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  • Small Business Briefcase: The New Normal in Working Remotely

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    COVID-19 and the resulting shutdowns pushed many to work from home, but now that the virus is loosening its hold on the country, working remotely might remain a key part of the “new normal.” Here’s what employers need to know.

    Many have assumed that working remotely would end as authorities have allowed our workplaces to open, thanks to the COVID-19 situation lightening up. But in reality, many business offices just might migrate to a model with more people working remotely in the future. Should that happen, we will have a new set of opportunities but also, new problems to deal with. So, what are they? Let’s start with a look at the pros and cons of having staff working remotely.

    • Remote employees often report flexibility, focus and no commute as the biggest benefits of working from home.
    • Performance and productivity have also increased with remote work in most cases. Two studies in 2015 and 2018 indicated that employees are more productive working from home thanks to fewer interruptions, less distractions, more time for cognitive capacity and increased job satisfaction in working more autonomously. According to a study conducted by Airtasker, telecommuters worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year, than people who consistently worked from the office. And since the coronavirus? Depending on the research, productivity has increased anywhere from 13 to as high as 38 percent.
    • Remote working has led to more communication and therefore, more open environments that promote discussion and conversation.
    • Businesses that have robust remote-working plans for their employees often have a better handle on their cybersecurity needs and business continuity planning.

    • Trust and communication are two of the biggest challenges for companies as more people work remotely; businesses must trust that their remote employees will do their jobs.
    • Occasionally, remote workers report a sense of alienation from a lack of social interaction they receive in the office.
    • Blurred lines between work and home life can lead to a sense of working all the time if not managed properly.
    • For many employers, cybersecurity is also a concern when employees work remotely.

    • Managers need to learn how to “supervise” from a distance. Instead of relying on “seeing someone at a desk” or “dropping in their office” five times a day to ask if the project is completed, supervisors and managers need to manage by clearly defining goals or deadlines for a project or assignment.
    • Employees need to be trained on what the remote office should look like to be professional. Having children’s toys behind you, stacked boxes in the corner, television or music playing in the background and a dog jumping into your lap during a virtual meeting are not professional. For successful remote working, a professional and organized workspace is key.
    • A good balance of work and home time for employees must be established. With some flexibility, employers need to define the work hours and trust employees to live up to those hours.

    It takes logical and innovative thinking to create procedures for remote work. It will require training for supervisors, team leaders and even executives so they can best learn how to supervise a remote workforce. But in the end, true leaders will always be open to change. The only constant is change, and if managed appropriately, change brings progress.

    Sharleen Smith is the Director of Continuing Education and Outreach of Troy University. She has more than 30 years of experience in organizational consulting and training, including the development of human resource policies and procedures, strategic planning, performance management systems, classification and pay systems, interviewing and onboarding processes, change management, talent management and more. Her training includes more than 250 topics, and she has presented to more than 300,000 people at 15,000 conferences, workshops and seminars. Contact her at gssmith@troy.edu.
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