As the coronavirus spread ramps up and more people are being asked to self-isolate, many employers are scrambling to put systems in place to allow their employees to telecommute.

Many companies are not set up for telecommuting arrangements, and they have legitimate concerns about productivity, communications ― and even the possibility of workers’ comp claims stemming from home hazards that may not be typical in the workplace.

But there are steps you can take to make sure that you keep your employees engaged and on task.

1. Make sure they have the right technology

If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider setting up a company VPN so your employees can access their company e-mail and databases. Any employee working from home should also be provided with a company laptop and make sure that they have an internet connection that is fast enough to handle their workload.

Also provide an infrastructure for them to be able to work together on files. If they are not sensitive company documents, they can use Dropbox or Google Documents.

These services allow multiple editors to view and update documents simultaneously, from remote locations. This ability to check up on your employees’ work helps keep them honest. Plus, a centralized online location for shared work files minimizes the likelihood that important files will be accidentally lost or deleted.

2. Provide clear instructions

It’s extremely important that you provide clear instructions to remote workers. Some people do not perform well without direct oversight and human interaction. Without that factor, you will need to spell out your expectations and the parameters of the project they are working on in detail.

Make it clear that if they are confused or unsure about any part of the work, they should contact a supervisor for clarification. If you can eliminate misunderstandings, then your workers can be more efficient.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

To hold your employees accountable for being on the clock, schedule calls or virtual meetings at regular intervals. Even regular instant messaging works. Use these meetings to allow them to update their superiors on their work. This also helps with productivity, since there are consequences for failing to meet expectations and showing up to the meeting empty-handed.

Their supervisors should be working when they are, so they can be in regular communication. If your employees know when their supervisors are working, and vice versa, then you also create a collaborative environment where they can ask and answer questions and provide input.

4. Keep employees engaged, feeling part of the team

One of the hardest parts of working from home is the feelings of isolation and detachment from colleagues. It’s important that you build in interactive time for your workers.

One way to do that is by using a chat program like Slack, Hangouts or WhatsApp (which has a group chat function). For remote workers, these programs are a blessing because they make it easy to keep in touch with their colleagues in and out of the office ― and they level the playing field, so to speak, by making distance a non-issue.

You can also encourage your staff to collaborate and use Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts to video chat. Using video services creates a distinctly more intimate and real-feeling work environment for both parties.

5. Cyber protection

With more employees working from home, you also increase your cyber risk exposure, especially if they are using a company computer that is tapped into your firm’s database or cloud.

You should impress upon your employees the need to follow cyber protection best practices, such as:

  • Not clicking on suspicious links in e-mails from unknown senders.
  • Making sure that their systems have the latest security updates and patches.
  • Backing up their data daily.
  • Training them on phishing, ransomware and malware scams, especially new ones that try to take advantage of people’s fears about COVID-19.

The takeaway

If you’ve not had staff telecommuting in the past or are asking many employees who never have worked in that way to telecommute, there will be some growing pains as you work out the kinks.

But if you follow the above tips, it will make the transition easier and less painful for your workers, their managers and the organization as a whole.

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