How To Spot And Remedy Dysfunction In A Remote Workforce
Remote work was barely a thing five years ago, with bustling offices acting as the nerve center for most companies. Fast forward through Covid-19, lockdown and into a cost of living crisis sweeping the United States, and remote working isn’t just popular; employees increasingly expect it. In an age where people wish to cut down on fuel bills traveling to work, companies are downsizing offices and cutting their own overheads.
Officially, the number of people working from home across the country tripled between 2019 and 2021 to around 27m. A Gallup survey in June 2022 suggested as many as eight in ten have some responsibilities they can handle from home, with just two in ten entirely based on site. Whilst that does have benefits for a company, it also provides a problem. Not all workforces are effective; what if yours breaks down, and you’re predominately a WFH employer? How can you spot the signs of dysfunction in your group, and how could you counteract it?
Spotting Workplace Dysfunction
How can you spot workplace dysfunction if you’re working remotely? If you’re in an office, you can sense an atmosphere or perhaps pick up on things not being right, but is it as easy over the odd Zoom meeting? The answer is no, so you must be agile and alert as a leader to spot dysfunction within a remote team.
There are obvious signs; staff turnover is one to be concerned about, whilst low productivity is another. Some see WFH as an excuse for employees to shirk a bit of work, but the truth is only those demotivated or struggling will do so. Keeping an eye on any metrics you may have might help.
Dysfunction isn’t always a singular problem, so look for signs in meetings or over Zoom calls that might alarm you. Isolation is a feature of workplace dysfunction, so a lack of engagement in meetings from groups might suggest you have an issue.
How To Combat Dysfunction in a Remote Workforce
There are some practices that apply to both in-person dysfunction and remote workers experiencing the same issues. Some of the methods for addressing corporate dysfunction also apply to both, for instance, praising in public, criticizing in private, or sharing credit but accepting blame. However, given the nature of remote work, there are some more practical tips you can implement to help deal with wider dysfunction.
It is easy to hide in a Zoom call with 15 people, but not in a call where there are only two of you. Try to engage with your remote staff on a regular basis because the cause of remote work dysfunction might be isolation or feelings of not being included. You can go around the call at the end of a larger meeting, but people might not open up in front of a group – if you have a robust policy of 1-on-1 meetings every fortnight or so, even for fifteen minutes, you can get a handle on how your workforce is reacting and coping remotely. You can easily spot and shape social style and personality traits in an office, but it is much harder remotely, making it difficult to judge how some people might work with others. By chatting 1-to-1, you can understand your people easily and act accordingly.
Promote Social Interaction
The best workplaces have a culture that promotes friendship and camaraderie, which can be lost within remote work. It’s important to have the downtime, the ‘water cooler’ moments which humanize your colleagues. Perhaps have an informal meeting every so often where employees are urged to have a coffee and chat about things other than work. You might wish to organize online social events, such as a game night, to ensure people feel included. It could be especially helpful if you have new staff who need to integrate virtually.
WFH does involve a degree of monitoring through the likes of Hubstaff, Microsoft Teams and Slack. It’s important when monitoring to do so discreetly. Think of it like this; if you were keeping an eye on productivity in the office, how would you do it? Surreptitiously from your office, or by standing over an employee’s shoulder watching everything they do? The former should be the right answer, so try to be discreet when monitoring your WFH employees. WFH can promote feelings of anxiety about whether someone is working hard enough, and having every click of the mouse monitored and judged could cause wider dysfunction in the long term.