How to Overcome the Disadvantages of a Remote Workforce

 

Since Covid began, a significant percentage of Staffing & Recruiting firms have shifted to work from home. Many owners yearn for their previous worlds. In my last article, I wrote about the advantages of a remote workforce. Admittedly, I glossed over the disadvantages. This article acknowledges these negatives and provides tangible solutions to overcome them and adapt to the new normal.

Pre-Covid, many highly successful placement firm owners were successfully operating with remote workforces. Having worked in traditional office environments before, they didn’t want to return to that model. What’s different about these people? What do they do that causes them to find the remote workforce model more effective for them? I’ll share insights that I’ve learned from them as well as my own experiences. Let’s look at the downsides of having people working from home along with specific things you can do to overcome these challenges.

Remote work disadvantage: Removal of the natural way people interact and collaborate.

In a typical placement firm environment, training, development, and collaboration happen through experiences such as:

  • Newer people observing more experienced and skilled people while they perform placement firm activities and then debriefing.
  • Newer people being observed by more experienced and skilled people while they perform placement firm activities and then receiving feedback/coaching
  • Hearing others in your office on the phone with clients and candidates
  • Formal and informal face to face meetings for training, feedback, strategizing, etc.

Solutions:

  • Change your mindset. Most things that you did in person can be done remotely with videoconferencing and other tools. As with previous adaptations you’ve made, it’s initially uncomfortable. So was moving from reading paper resumes to reading electronic resumes, from faxing resumes to emailing them, from using “paper research material” to using internet-based tools. Well, here we go again!
  • Convert face to face activities to virtual. When the voice in the head says, “it is so much better in person,” replace it with “how can I make this work as well or better than in person?” Specific examples to accomplish this include:
    • Use Zoom to observe people making sales and recruiting calls, virtual client visits, and virtual candidate interviews. With Zoom, you’re right there with them. Plus, you get a bonus: you can record these events so that people can review themselves in action. This is an advantage over face-to-face meetings.
    • Perform meetings and training on Zoom and record it. These can be just as interactive as normal meetings when you use the “gallery view” to see all attendees. People can answer questions which they can do either verbally or via text through the “chat box”. Information can be shared via people’s monitors, links, documents, videos, etc. Meetings and training can be quicker and more productive than before.

Remote work disadvantage: Maintaining or changing your firm’s culture:

Since much of your culture is transmitted through what people see day to day, it’s more difficult to maintain or change your culture remotely.

Solutions:

  • Stay consistently and connected. Conduct the same meetings that you did before going virtual. Use video instead of the phone to more closely mimic in-person meetings. Encourage employees to do the same with their own communication and collaboration.
  • Hold people accountable to agreed-upon metrics. Whatever methods of collecting and reviewing “the numbers” should continue. If key metrics were physically posted in a public place for all to see, shift to electronic methods. Being accountable for activity metrics is vital to help people stay focused and achievement oriented.
  • Include virtual social interactions. Make a game out of sharing creative yet practical ideas for social activities to do over video. Encourage people to have lunch or coffee together via video to chat and connect. Though not the same, it’s can still be fulfilling and supportive if social connection is part of your culture.

Remote work disadvantage: Feeling isolated:
For many, this is the most challenging part of working from home. Because people in the placement industry tend to be higher in extraversion, they get energy from social interaction and lose energy with extended isolation.

Solutions:

  • Openly discuss how to stay connected and upbeat: Don’t ignore this reality. Ask your team to share their favorite tips to prevent potential isolation pitfalls. Proven ways to stay positive and productive include: virtual social events, walking outdoors, exercising, having lunch with others (safely), listening to music, interacting with pets, and expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives.
  • Focus on adapting not returning: It’s easier to adapt when you don’t focus on the past. You don’t know if or when returning to the office environment will be feasible or desirable. Encourage people to make remote work a positive, enjoyable experience.
  • Be patient and encouraging: Allow time for people to adjust. People can adapt to significant change with sufficient time and encouragement. Socially oriented people can adjust well to working at home and often end up preferring remote working (either partially or totally) over daily work in an office.

Remote work disadvantage: Separation between life at work and home: There is a natural shift in mindset when you work and live in different locations. When you change to working from home, this separation is lost and people can easily lose their formerly healthy balance.

Solutions:

  • Set reasonable boundaries: Set specific times to shut down for the day unless there’s a legitimate exception.
  • Use your home office for work only: Our brains quickly form associations between what we do and where we are. If your home office is an all-purpose room, it’s harder to let go of work when you’ve done enough.
  • Plan work-related activities every day and honor them: It’s easy to keep working if you don’t have a previous commitment to honor.
  • Make shutting off work at a certain time a habit. Smartphones, home computers, and cell phones were in place long before Covid-19 showed up. The same principles to shutting work down remain

I talk to many owners of Staffing & Recruiting who are really struggling with the issue of people working remotely. If you’re in this group, you’re are very aware of the disadvantages of this model. However, if you consistently apply the above principles, you may discover that Covid-induced remote work can end up being a blessing to your firm for many years to come.

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