Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room – not everyone thrives under remote working conditions. Of course under the current circumstances, we weren’t given much of a choice as working from home right now is a matter of public safety. I applaud all companies that have allowed employees to work from home and those who continue to adapt in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic. But keep in mind that just because a job can be done remotely doesn’t mean that every employee will be a productive remote worker.

As an HR professional, there are a few essential questions that you or the managers in your organization should ask newly minted remote employees to ensure that they will get the support they need to succeed in their new work environment. Beyond supporting your immediate need to help remote workers settle in quickly and be productive, asking these questions can also give you some advantages in terms of your relationship with your employees during the current crisis. Let’s explore how.

Helping newly remote employees thrive home office concept

What makes a good remote employee?

Based on my experience as a remote employee myself since 2009 – and with hiring and managing other remote employees along the way – I’ve found successful remote employees do a few specific things to maximize their time and their value to an organization:

  • They create structure in their workday
  • They are self-starters who look for what needs to be done and take decisive action
  • They are problem solvers who find solutions for the inevitable issues that come up
  • They are effective relationship builders, even from a distance

These are the kinds of behaviors you need to nurture in the employees you're now helping to learn the ropes of remote work. There are ways to do this without seeming overly forceful or like you're monitoring their every move. Instead, you just need to make sure you're asking the right questions to get them moving in the right direction – which brings us to the point of the article.

How what you ask can bring out the best in employees learning to work remote

While you might have had a pretty good idea about what the strengths and weaknesses of your employees were when they were being managed in an office setting, working from home can change things significantly. You can use the questions and the scoring grid below in dialogue with your remote employees to create the kind of transparency and open communication that will help your employees share how much and what type of support they need to be productive from home without causing more stress.

6 questions worth asking newly remote employees grid

Beyond giving you some quick metrics to reference for your different remote employees, this process also gives HR teams and managers something even more important – the opportunity to demonstrate caring for employees.

Build long-lasting relationships now to ensure employee retention later.

Situations like the crisis we are going through will be remembered for decades to come. Companies now have an unprecedented opportunity to support their employees and be a real source of trust and comfort. The choice is yours.  You can either attempt to micro-manage your employees and curtail their initiative and desire to support your company, or you can be open and vulnerable through the challenges we’re facing and build long-lasting relationships that will be stronger and more enduring than calls from headhunters and tempting job offers down the road.

Even for the most independent employee, it is wise to schedule at least weekly calls to connect. Some tips for these calls that have worked well for me include:

  • Having the employee start the discussion 
  • Asking employees to have a few discussion points prepared for the calls 
  • Allowing at least half of the meeting time for the employee to go through their agenda items 

I know that having employees lead the conversation for that long will be hard for some of the more Type A personalities among your managers, but it's an effective approach that helps employees feel in control of their situation even when things are at their most out of control. I highly recommend giving it a try and trusting your employees to step up to the plate.

Conclusion: Be sure to keep the conversation going

While we all love self-starters and problem solvers, it’s smart to take time each week to ask your employees additional questions beyond the ones we discussed, like “What is the one thing I can do to help you to enjoy your work more?" Change the question each time you meet with the same employee. In week two, you might ask, “What is the one thing I can do to make your work less burdensome, more fun, or more productive?” or another similar question that focuses on employee well-being. If you're struggling with what to ask, remember the categories in the grid above and use those for inspiration.

It might take a few weeks before you get reliable answers, but always keep in mind that the purpose is to support your employees and demonstrate through actions, not words, that you take their feedback seriously and are open to making changes where possible. Demonstrate that you care, take action to help, and over time you will see a strong sense of trust and loyalty develop among your employees along with higher productivity, better customer service, and deeper engagement.

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Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2020