Working from home (WFH) is gaining unique prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic. But we’ve already known about its benefits for some time, which include increased productivity, reduced office costs, and less frustrating commutes for employees. The Harvard Business Review reports one study that found that the average worker was willing to accept 8% less pay to be able to work from home. There is a productivity benefit, too—according to Inc. magazine, a two-year Stanford University study of WFH demonstrated a productivity boost equal to a full day of work per week.
But whether or not a manager believes that WFH is a good idea, it is their responsibility to drive their team’s success, not to sit idly by.
So how can you help employees better work from home?
1. Conduct daily stand-up meetings.
One of the disadvantages of WFH is that employees are not in the same place to be able to connect with coworkers and check in with supervisors about day-to-day projects. Daily meetings can help make sure everyone is on the same page. Share team progress every day and what you are working on. Uncover any issues holding your team back. They don’t need to be long, a daily stand-up meeting will do the trick.
Research shows that practical support from supervisors can help the transfer of skills, which can help improve employee productivity and increase what employees have to offer your company (Lancaster, et al., 2013). While more work remains to be done on the impact of daily meetings on telework specifically, it’s safe to say that when supervisors show interest in the day-to-day happenings of employees, corporate culture is improved. As a result, more gets done, and everyone is happier.
2. Introduce variable rewards.
Famous psychologist B.F. Skinner popularized the idea of variable rewards—rewards which are not delivered every time, but at seemingly random intervals. Such unpredictable rewards, Skinner said, can help motivate behavioral change. One way for companies to easily introduce variable rewards is Surprise.com. The platform helps managers drive specific goal-directed behavior through these variable rewards, but also set goals, communicate, engage, track and collaborate. There is no easier way to drive alignment in a distributed team. In fact, 90.8% of participants say that Surprise.com improved their opinion of their manager.
3. Turn on video during meetings.
Having video on during video meetings and being seen by the rest of the team can help make the work environment both more welcoming and more professional. A study conducted by Groth, et al. (2008) shows that video-mediated consensus meetings can contribute to feelings of awareness and social presence. In a study of eight video-mediated medical group meetings at Karolinska Hospital in Sweden, video was not central to the presentation experience, doctors presented radiology images and could have discussed them via a simple PowerPoint presentation and audio chat. However, the video mediation improved the environment of the meeting, making the atmosphere more collaborative. So, while managers can catch up with employees over a simple phone call, the benefits of video during meetings can improve feelings of belonging and camaraderie.
4. Ask employees how they are doing personally.
You will be glad you took the time to chat about how your employees are doing personally, and the fact that you are willing to listen to and accommodate their needs will help develop stronger working relationships, which will help move your goals forward. In a study by LeadershipIQ, the sweet spot for employee time with supervisors was six hours, weekly. Any more beyond that was found to be counterproductive. Employees who talked to their direct managers for six hours every week were likely to be more inspired, have better ideas to drive the organization forward, and exhibit greater engagement with their work. Intuitively—and according to Forbes—it makes sense that people will do better work and work harder for a boss that cares about them as a person. And one way to show you care is to ask them about how they’re doing personally. The LeadershipIQ study found that face-to-face interaction (in the case of WFH, video chat) was more effective than emails in improving work outcomes for staff. Quality time with your employees is important.
5. Don't define your team by each person’s location.
While it may not feel like it sometimes, whether your team members are working from home in the same city or in different time zones around the world, they are all part of the same team! When you are addressing them, make sure all employees feel included. Don’t refer to one segment of your team as “us,” but rather, try to use more inclusive language that accounts for the whole group and helps them feel that they are part of the team—because they are!
A 2010 study of offsite software development teams by Ganesh and Gupta found that virtualness had a negative effect on aspects of teams as an entity, but did not impact altruism and civic virtue directed toward other team members. These findings mean that it is up to managers to cultivate a good working relationship with the whole team and make sure each person feels included, driving the team to work better together as a group.
As a successful manager who wants to ensure the success of their team no matter where their team is, you must continually work on innovating WFH best practices. Keeping up with the research on team dynamics as related to a distributed workforce can help motivate employees and maximize productivity.