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5 bad habits remote workers need to bust (and ways to do it)

The CEO of a leadership training and development company says that with a lot of work done via videoconference calls, leaders have to take a few extra steps to identify some of the bad habits teams have developed.

5 bad habits remote workers need to bust (and ways to do it)
[Source illustration: RamCreativ/iStock]

Over the past year, corporate leaders have pivoted quickly to adapt to remote working, leading their teams locally and around the world—virtually—primarily through videoconference calls. Some of the early data from executives show that many employees are as productive or more than the pre-COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. A Great Place to Work survey of more than 800,000 employees showed that some team members worked even harder, fearing that if they didn’t, they might lose their jobs.

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But among the many costs of this productivity is that team members have been forced to set up shop at home, sharing the dining room table, converting one of the kid’s room, or working out of their bedrooms while their spouse or children or roommate are all fighting for space, WiFi bandwidth, and sanity.

One of the other unintended consequences of remote working is team members developing bad habits. Back in the “old days,” a little over a year ago, team leaders would have been to easily notice when one of their employees was slacking off or underperforming. Now, when the only contact with coworkers is via videoconference calls, leaders have to take a few extra steps to identify some of the bad habits they have developed.

Here are five you might notice and how to fix them.

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Hiding out

Remote employees often have multiple videoconference meetings with their managers, their team members, and their customers. One of the typical tendencies is in group video meetings is for individuals to not turn on their audio or video during the meeting. There’s no way you know if they’re listening or taking a nap. They avoid engaging in conversations or sharing any ideas.

Leaders need to set ground rules for videoconference meetings such as mics off, video on. They should also seek out comments from individual team members by talking to them directly during video calls. Engage each participant individually in a conversation prior to and during the meeting. Use breakout meetings for smaller group conversations.

Acting unfocused

For some remote workers, it’s been a nightmare to be at home, stuck in a small apartment, or to set up shop at the kitchen table or bedroom. The result is that some workers are unable to focus on the tasks at hand and are unable to complete assignments on deadline.

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Every manager needs to find time to meet with individual team members, if possible, once a week to discuss their projects, their challenges, their wins and simply asking how they are doing. One CEO of a small marketing agency says she ends the day with a team meeting where they don’t talk business. She lets her people speak their minds, share their joys, their worries, and their frustrations.

Multitasking

It’s not unusual that team members feel like they’re under more pressure than ever to get more done. They end up multitasking throughout the course of the day and particularly, during video calls. They’re reading emails, responding to colleagues via an instant messaging system, or chatting with friends.

Executives and team leaders should work with each individual team, discussing their short- and long-term priorities so that they can concentrate on important tasks with limited or no distraction. Leaders need to explain that while multitasking may get lots done, it does not ensure the highest quality of work. Leaders should also use this opportunity to engage with their employees, adding interactivity into the calls to make them more interesting.

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Overworking

Working at home has caused many employees to work all the time from early in the morning to late at night. While team members may feel they’re doing the company a favor, the individual also is setting themselves up for burnout. That’s no good for them or for the company.

Executives need to openly communicate the hours of the workday. They need to check themselves when they’re tempted to send an email or make a request from an employee after your typical work hours or off days. Make it clear that remote employees can respond to those odd-hour messages during traditional office hours.

Professionalism

It’s hard to work out of the house. While many managers accept that a home is not an office building, they also expect their team members to look groomed, dress appropriately, and present themselves in a business-like matter. Eating during important calls with clients or presentations also can be distracting.

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Team leaders need to communicate clearly what’s expected and what’s acceptable during these video meetings. They also should consider relaxing the rules—when appropriate.


Ed Beltran is the CEO of Fierce, a global leadership development, and training company transforming organizational cultures. 


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