Managing telecommuting employees, don't ignore these four organizational taboos

Guido Heezen

Your office might now be spread across multiple home offices with everyone trying their best to get used to telecommuting, but there are still a few elephants in the room. Everyone knows that they’re there, but no one wants to talk about them. However, you shouldn’t ignore them. They are:

Managing telecommuting employees, don’t ignore these four organizational taboos

1. Your organization’s financial situation

In most sectors, the coronavirus crisis has caused a decline in turnover reaching into double-digit percentages. As a manager, you need to be clear about how things are going. If things aren’t going so well, don’t just say “we’ll get through it.” That’s not honest crisis communication.

This is a less successful approach than simply being transparent. If you keep quiet about how your organization is doing because you’re worried that people might start to panic, there’s a significant chance that the rumor mill will kick into overdrive especially with telecommute work. This can result in the strangest stories circulating. Just think of that classic party game, where people sit in a circle and whisper a story in each other’s ears. After just a few people, a fantastic story has been created that has very little to do with the truth.

As a manager, communicating honestly about how your business is performing can help to avoid panic. Sharing your concerns will also help you to foster understanding among your telecommuting employees. They will try to help and put their creativity to good use. They will also understand why you are asking them to do certain things or are asking certain questions. They will have more chance to play their part. If your turnover has fallen by 40 percent, your profits are dwindling and you will soon be facing losses, then say so. Face the brutal facts.

Consider how knowledgeable your employees are about business and financial matters. Things like sales, costs, profit and cash flow are not everyone’s cup of tea. Make sure that you explain how the current situation is affecting your organization clearly and in a way that they understand.

2. Telecommuting employees’ home situation

A significant number of employees are currently having difficulties working from home.

That’s why you should encourage employees to be completely honest about the level of productivity that they can realistically achieve and the hours that they are actually available.

In doing so, it is vital to emphasize that you understand that not everyone will be able to give the same level of commitment as before while telecommuting. Make it clear that your employees should not feel guilty about that.

If you don’t do anything, people have a tendency to act as if nothing has changed, even if they’re living with three rebellious teenagers, are very concerned about a vulnerable parent or also have to homeschool their children during the day.

If these telecommuting employees don’t dare to share their concerns for fear of being judged, their work begins to pile up. Not only is this frustrating for team members who are waiting in vain for input, it is also annoying for the employees in question. Eventually, the employees will either start to struggle with overwhelming feelings of guilt or jump into overdrive — then there is a good chance that they will start to suffer from burnout. This is something that you want to avoid.

By creating an atmosphere of trust, in which your telecommuting employees feel that they can be honest about the level of productivity that they can actually achieve, teams can begin to regain their poise by having realistic expectations. They can find new ways of working together and determine whether these telecommute work methods actually function in practice. This enables the organization to establish a new, productive way of working together remotely and will create the right conditions to get your organization quickly out of the starting blocks once the crisis is over.

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3. Employees who aren’t doing anything

Not every employee is busy at the moment. For example, take someone who had a representative internal role before this crisis, or was perhaps an assistant to a team that is currently managing its business remotely. This work is no longer there.

Most companies should have put together a pool of tasks, which might even have been created for the current situation. If someone who does not currently have any work does not sign up to this pool, it is important that this issue is addressed with the person in question.

If this does not happen, people will begin to become irritated. As time goes on, your telecommuting employees will begin to get an idea of who is really busy right now, who is struggling to work as well as they could due to the current situation and who is just kicking back and relaxing.

As a manager, HRM department or executive team, it is important that you address anything or anyone that isn’t working properly. This ethos applies at all times, not just during the current coronavirus crisis. Not only does this increase productivity, it also makes sure that your hard-working employees don’t start to lose motivation due to the laidback attitude of some of their colleagues. This will increase productivity and will also improve the general atmosphere, as counter-intuitive as that may sound.

This is necessary because right now you need telecommuting employees who want to continue adding value to the organization and who can recognize new opportunities.

4. Not taking vacation days

At the moment, employees are only taking a very small number of vacation days, if any. After all, they can’t get on a plane anywhere. But when the rules are eventually relaxed and you’re ready to get your organization out of the starting blocks, you don’t want all of your employees to suddenly decamp to the Costa del Sol. That’s precisely when you want all hands on deck.

The amount of outstanding vacation days represents a real risk to your business. That’s why it’s best to address the issue now. By communicating honestly about it and asking people to think about how best to approach the problem, you will avoid productivity problems later in the year.

You could suggest to your employees that they might like to take a few vacation days now, just to simply log off and relax. Or you could encourage them to only take short vacations when things pick up again later. For example, this could mean limiting vacations to just one week during the busiest period.

If you have been honest about how the organization is performing, there’s a good chance that your employees will be understanding and won’t just think about things from their own perspective.

Honesty is the best policy to manage telecommuting employees

If you need your telecommuting employees to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset so that your organization can survive this crisis, it is wise to share your concerns about the business with them.

If you want everyone to commit fully to the organization, you should not hesitate to speak to employees who are not playing their part.

If you want teams to function as well as they can remotely, try to create an atmosphere in which employees feel that they can be honest about the level of productivity that they can realistically achieve.

If you want to avoid additional risks to your business and get out of the starting blocks in a strong position, it is a good idea to think now about the best way to deal with vacation days this year.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to managing telecommuting employees. That’s why you should tackle each of the elephants in the room in turn. It will be a huge relief for everyone and will increase mutual understanding. That’s the best way to keep employee motivation levels as high as possible during these difficult times.


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