Corporate America is taking quick action to keep their employees safe from COVID-19, known as the coronavirus. However, a new survey from Provo-based VitalSmarts, a corporate training and leadership development company, shows that recently adopted work-from-home policies may lead to significant challenges as employees are ill-equipped to handle the changes.
According to the March study of 1,097 adults, a third of respondents say their organizations have a plan in place they are confident about and 43 percent have a basic plan — even if it is “hastily assembled.” Most plans center on remote work and travel restrictions. Specifically:
• 28 percent of respondents say their organization has already revised its work-from-home policy.
• 43 percent of organizations have revised their travel policy.
• 33 percent of respondents report having more online meetings.
• 17 percent have a new plan for video-based meetings and sales calls.
And yet, while these actions ensure employees’ safety and health, they simultaneously pose a risk to the vital signs of the business. Specifically, more than one in five (21.19 percent) employees don’t feel their team members have good enough collaboration habits to work effectively from home. They also say one in five leaders are either very unprepared or unprepared to manage remote teams. Overall, 65 percent are concerned COVID-19 will influence their company’s operations.
While leaders are acting with agility, researchers wonder if employees will be able to follow suit.
“The speed in which American businesses have responded to this outbreak is impressive,” said Justin Hale, a productivity expert and researcher at VitalSmarts. “But if leaders aren’t prepared to manage remote teams or if these teams don’t have good communication and collaboration habits in place, the effects of this virus could disrupt team connectivity, morale and accountability — not to mention results.”
A previous study from VitalSmarts about the impact of working remotely found that people who work from home have a significantly harder time addressing challenges. When they had concerns, 84 percent of remote employees said their concerns dragged on for a few days or more and 47 percent admitted to letting them drag on for a few weeks or more. Remote employees also reported seeing larger, negative impacts on results like productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress and retention than their on-site colleagues.
“Our research over the past three decades proves the health and success of any team is determined by the speed and quality of communication between colleagues,” said Hale. “Teams that can hold candid and effective dialogue — minus the emotions and politics — experience higher morale and results. Establishing these norms and skills with teams that are facing new ‘rules,’ new spaces and heightened emotions in the wake of COVID-19 is vital.”
Hale added that managers play a particularly important role, especially in times of uncertainty. “When managers model stellar communication, especially when it’s really transparent and timely, the rest of the team follows suit,” he said. “The less managers leave their people guessing or wondering, the better. You can’t overestimate the influence a manager has on his or her team’s ability to engage in dialogue and create a collaborative and healthy culture — especially when distance and technology are suddenly part of the equation.”
Hales listed best practices for managing remote teams, including frequent and consistent face-to-face or voice-to-voice check-ins, explicit expectations and consistent availability of the manager to the employee.