Contingent workforce managers are challenged to support several different stakeholders, locations and more while working from home — many times with limitations based on systems, time zones, etc.
In addition to these types of challenges, Brittany Reece, external workforce manager at Amgen Inc., told SIA that working from home can leave her with a sense that she is missing something. “I feel sort of disconnected, like a manager who assumes everything is working properly until one day things unexpectedly blow up,” she says. “When you are in the office, you do feel you are closer to the pulse and more aware of what is going on.”
However, Reese also noted in a blog post on The Staffing Stream that working remotely has allowed colleagues at Amgen to let go of their “corporate masks,” removing what had been serving as barriers across the organization.
Expectations, communications and trust. Trust is a big hurdle to overcome in the work-from-home environment, according to Chris Paden, SIA’s director of contingent workforce strategies and research.
“Traditional management approaches have enforced the need to see someone working to believe it is happening appropriately,” Paden says. “Managers can overcome the trust factor by creating more formal communication strategies.” This also helps the worker to feel connected/engaged and closes the gap of information that may naturally be absorbed while sitting in an office environment around co-workers.
Managers should also be prescriptive about tasks and outcomes and chart progress along the way. And, more specific for the current shelter-in-place situation, they need to be patient and supportive of competing priorities.
“Many families are not just adapting to working from home, but also schooling and caregiving from home,” Paden says. “There has been a forced breakdown of the work/life separation. We can’t ignore that it’s not business as usual and should be direct about our acceptance of these worlds colliding.”
Paden describes a “moment of panic” about maintaining professionalism when his daughter started running laps around his home office while he was on a video call. “My manager and team’s acceptance and acknowledgment that it was OK quickly dissolved the panic and provided a new level of comfort in this new operating reality,” he explained.
Best practices. SIA recently released a report on “Best Practices in Remote Working for Staffing Firms.” And although the report is targeted toward staffing providers, most of the information is also applicable to contingent workforce managers, according to Jon Osborne, SIA’s VP of strategic research and author of the report.
“If the buyers are having people work from home, then I would imagine it would be many of the same things,” Osborne said.
To fight the effects of isolation, encourage virtual meetings, phone calls and instant messaging. Emphasize that you are available to your staff; they should feel connected to you as well as to each other. Video technology for remote meetings is important. And find the right balance; some communication is good but too much can result in workers feeling overwhelmed. Follow the same best-practice rules for virtual meetings as you would for in-person meetings.
Beware of burnout. The sudden transition to remote work amid the Covid-19 pandemic has some employers concerned about maintaining employee productivity. However, a bigger concern in this unprecedented situation is the longer-term risk of employee burnout, according to a story in Harvard Business Review. It recommends a few strategies including maintaining physical, social and work-time boundaries.
In addition, the article suggests devoting energy to top-priority issues rather than busy-work. “While working from home, employees often feel compelled to project the appearance of productivity, but this can lead them to work on tasks that are more immediate instead of more important — a tendency that research suggests is counterproductive in the long run, even if it benefits productivity in the short run,” the article states.
A separate Harvard Business Review article provides tips to be less distracted and more present whether you’re working or enjoying personal time. These include having a starting work routine and a plan for the day. Also, reduce your personal communication during the hours when you want to focus on the job, and have a wrap-up routine that starts at least 30 minutes before the work day ends.
“Focus takes intentional effort and can feel difficult at times, especially in the midst of massive uncertainty,” the article states. “But by following these tips, it is possible to be present most of the time when you’re working or in your personal time.”
Time for you. Despite the challenges, the current situation is bringing into focus the improved work/life balance that working from home can bring. For example, Reese is walking three miles daily with her mother and enjoying more weekday dinners with her parents without feeling rushed.
“I’ve always thought I had a good work/life balance, but now I realize how much time I lose sitting in traffic or spending time trying to get presentable,” she says. “It will be bittersweet when we do finally go back into the office.”
The “Best Practices in Remote Working for Staffing Firms” report mentioned in this article is available to CWS Council members.