As many people managers have already discovered since COVID-19 turned business operations upside down, one of the challenges of remote working is keeping communication levels up. Even with the benefit of video-conferencing technology, what’s often missing from virtual manager / employee interactions are the visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. It’s therefore easy to overlook the nuances that can provide deeper insights into how your employees are really coping.

To combat this, managers may need to consider making some subtle changes to how they chat with remote-working staff members. Some well thought-out questions can help managers read between the lines, to help focus on issues that are left unspoken. Here are 8 questions to ask (with follow-ups), and what the responses may uncover.

Questions to askFollow-up questionsWhat can the responses reveal?
What are you enjoying most – and least – about working from home?What is a highlight of a typical working day – and why is that so enjoyable?
What is a low point of a typical working day – and why is that such a struggle?
Tell me what work task you think you’ll enjoy most this week?
Employee motivators and demotivators. It’s important to know what drives your employees, and equally what has the opposite effect. Get to know what these elements are in a lockdown environment. This may also provide valuable insights into what your team members enjoy doing outside of work hours. This is a time of extreme personal disruption – for example, staff may be caring for vulnerable family members. Empathy has never been more critical.
Can you walk me through your typical daily routine?How often do you take breaks from work?
How do you prioritise your daily/weekly/monthly workload?
Are you finding time to undertake physical exercise and recharge mentally (e.g. through meditation or yoga)?
Time management and self-care capabilities. Without having an office to go to each day, established workflows and the ability to prioritise tasks can take a hit. These questions can uncover if employees are feeling overwhelmed.
Equally, these questions can open up a discussion about the importance of maintaining physical and mental well-being. Regularly check that employees feel cared for and safe. Support them to make decisions about how they can operate effectively though this crisis.
Can you outline – or show me with technology – your workplace set-up?If you could improve your remote work productivity by 10%, what would you suggest changing to your physical work environment?
Do you find the technology tools you use satisfactory?
Challenges and opportunities relating to the physical environment. It’s important to ensure employees have optimised their physical work-from-home environment so that health and safety is not compromised, and to keep productivity up.
If possible, ask them to show you their workspace with video cameras. Alternatively, create a self-check questionnaire relating to WHS, technology and other issues (a guide to the sorts of questions to ask can be found here).
How are you coping with social distancing and not seeing colleagues in-person?Is there anything else the company can do to support you during these times?
Are the technology tools used for communication and collaboration helping you to stay connected?
Level of social connectivity. Human beings are by nature social creatures. Without face-to-face interactions, it’s easy for people to feel isolated. Supporting employees with the right tools can go some way to easing anxiety.
Organise virtual group activities such as yoga and meditation, or social activities such as a Friday afternoon wine club, book clubs and group personal development sessions.
Who do you connect with most often at work?Are there any co-workers that you wish you had a better connection with?
If you’ve got suggestions for improving work processes or just general suggestions about work issues, who do you go to?
Support networks and work-flow insights. From HR to IT, there are multiple colleagues that most staff rely on to do their jobs well. Uncovering these connections – even if some are unexpected – can improve workflows and cross-team dynamics.
Do you feel you can collaborate with others and take part in virtual meetings?Are there any technology-related issues preventing you from taking part in meetings – e.g. can you see and hear when you are on a tele-conference?
Do you feel like you get enough of a say in team meetings?
Team dynamics and collaboration. Those taking part in meetings remotely in the past may have felt disadvantaged if other team members were all on-site. Today, with whole teams operating remotely, this is less likely – but there can still be technological issues hindering collaboration. The responses to these questions can also unearth problems with the structure of meeting agendas and whether people feel they “have a voice”.

With so much happening, it can be tempting for managers to bunker down and raise the drawbridge; however, this approach is not recommended as the consequences may be damaging. Now, more than ever, managers need to be mindful of how employees are coping with significant changes and doing everything within their power to make them comfortable with untested working conditions. Meaningful conversations that get “beneath the surface” are one way to build trust and confidence.

ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll can help HR professionals manage their workforce, even while operating remotely. As a cloud-based solution, ELMO helps employers manage their teams from anywhere at any time from a secure, centralised location. All employee-employer touchpoints are covered by ELMO’s suite, from ‘hire to retire’. This includes recruitment, onboarding, performance management, payroll, rostering / time & attendance, learning & development, and more. For further information, contact us.

Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.
Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.