The Best Policies for Managing Remote Employees

Working remotely isn’t new, but ever since the onset of COVID-19, it has become increasingly normalized. And, according to some HR experts, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. According to a recent Gartner survey, 90 percent of HR professionals say their employees will continue to be allowed to work remotely, even after COVID vaccinations are widely available.

As such, managing remote teams is a skill that leaders need to invest in. Here are a few guidelines and best practices.

How to Manage Remote Employees

1) Equip your employees.

Being able to remain productive and efficient while working remotely requires employees to have the right IT setup. This means having a good computer and laptop, of course, but it may also mean having a decent camera, up-to-date anti-virus software, and more. Be willing to invest in the right tech for your team members; and, be ready to devote your IT team’s resources to assisting employees who need to be coached through their home office setup.

2) Be alert to signs of burnout, depression, and anxiety.

When your employees work remotely, it’s that much harder for you to identify the warning signs of mental illness. Learn about some of the signs and symptoms you need to be aware of; we have a couple of posts that can help you out. Additionally, be intentional in checking in with your employees one-on-one, asking how they are doing and letting them know you want to support them however possible.

3) Don’t micromanage.

When managers can no longer see their employees hard at work in the office, the temptation is to start breathing over their shoulder and scrutinizing every last thing they are doing. Remember to trust your employees until given reason not to; after all, you hired them to do a job, so give them space to do it. Do maintain regular check-ins and performance reviews, but resist the urge to micromanage, which will only cause frustration and stress.

4) Create opportunities for dialogue.

One of the best ways to keep your remote workers engaged is to invite them into regular dialogue. You can do this in a number of ways, such as by offering virtual “office hours” on Skype or Zoom, or simply having an “open door policy” where folks can call you as needed. Just be sure your employees know when and how they can reach you for one-on-ones.

5) Emphasize objectives.

Whether in your one-on-ones or through virtual team huddles, be sure you point your employees back to the vision, values, and mission of your company. And, provide each employee with a sense of how their unique role contributes to team objectives. By showing your employees that their work matters and that they are part of something bigger, you can help them stave off isolation.

6) Allow flexibility.

When managing remote employees, it’s generally best to focus on output, not necessarily on processes. Remember that your employees are balancing their professional responsibilities with family needs, which can be a tough balancing act. So, if one employee needs to start work 15 minutes late so they can get their kids set up with virtual learning, try to be flexible: Focus on what your employees are getting done, not necessarily how they’re doing it.

More Questions About Employee Management?

Remote work poses some challenges, but also some unique opportunities for your team to embrace innovation, independence, and flexibility. If you have any additional questions or comments, we’d love to hear them! Reach out to WhiteWater Consulting at your next opportunity.

Practical Ways to Support Employee Wellness

One of the most important responsibilities of any business leader is ensuring that their employees have a safe environment in which to do their work. A safe workspace helps companies protect their most essential assets… that is to say, their people. Additionally, it helps promote employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Simply put, most employees are going to be more focused on their work when they feel like they are safe and secure.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces have begun to rethink their approach to employee wellness. As we enter a new year, there are plenty of practical ways in which business leaders and HR teams can make good on their commitment to employee safety.

Start with Physical Safety

Many companies are still encouraging their employees to work remotely. This is generally the best way to guarantee employees are physically safe, and to minimize the spread of COVID or other infectious diseases.

For employees who choose to return to the office, or whose physical presence in the workspace is a necessity, there are some important safety protocols to put into place:

  • Set a cleaning schedule. Not only should the office be cleaned multiple times a day, but employees should also know roughly what that cleaning schedule is; this can provide them with some peace of mind about the sanitation level of their physical work environment.
  • Make sure you have well-trained cleaners. Either hire a CDC-certified cleaning company, or ensure your in-house janitorial staff is well-versed in current CDC guidelines.
  • Invest in employee safety equipment. Hand sanitizer stations and forehead thermometers are among the smartest investments here.
  • Create space for social distancing. To promote employee wellbeing, it may be necessary to reconfigure the flow of your office, allowing for more social distancing, or even to purchase some physical buffers and barriers that can be put into place. Plexiglass screens and shields can be especially helpful.
  • Clarify company policies. Make sure there is no misunderstanding about company rules and guidelines concerning the use of face coverings, requirements for employees to eat lunch separately, individual responsibilities to keep office equipment clean, etc. These policies should be placed into writing, printed on signage, and verbally communicated by the HR team.

Support Mental Health

In addition to physical safety, employers have a responsibility to provide for the mental health of their employees. There are a number of ways to do this.

  • Make sure employees have access to good tech support. Nothing frustrates more than a slow or malfunctioning computer. Be sure employees all know how to obtain the IT support they require to work as productively, and as headache-free, as possible.
  • Provide PTO flexibility. One of the best things HR can do to promote employee mental health is to allow some flexibility in when people take time off, whether for vacation, medical needs, or simply for a needed “mental health” break.
  • Remind employees of their role and its importance. Another way to promote mental wellbeing is to remind employees of the company mission, and of how their individual role contributes to that mission. Reinforce to employees that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and that their role makes a difference.
  • Acknowledge and thank. To support the emotional wellbeing of employees, leaders should be proactive and consistent in acknowledging good work, and voicing their appreciation for employees who show up and work hard each day… even amidst challenging circumstances.

These are just a few steps toward a safer, healthier, more proactive work environment. With any questions about promoting employee wellbeing, particularly in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, feel free to contact WhiteWater Consulting at any time.

Employee Engagement in the Remote Work Era

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enormous disruptions to the workforce. Many employees continue working from home, where they’ve been forced to adapt to new workflows and daily routines. On top of that, bad news about the pandemic, the economy, and the state of our politics has made it increasingly difficult to focus on everyday work matters.

The upshot of all of this is that far too many employees say they are either somewhat or completely disengaged from their work. (A Gallup poll, taken over the summer, puts the number at around 68 percent.) This is unwelcome news for many reasons, but foremost among them is this: It suggests that most employees are doing something less than their best work.

Employee Engagement: A Review

Before we go much further, it may be worth a brief review of what employee engagement is, and why it matters.

When we talk about whether or not employees are engaged, we’re not necessarily talking about whether they’re satisfied, or whether they’re happy. Those are very different metrics, and may be worth measuring. But when it comes to employee engagement, we’re referring to the employee’s level of commitment to the company and to the work they’ve been tasked with completing. A fully engaged employee works not just to get their paycheck, but to help the company flourish and the team achieve its goals.

Engaged employees put forth more effort and make more significant contributions in each aspect of their work; thus, companies with higher levels of engagement tend to deliver higher-quality products and services; they tend to be more efficient, and; they tend to be more profitable.

The Makings of Employee Engagement

As we think about the state of employee engagement in 2020, it’s important to consider each of the elements involved.

The most significant element is belonging. The most engaged employees usually feel as though they are an important part of the team, and that their individual role contributes something to the big picture.

Some additional aspects of employee engagement include:

  • Open lines of communication and transparency from leadership
  • Regular opportunities to give and receive feedback
  • Autonomy (e.g., no micromanaging)
  • Clearly-defined goals
  • Opportunities to learn, grow, and advance

Any endeavor to increase employee engagement needs to carefully weigh each of these factors.

Engaging Remote Employees

Given the importance of employee engagement, and remote work as the “new normal,” it’s crucial for all leaders to rethink their employee engagement strategy. A few general tips and considerations:

  1. Schedule regular meetings. If team members don’t have regular opportunities to meet and to connect with one another, preferably in a group setting, they’re more likely to lose that sense of belonging. Make sure you’re either holding small team meetings or company-wide meetings via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or some similar platform.
  2. Encourage collaboration. Employees who are more reserved or introverted may be less likely to participate in big, boisterous meetings. Make sure you also develop smaller teams or partnerships, tasking each with working together on a project or a brainstorming session.
  3. Provide office hours. Leaders need to be accessible to their employees. Let team members know a chunk of each day (maybe an hour or two) when you are available to chat with them via phone, Skype, or Zoom, as needed. Just make sure you’re providing everyone an opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns.
  4. Recognize success. Be private in your criticisms, but public in your praise. When employees go above and beyond, or complete a significant project, make sure you recognize them before the group. This could be as simple as sending out a company-wide email.
  5. Check in. Finally, make sure you’re making the effort to reach out and check in with employees one-on-one. Showing that you care about them and their success within the company can go a long way toward fostering greater engagement.

As you consider your options for building an engaged team in the remote work era, these tips should be helpful. If you would like additional information on ways to assess and enhance employee engagement or if you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to WhiteWater Consulting directly. We look forward to hearing from you!

Recognizing Employee Burnout

By now, it’s beyond cliché to say that 2020 has been a tough year. From a global pandemic to a tense election season, the year has offered no shortage of wearying headlines. Now, as we head into the final few weeks of the year, many of us are feeling fatigued, frustrated, or simply drained. For HR leaders and team supervisors, it’s critical to realize that your employees are very likely battling with burnout.

Of course, burnout is a very real possibility even under ideal circumstances. The 9-5 grind can take its toll, and sooner or later even the most cheerful and energetic employees may show signs that they’re tired and stressed. Leaders who are attentive to the signs of burnout may be able to help their employees gain a better sense of balance, restoring their mental health and even making necessary changes to the company culture.

But in 2020, it’s especially challenging to notice those signs of burnout. That’s because so many employees are working remotely, which means leaders and managers don’t have as much facetime to gauge their exhaustion. Certainly, there are some telltale signs of burnout, evident even in remote work settings: For example, leaders can look for employees who participate less during virtual meetings, who are slower to respond to emails or texts, or whose quality of work deteriorates. In some cases, employees may even offer direct feedback, making it clear that they’re feeling tired or burned out. Take this feedback seriously!

Managing Workplace Burnout During the COVID Era

Though it may be difficult to see the signs of burnout, it’s crucial to be vigilant: Burnout can sap employee morale, productivity, and work quality, and it can ultimately impoverish your team.

As you look for the signs of employee burnout, there are also a few simple steps you can take to better manage burnout among team members. Consider these suggestions:

  • Give employees meaningful work to do. Nothing exacerbates burnout like busywork. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable: There are tedious tasks that someone on your team has to complete. Whenever possible, though, try to connect team members with projects that actually mean something. Also, take the time to stress to your employees why their work matters. Remind them of the difference it makes in the lives of your clients and customers.
  • Provide some mental health breaks. Whether it’s one day out of every month or just an hour every Friday afternoon, provide employees with some time they can use for self-care, or simply to get away from their computer. This is a great way of demonstrating your commitment to a culture of mental wellbeing.
  • Be mindful of boundaries. Don’t let the remote work environment blur lines between the personal and professional. It’s unreasonable to expect employees to show up to work an hour earlier or stay an hour later, simply because they happen to be working from home. And it’s unhealthy to send emails or assign work after-hours or on the weekends.
  • Stay positive. This may sound simple, even simplistic… but during a stressful or chaotic season, intentional positivity goes a long way. Be extra committed to acknowledging good work when you see it and expressing gratitude to your team members for their important contributions.
  • Seek feedback. The HR team may also use employee surveys to gather feedback and gauge the mood among employees. Not only can this provide some insight into current burnout levels, but it also shows employees that you care about what they’re feeling. That in itself can help stave off feelings of discontentedness.

Get HR Solutions from WhiteWater Consulting

If you have any questions about how your HR team can identify and respond to employee burnout, we’d love to chat with you one-on-one. Contact WhiteWater Consulting at your next opportunity.

How HR Can Support Working Parents

Being a parent is deeply rewarding, but it’s hardly without stress. Likewise, even the most satisfying and pleasurable of careers can bring their share of anxiety. Combine the two ventures and things can really seem hairy. Simply put, working parents undergo unique levels of stress, and over time that stress can impact their mental and physical health, their work-life balance, their productivity, and their job satisfaction.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways in which companies can assist working parents… and many of those ways begin in the HR department.

Supporting Working Parents

Consider just a few quick tips and strategies.

1) Develop a family-friendly environment.

Don’t make your employees feel like their kids are burdens or afterthoughts. Instead, create a company culture in which families are prioritized, and kids are regarded as part of your extended team. Some specific ways you can do that include:

  • Have some workplace parties or events throughout the year that are designed to be inclusive of the whole family.
  • Have a take-your-child-to-work day.
  • Encourage managers and leaders to ask employees about their kids.
  • Offer some flexibility to employees who want to use school vacations/holidays to spend time with their family.
  • Make sure you hold company social events at different times; working parents may not be able to make happy hour, so maybe have the occasional team breakfast or lunch.

2) Support new moms.

New moms, in particular, need plenty of support from the HR team. Specifically, consider doing the following:

  • Allow moms to bring their newborns to work as needed; or allow them to work remotely when possible.
  • Make sure you have a private and comfortable lactation room, and that new moms have enough scheduling flexibility to nurse or pump.

3) Consider family-friendly benefits.

There are a lot of creative ways in which your benefits packages can support working moms and dads. Some examples include:

  • Offer assistance with IVF or other fertility treatments.
  • Provide education about 529 college savings accounts.
  • Share college guidance resources with parents as their kids get a bit older.
  • Consider anything you can do to subsidize childcare.

4) Provide scheduling flexibility.

Surveys show that, for most working parents, the most precious resource of all is time. Here’s a simple way your HR team can support moms and dads: Be flexible in your scheduling, allowing employees to come in early or late as needed in order to work around soccer games, piano recitals, school pickup, etc.

5) Provide paid maternity and paternity leave.

Along with flexibility, the other things moms and dads want is time to adjust to newborns. This is an area where your benefits packages can make a world of difference: Offering paid leave to moms and to dads can be a powerful way to support working parents.

6) Lead by example.

Finally, remember that policies are pretty meaningless if there isn’t also a healthy workplace culture. For example, offering flexible hours doesn’t mean much if your workplace also encourages people to burn the midnight oil. Make sure HR leaders and other executives set a healthy example: Work normal, balanced hours; don’t stay too late; and don’t send after-hours emails.

These are just a few of the steps your HR team can take to support the needs of working parents. If you have any questions about how you can create a truly family-friendly work culture, reach out to WhiteWater Consulting. We’d love to chat!

Understanding Mental Health Problems in the Workplace

Studies indicate that a significant portion of the workforce struggles with mental health concerns; pre-COVID research showed the number eclipsed 20 percent, and it’s undoubtedly grown as the pandemic has increased rates of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Such high figures may come as a surprise to many. The reason for this is simple: There remains a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly in the workplace. As such, many employees choose to suffer in silence rather than reveal their diagnoses.

This stigma presents a significant problem for workers, who may refuse to seek treatment because they fear that doing so could imperil their employment status. It presents a problem for mental healthcare providers, too, who are often faced with the uncomfortable scenario of counseling patients on how to address their problems in the workplace without breaking their secrecy.

The bottom line is that many mental health concerns are unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated. By raising awareness and increasing understanding, however, employees and employers alike can begin to remove stigma and create workplaces that are safe and welcoming.

Common Mental Health Problems

A good place to begin is with a simple review of common mental health problems, and the impact they can have in the workplace.

Depression

Research suggests that close to seven percent of U.S. adults suffer from depression. The question is, what does depression look like in the workplace? Though it is often associated with a low or “depressed,” mood, this condition can manifest differently in the work setting. Common signs of depression include restlessness, nervousness, and irritability. In addition, employees who have depression may be listless, lethargic, withdrawn, and unproductive. Depression can also result in an obsession with aches, pains, and minor physical discomforts.

On average, employees with depression report the equivalent of 27 lost workdays each year… nine sick days, and 18 days reflecting lost productivity. Similarly, research shows that employees with depression are more likely to lose their jobs, or to change jobs often.

Again, a big part of the problem is stigma, which keeps employees from seeking the care they need; fewer than half of employees with depression actually get adequate clinical intervention, according to a Harvard report.

Bipolar Disorder

Individuals who have bipolar disorder tend to cycle between a very high, energetic mood (mania) and a low, listless mood (depression.)

The impact on the workplace can be significant and wide-ranging. An employee in mania may break rules, act rashly, or exhibit reckless judgment. And an employee in the depressive stage may show some of the same symptoms we mentioned in the previous section.

About six million American adults have bipolar disorder, according to one study. According to researchers, employees with bipolar disorder may take as many as 28 workdays each year, and lose another 35 in missed productivity.

Again, stigma keeps many individuals from seeking the care they need; about two thirds of those with bipolar receive treatment, but few get the level of care they really need to keep their symptoms under control.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can manifest in a number of different ways, including difficulty concentrating; fatigue; restlessness; and worry. Employees with this condition may have a lot of insecurity about their role in the workplace and seek constant reassurance.

More than six percent of Americans deal with anxiety disorders, and it often takes up to 10 years for these problems to be recognized and diagnosed.

And, anxiety disorders often lead to other mental and physical health symptoms, ranging from insomnia to gastrointestinal problems. As such, employees with anxiety disorders are likely to take a lot of sick days or suffer from low productivity in general.

Investing in Employee Wellbeing

As we have mentioned in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made mental health issues more pronounced; if ever there was a time for employers and HR leaders to create safe, healthy workplaces, it’s now.

A good place to begin is with basic education: Make sure you’re aware of the common mental health disorders and their effect on the workplace. And begin doing everything in your power to break down stigma and encourage employees to seek proper care.

With any questions, reach out to WhiteWater Consulting today.

Onboarding During COVID-19

In recent weeks, news headlines have painted a fairly grim scene of the U.S. employment landscape; unemployment remains a significant issue, and while the economy has added back many jobs, progress hasn’t been as robust as many had hoped. And, with the virus still surging, it’s hard to predict short-term or long-term fallout.

And yet, we know that there are still companies recruiting, hiring, and welcoming new team members into the fold. It is a most unusual time to be onboarding new employees, to say the least. Many in the HR world are struggling to effectively welcome and train employees, even in virtual work environments.

We’ve got just a few suggestions for ensuring a smooth onboarding process during the coronavirus pandemic.

Onboarding in a Pandemic: Our Tips

1) Be adaptable.

Onboarding processes can be complicated and multi-faceted. You’ll need employees to sign some paperwork, to be briefed on rules and policies, to receive task-specific training, perhaps even to be paired with a mentor.

Those things are all well and good, but the pandemic means your timeline may be a little bit looser, and some of these steps a little harder to accomplish. So, what we recommend above all else is flexibility. Spend some time thinking about the non-negotiable aspects of your onboarding process, and how you can address them as expediently as possible. Also think about the things that add very little value to the employee experience; some of these items you may wish to jettison altogether, just in the interest of a nimble and workable process.

In other words: During these unprecedented times, don’t be afraid to rethink some of your tried-and-true onboarding practices.

2) Embrace technology.

By now, most companies are well aware of the technologies available to them to enable remote work; conferencing and communication tools like Zoom and Skype, and file-sharing tools such as Dropbox.

These same technologies can be invaluable to your onboarding process. In fact, it may be smart to devote your employee’s first day to getting their technology setup in place. Be sure you have an IT person who can walk them through any needed software downloads and configurations.

Certainly, technology can help you collect the paperwork you need without asking your new hire to come into the office; have them scan and email their forms, or use DocuSign as needed. You might also get an HR representative to join them in a Zoom call, clarifying any questions they have about the new hire paperwork.

Finally, consider some of the learning management systems (LMS) available to provide virtual training for your new hires. This will require your HR team to create and upload some company-specific training content, but in the long run, this can be a great investment in a flexible and automated onboarding process.

3) Don’t forget the social component.

Finally, it’s important that new hires be given an opportunity to meet people and feel like they’re part of the team. Again, video conferencing software can make this possible, even during quarantine. Consider using video conferencing to set up mentor meetings or small group hangouts. A few low-key, low-stress socialization opportunities can go a long way toward bolstering team morale.

Questions About Effective Onboarding?

The onboarding process can pose challenges even in the best of times; in the midst of a pandemic, those challenges are compounded. If you have any questions, we welcome you to reach out to WhiteWater Consulting directly.

Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace, Post-COVID

As more businesses welcome employees back to the workplace, HR leaders have understandably prioritized physical health and safety. This is entirely appropriate in the wake of the pandemic: Workplaces can and should do everything in their power to promote hygiene and support employee wellbeing.

It is crucial to remember, though, that employee wellness is about more than physical safety. Mental health is also a significant concern. Keep in mind that many employees will return to work feeling anxious, afraid, or depressed; some will be carrying grief from loved ones they have lost, or trepidation that they might become sick themselves. Others may simply feel nervous due to changes and uncertainty in our work environments.

Mental Health as a Priority

Due to these concerns, it is critical that employers and HR leaders develop their back-to-work plans with employee mental health in mind.

Indeed, mental health is a major source of concern for many business leaders. Businessolver recently published the results of their fifth annual State of Workplace Empathy Study, where they found that CEOs, HR leaders, and employees agree that mental health should be a key consideration in the workplace. And yet, the same study also shows that just 69 percent of employees feel that their workplace is sensitive to mental health concerns.

Digging deeper into the numbers, we find the following:

  • Many employees are afraid to reveal their mental health struggles, with 64 percent saying they are concerned about confidentiality. Their fear is that, in being honest about their mental health issues, they could jeopardize their job security.
  • There is a disconnect between employees and leaders. An overwhelming 86 percent of CEOs give their companies high marks for open discussion of mental health issues… but only 58 percent of employees agree.
  • Similarly, 76 percent of CEOs note that their workplaces offer mental health benefits, but only about half of employees are aware of these benefits! Awareness-raising will be a key issue moving forward.
  • About 92 percent of employees say their companies should do more… and 100 percent of HR leaders agree!

What we see here is that mental health concerns loom large among employees and business leadership; and that there remains much work to be done in creating workspaces where mental health is addressed with honesty and sensitivity.

Take Action

As HR leaders start considering their options for improving mental health in the workplace, especially amidst a post-COVID re-opening, there are a few preliminary action steps that we can commend.

  • Start talking honestly and openly about mental health. Make your workplace an environment where people feel comfortable talking about these issues without fear. This must start at the top: Leaders and executives must be the ones who model transparency and vulnerability.
  • Create support systems in which employees can talk with each other not only about logistical aspects of their jobs, but also emotional ones. This may look like team huddles where emotional issues are expressly raised. It may also mean pairing employees to check in with each other in a more confidential, one-on-one setting (such as a “coffee buddies” program).
  • Finally, it is so crucial for employers and HR leaders to develop benefits packages that include mental health care… and, to make sure the scope of those mental health benefits is discussed openly with employees. Again, raising awareness and rejecting stigma will be important going forward.

Ready to find out more about designing (and communicating) benefits packages that put mental health as a priority? Reach out to our team at WhiteWater Consulting at any time.