee needs. The companies that haven’t analyzed their benefits package yet, should do this as soon as possible. The standard options offered so far such as gym passes, corporate events or legendary “casual Friday” have become passé, therefore they’re advised to reformulate currently available non-wage benefits and adapt them to the present situation.
It has been observed that the interest in benefits available even before the pandemic increased over the past two years, especially those related to care, mental health and flexibility. That’s why 98% of employers are motivated to offer or expand at least one benefit that seems to be essential to their employees. The hybrid work model may provide a good example. More than half of employees prefer to work remotely for three days or more.
Source: Own elaboration based on: PwC’s US Remote Work Survey.
So, it is worth implementing a flexible work policy. Such time management will certainly be appreciated both by people who value their independence and those for whom the family and job are equally important. Some companies offer online classes for their children (group games, interactive activities, educational workshops) led by an external leisure time animator. This is extremely helpful, especially when children learn remotely. It gives parents a chance to have a moment of respite and focus on work, while their children have fun.
Another aspect that companies should pay attention to is raising awareness of the meaning of mental health, general well-being, and a healthy approach to life (total well-being). Therefore, HR experts are trying to convince employers that a standard medical benefits package should include permanent comprehensive psychological care for employees and their families.
Allocation of a part of the budget that the employee can spend on going out e.g. celebrating a special occasion with family and friends at a restaurant sounds good. Especially since such budgets do not necessarily mean additional costs for the organization because the HR departments organize integration trips less often than before.
Recently, additional paid days off (e.g. to celebrate a birthday) as a benefit have become more and more popular. As a result, the employees get the chance to have a moment for themselves.
However, if the organization hires hundreds of employees or simply doesn’t know their needs the most logical solution seems to be to offer them vouchers. The employer gives them the flexibility on how to use it. The market offers currently a wide range of opportunities – so they may choose workshops and training, books, cosmetics, tickets to the cinema, restaurants, even food, and much more.
Employee wellness in the spotlight
Caring for well-being and mental health has started to settle into pandemic reality for good. This is illustrated by the changes in the labor market expressed by the appearance of the new professional roles such as Chief Happiness Officer or Health&Wellbeing Manager. Their main responsibility is to take care about the employees so that they feel their aspirations and work are important to the organization. Such activities bring a lot of measurable benefits not only for employees, but also for employers. In the context of achieving the organization’s goals there are:
- building loyalty and bond with the employer and reducing staff turnover,
- reducing sickness absence (mental ill-health is the most common cause of long-term absences from work in the United Kingdom in 2020),
- increasing the employee’s engagement, the level of motivation, and productivity.
Due to the necessity of remote work employers should support their employees with additional training materials on mental hygiene, work ergonomics, team management, work-life balance, and even healthy eating and physical activity.
How to show appreciation to remote employees?
To ensure an appropriate level of employee engagement and motivation it’s not enough just to focus on tasks, constant development, and results. Periodic performance evaluation is certainly important, but it can be successfully carried out remotely. However, it is worth remembering that creating a culture of appreciation is equally significant. Good atmosphere, building and cultivating professional relationships, and job satisfaction prevent burnout in the workplace (WHO recognized job burnout as a medical diagnosis in 2019). So, how to show appreciation to remote employees? It is worth thinking about paying tribute openly to employees using so-called kudos.
Kudos – the public admiration that a person receives as a result of a particular achievement or position in society.
(Source: Cambridge Dictionary).
Kudos are a great way to keep motivation and morale high. When the organization has a positive assessment scoring system and received kudos that might be convertible into great rewards, the results are even better. If such an option fits into company policy, implementing a kudos solution, is worth designing a benefits system that completes it. It’s however important that the kudos motivate and not demotivate, so the prizes should be rather symbolic. Implementation of the kudos system – even without prizes – will certainly bear fruit and translate into a stronger relationship between the organization and remote employees.
Remote team leaders may (with help of the HR department) also plan gamification elements, which will additionally encourage employees to become more involved in the performance of the tasks and have fun together, by the way.
Employee integration and creating bonds – it’s also possible
Organizing the stationary integration meetings, so popular just 2-3 years ago, has faded for obvious reasons. And although it seems that the pandemic is almost behind us, the popularization of remote work meant that HR departments had to learn how to use the potential of remote events. It’s worth remembering, at this point, that online integration doesn’t necessarily mean only huge initiatives – it may be also limited to the little, casual meetings in small groups, e.g. members of the same team. How can an organization integrate remote employees? The first idea that comes to mind is surely virtual meetings, which may take various forms:
- cyclical team videoconferences, during which employees can celebrate smaller and bigger wins of the team;
- individual, one-on-one video meetings, during which the employees will have an opportunity to talk about non-work issues to find out more about each other and their interests (such kind of integration may bring unexpected results, especially in multicultural organizations);
- daily ritual of drinking coffee together at a distance, during which employees will find out what is going on with other team members.
All similar actions will have a positive impact on the team-building process. As a result, the employees will be closer to each other and their bond with the organization will become stronger at the same time.
Taking into account the mental health and physical activity, employers may offer morning gymnastics – a set of exercises performed daily in a group. It will strengthen the back muscles and relations in the team.
Great initiatives may be organized as virtual escape rooms or other collective online activities e.g. e-sports tournaments. It’s worth considering a knowledge quiz about colleagues or creating space for conversations about their passions as a thematic forum or communication channel.
Here are some ideas and examples – there are many possibilities for remote animation and team integration. But the key to success is the only one – the proper adaptation to the employee’s needs.
How to measure employee satisfaction?
As the old business saying goes: if something is not measured, it cannot be improved. It is not different in the well-being area. The implementation of a corporate wellness strategy can be certainly translated into a synergy effect in the organization, but well-being initiatives should be supported by regular employee satisfaction surveys. Measuring job satisfaction using specially prepared questionnaires will allow getting an answer to the question, of whether the actions taken by the organization are effective. Hard data from soft HR activities may convince the Company Management Board, managers, and the HR department can additionally receive valuable tips/guidance regarding improving employee well-being policy.
How do the new technologies support the organizations and HR departments in ensuring employee well-being?
The pandemic has contributed to the fact that mental health at work has been widely discussed in the HR environment and taking steps to improve this area has become an important part of the corporate culture. It is worth keeping in mind that the way of work management is an integral element that has a significant impact on job satisfaction. Planning an appropriate support system and maintaining a friendly work environment, while keeping a constant eye on deadlines and discipline seem to be multi-threaded and difficult to implement. However, taking into account that 40% of employees declare they are more likely to change their job now than they were a year ago (due to better benefits package) taking care of employee well-being will be a key reason to consider.
The crisis of the last two years has entailed the development of new technologies that help the companies automate some tasks and implement comprehensive solutions for process management.
Digital workplace and well-being at Productive24
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process of creating the digital workplace (or digital workspace) that improves significantly the organization management, both with distributed teams in different locations and remote employees. Such a solution is also offered by Productive24 technology. The platform for communication and cooperation so-called Digital Workplace as well as the applications for Organizational Management and Human Resource Management (allowing to manage the entire employee lifecycle – from A to Z) along with the Kudos app form a perfect set of tools necessary to build a positive employee experience and increase the level of employee satisfaction.
Productive24 automates many employee activities, while better organizing the work environment. Such a holistic approach, i.e. combining L&D system while providing a Digital Workplace, creates a favorable climate for employee development. The synergy of these elements makes the employee has an access to the communicator, announcements, company structure, tasks organizer, calendars, reports, discussion boards, training, benefits package, or kudos above-described. It allows the employees not to waste time switching between multiple systems and as a result their productivity increases. Such a solution becomes the main contact point with the company – the heart of an e-organization.
Not only does Productive24 automate the key business processes in the company, but it also effectively supports employee well-being policy thanks to comprehensive management of soft HR.
Summary: work-life balance in a new reality
Remote work can cause some difficulties in maintaining a work-life balance. Before the pandemic, it was more than enough to avoid bringing your work home with you. And now, when the home has become a workplace, it’s more difficult to separate work from everyday life. Taking care of relationships with a remote team is a crucial issue that should be raised if it hasn’t been so far. So, it’s worth reformulating the approach and developing the well-being policy for the mutual benefit – both for employees and the company.