During the pandemic, businesses had to pivot quickly when shutdowns in their states were announced. To continue operating their businesses, which may not have been considered essential, their IT teams needed to develop a virtual workforce plan, and in many cases for all employees. This was an adjustment for employees who had little to no experience working from home. They were told to pack up their desk at the office, and to bring home their computers, displays and in some cases their desk phones. For Millennials, setting up a home office was likely a simple task, whereas seasoned workers may have had a bit more difficulty getting everything up and running, and may have required additional support.

Once up and running at home, many also had to share the space with a spouse, child or roommate, which came with its own set of challenges. Where to setup the office space? How to manage working hours? How to deal with family or pet interruptions that just don’t happen when you are in the office? It was a tall order that required patience and time to adapt to the new normal of working from home.

Next came learning new applications to make and receive phone calls, chat, as well as how to collaborate with video and file sharing tools. But in many cases, these tools were not unified, so it required logging into separate email, chat, file sharing and phone applications or downloading different video applications to maintain personal (face to face) contact with customers, colleagues, and vendors.

Most businesses would likely agree that employees met the challenge quite well, and that their IT support teams delivered when it came to setting up virtual workers, providing support and ensuring network security measures were taken. In many cases productivity improved, employees worked longer hours, and those who liked working remotely were determined to prove to their bosses that they could do their job even better when working from home. Some employees however, experienced burnout. Others struggled with the lack of personal contact they were used to in the office and couldn’t wait to get back to work.

Managing Work Life Balance

According to the Mayo Clinic, juggling the demands of career and personal life is an ongoing challenge for most employees. But by setting limits and looking after themselves, they can work towards achieving the work-life balance that’s best for them. Creating work-life balance is a continuous process, especially as family, lifestyle, hobbies, and work life changes. From time to time, it’s best to remind employees to examine their priorities — and adjust if necessary — to make sure they remain on track.

Adjusting to Employees Needs

Just as employees need to invest in personal and professional endeavors, business owners and managers need to adapt policies and procedures for virtual workers, so they can meet the needs of the organization. These policies and procedures need to consider the desire for employees to have a work life balance. If employees are expected to work 8:30am – 5:00pm when they were in the office, the same should apply when they are working virtually. Just because a manager is working outside of business hours, it shouldn’t be expected (without notice) that an employee be available after hours to complete a project or answer a question. Often, employees can feel added pressure when the expectation of management is for them to be “always available” just because they work from home. Understanding how to support staff virtually is increasingly important. Here are some tips to consider when managing virtual teams that can help set the stage for employees to have a better work life balance:

  1. Communication – Regular communication is essential, otherwise employees may feel isolated and not part of the team.
  2. IT Support & Technology – Having the right technology and level of IT support is vital to ensure virtual employees stay connected so they can do their job.
  3. Empowerment – Empowering and trusting employees to do their job is always important, but sometimes, it’s even more important for virtual employees to feel that trust.
  4. Praise and Rewards – Giving kudos to your employees for doing a good job is just as, if not more important for virtual employees because they are remote. When management praises employees, or rewards them with small gifts, they are reminding the employee they are valued.
  5. Establish Working Hours – Setting a clear expectation for working hours will help the employee establish a work life balance.
  6. Encourage Breaks – Employees should be encouraged to take breaks to eat, exercise and take some time for themselves throughout the day, so they remain healthy.
  7. Social Interaction / Team Building – Inviting virtual employees to meet together for an informal social event (i.e. virtual happy hour, coffee breaks, games, etc.) is a great way for team building, as wells a quick break from work.

Enabling Virtual Teams

Having healthy, happy employees is important to the health of your business, as is having the right strategy and management direction. Making sure your employees have the best tools and technology is also critical to your business’ success. If your organization is using an older phone system with multiple individual applications for the various ways you communicate (text, chat, video, voice), it’s the perfect time to consider enabling your employees with new technology. Taking advantage of Unified Communication tools can increase productivity, reduce costs, and lessen the stress on your IT team, as well as your in-office and virtual employees.  

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