How to help struggling employees working remotely

When working remotely, how can you keep your team hitting its goals and staying productive? And what happens when one member of the team stops working as effectively?

Dropping out of communication

“I work at a university, and the biggest clue of students struggling was just them disappearing,” said Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, a financial therapist who is the director of the Personal Financial Planning Masters Program at Kansas State University. Similarly, she said, when an employee loses touch, it’s a warning sign. They might stop responding to emails or answering their phone, or even blow off Zoom meetings.

If an employee slows or stops communications, try reaching out via different forms of communication.

“For instance,” McCoy said, “if you just keep on trying to email your employee but they are feeling so overwhelmed by their workload they might not even be seeing your email under all the other emails they’re receiving. Trying to use text messages or phone calls to pull them back.”

The tone of communications

Other times, employees don’t break contact, but their work output drops. In this case, looking carefully at the tone of their communications can offer clues into their state of mind.

Financial therapist Meghaan Lurtz, MS, Ph.D., recommends reading a questionable email three times, once while smiling, once while frowning and once with a neutral expression. Doing so can give us context clues that we might otherwise miss.

Create a safe zone

Once you get a hold of your struggling employee, then what?

Lurtz recommends “creating those open lines of communication, having a safe place and letting people know you know we’re all going through stuff.

“It can make a world of difference just knowing that there is someone who can support you in this virtual environment,” she said.

Your employee may need to restructure their working hours to take care of their kids during the day. Perhaps they need to schedule a time to check emails daily and change the way they communicate with the office. Lurtz said, “Just be patient and empathetic. This is a difficult time for everyone.”

Create a communications plan

The best way to prevent employee burnout while working remotely is to create a communication plan in advance. Simply finding out the best way to get in touch with your employee can save a lot of stress. It also helps to set clear expectations on when and how they should respond to communication. Scheduling regular one-on-one check-ins is another way to stop the struggle before it starts.

“You want to make sure that you’re having contact with everyone on your team,” McCoy emphasized.

Maintaining productivity is always a challenge, but the pandemic has added an extra layer of frustration. The cure? Empathy, communication and understanding.

“I think that you don’t want to get overly focused on each employee performing tasks at the same level as pre-COVID, or even compared to other employees,” McCoy said. “Everyone is impacted by COVID differently. But if there’s someone who’s really decreased in their productivity, that’s something to keep an eye on.”

For more from the financial therapists, read “Creating camaraderie from afar through relationship building for remote teams.”

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