Man sitting at work desk on the phone
Headshot of Bob Patience.


Bob Patience     |     
VP, Head of New York Life Business Solutions


Almost overnight, the coronavirus pandemic generated a new group of work-from-home employees. Supervising these workers creates challenges not only for the employees, but also for their managers, who may themselves be new to working from home.

Meeting these challenges takes creative thinking and smart adaptations to ensure the arrangement works well.

Common problems, quick solutions

Remote work comes with certain common challenges, including:1

A lack of interpersonal interaction.

Less shared knowledge on which to base trust and respect.

Social isolation that can contribute to disengagement.

Distractions in the home, such as a less-than-optimal workspace or childcare.

Fortunately, managers can resolve many of these issues fairly easily and at little cost. For instance, managers may want to:

  • Schedule daily check-ins and regular phone calls so workers have access to the manager and feel their concerns or questions have been heard.
  • Deploy a mix of communications tools, such as email, messaging apps, and video conferencing, so workers and managers can see one another and pick up visual clues.
  • Set clear benchmarks for communications, including when and how often communication occurs. New norms may take time to become known and established.
  • Create opportunities for employees to participate in remote social interactions. Shared pizza parties and care packages are two ideas.

 

  • Offer encouragement and, when appropriate, emotional support. Effective managers acknowledge employees' stress and anxiety, and they reassure them that they can be productive while working from home.
  • Don't micromanage. Being out of sight doesn't necessarily mean having to keep tabs on workers' whereabouts and activities every minute of the day.2
  • Be empathetic. Change can be stressful. Try to see situations and conflicts from others' points of view as well as your own.
  • Set expectations and track results. Create timelines for tasks that workers are expected to complete. Use positive reinforcement to let them know you value their effort and contributions.
  • Be flexible. If one approach doesn't work well, try something else.
  • Schedule daily check-ins and regular phone calls so workers have access to the manager and feel their concerns or questions have been heard.
  • Deploy a mix of communications tools, such as email, messaging apps, and video conferencing, so workers and managers can see one another and pick up visual clues.
  • Set clear benchmarks for communications, including when and how often communication occurs. New norms may take time to become known and established.
  • Create opportunities for employees to participate in remote social interactions. Shared pizza parties and care packages are two ideas.
  • Offer encouragement and, when appropriate, emotional support. Effective managers acknowledge employees' stress and anxiety, and they reassure them that they can be productive while working from home.
  • Don't micromanage. Being out of sight doesn't necessarily mean having to keep tabs on workers' whereabouts and activities every minute of the day.2
  • Be empathetic. Change can be stressful. Try to see situations and conflicts from others' points of view as well as your own.
  • Set expectations and track results. Create timelines for tasks that workers are expected to complete. Use positive reinforcement to let them know you value their effort and contributions.
  • Be flexible. If one approach doesn't work well, try something else.

On-boarding new-hires

On-boarding new-hires in a way fits their remote location may help them and their coworkers stay engaged.

Providing a welcome package, training schedule, login credentials, resources directory, and information about communication practices and meeting protocols may help newcomers become acclimated more quickly. A work mentor can offer help and advice and answer questions.3

Tech tools help bring work home

Collaboration tools, such as messaging apps and video-conferencing, work best when they're incorporated into work processes and used by managers to set an example. Many companies may see the value of these tools but still not fully have integrated them. A rise in remote work may heighten the need for managers to focus on this area.

One thing technology can't replace is the physical workspace. Free swag in the company's brand colors and printed with its company's logo or tagline can help employees feel like they're at work even through they're working from home. Swag may include such items as calendars, coffee mugs, water bottles, or notepads.

Finding the right balance

Supervising workers remotely may be a new experience for both managers and workers. Finding the right balance can take time but should pay off for the company in the future.

About the author

Bob Patience is Vice President of Business Solutions at New York Life.  Bob oversees our employee benefits business, including our payroll deducted individual life products and our group life and disability offerings.  In Bob’s four years with New York Life, we launched our group offerings, re-priced and redesigned our individual products and re-positioned the business to support our agents by focusing on the financial needs of small businesses, their owners and their employees.  In addition to his oversight of Business Solutions, Bob is also leading a number of work streams related to NYL’s pending acquisition of Cigna Group Insurance.  Before coming to New York Life, Bob spent 30 years with Prudential, where he held a variety of product, underwriting, segment head, and technology leadership positions.  Immediately before coming to NY Life, he was the P&L owner of Prudential’s $3 billion block of group life and voluntary benefits business.  Bob has a BA from Colby College in Maine and a Masters in Business Administration from New Jersey’s Montclair State University.


This article is provided only for general informational purposes and is not directed toward any particular business or location. Business owners should consult with legal counsel or other knowledgeable advisors on governmental requirements and best practices before reopening.

Sources:

1Barbara Z. Larson, et. al., "A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers," Harvard Business Review, March 18, 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers.

2Rich Hensen, "How to keep your remote employees engaged and productive," HR Morning, April 27, 2020, https://www.hrmorning.com/articles/keep-remote-employees-engaged.

3Christine Trodella, "4 ways to manage remote workers when you don't know how    long they'll be working from home," Fast Company, March 16, 2020, https://www.fastcompany.com/90477145/4-ways-to-manage-remote-workers-when-you- dont-know-how-long-theyll-be-working-from-home.

This material is provided for informational purposes only. New York Life Insurance Company, its agents and employees may not provide legal, tax or accounting advice. Individuals should consult their own professional advisors before implementing any planning strategies. © 2020 New York Life Insurance Company. All rights reserved.