How To Manage Work From Home Employees

Dan working from home at a computer

Now that most companies have settled in to the new reality of having employees work from home, managers are being forced into the unfamiliar position of managing a team that is entirely remote. Of course, some people were doing this before COVID-19, but for many, the sudden need to manage work-from-home employees is a unique learning experience.

I read recently that one small town has been collecting stories of people’s lives during quarantine out of the belief that this period in history will be studied for centuries. Think about that for a moment, and internalize its importance and opportunity.

Here are some tips on how to manage your at-home employees and keep them happy, healthy, and reasonably productive:

Remain Calm

Just as I recommended with customers, it is critical to remain calm and exhibit confidence. Employees look to company executives and their individual managers for guidance in times of uncertainty, so if you act calm and confident, they will too.

The calmness part is simply not letting this historic situation overwhelm you. Many of us have been training formally or informally in “change management,” and now is as good a time as ever to use those learnings.

The confidence part involves reflecting an attitude that my late grandmother always reminded people: This too shall pass. We don’t know when, and it probably won’t be as soon as we hope, but eventually the world will be on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, looking back.

Family First

According to McKinsey, 60 percent of Americans are very or extremely concerned about their safety and the safety of their families right now, while 43 percent are very or extremely concerned about their job or income—and not being able to make ends meet.

In addition to that, almost every child, from pre-school through college, is off from school and spending every waking moment at home (side note: my teenage son has a remarkable aptitude for sleeping so late that his waking moments are indeed limited!).

It is critical for companies to realize that working from home with kids is a challenge, and workers are doing the best they can. We have to cut some slack to parents who have kids (or pets) interrupting Zoom meetings, or who have to bounce back and forth between working and taking care of the family. It’s just the reality right now, and if we acknowledge it, our employees won’t feel nervous or judged.

(Incidentally, I’ve always told my employees that family always comes first. Whether it’s an illness or a lifecycle event, almost always the work can wait while we attend to the most important people in our lives.)

Put Everyone to Work

Many roles in organizations have little or nothing to do right now, but just because their normal roles may no longer be needed at this moment, it doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. Before resorting to layoffs or furloughs, consider putting everyone to work contacting your customers.

A simple phone call, handwritten letter, or personal email goes a long way in stressful times toward calming customers and letting them know you care about them on a human level. Remember that without customers, there is no business, so we should be doing everything we can to ensure our customers are still there when business returns to normal.

Have Some Fun

It’s OK to break from routine and have a little fun in order to ease the tension of working from home and the uncertainty of what’s ahead. Consider these ideas to lighten up your next Zoom meeting:

  • Encourage everyone to select a fun virtual background
  • Invite people to a toast with a glass of wine or a non-alcoholic drink
  • Have people share a funny moment or story of trying to adapt to working from home
  • Schedule a crazy hat or ugly sweater day
  • Play a game together, like finding the most words among a set of letters on the screen

Have you tried other fun ideas during virtual meetings? I’d love to know about them. Contact me with the details and I may use the idea in a future blog post.