This past year has brought perhaps more challenges than ever before for employers managing in-office employees. Many companies which originally thrived in a close-proximity office workspace are now forced to find a way to work remotely, regardless of the industry. Video conferencing tools, corporate messaging platforms, time-tracking applications and good old-fashioned email correspondence help to bridge the distance between at-home employees, but there’s no substitute for the in-office experience.

How is an employer supposed to manage employees with the same regularity and discipline, now that none of those employees can come into the office? As an employee assistance program (EAP), it’s a question we’ve asked ourselves over the course of the past year. While there’s no simple answer, we’ve outlined definitive tools, tips and steps you can put into place that can help you make the most of the situation. In fact, you might want to consider these employee management techniques even when employees are allowed to return to the workplace!

All the tools you’ll need

Here’s the good news: despite the distance between your employees and the workspace, you’ll still be able to communicate with the same efficiency thanks to some of the world’s best video conferencing and instant messaging tools.

If you want to see your employees’ faces when you communicate, especially if you’re looking to hold full-scale virtual meetings, you’ll want to take advantage of a well-optimized video conferencing tool. Here are two of our favorites:

1. Zoom

Zoom offers live video chats, with an easy screen recording feature to keep track of meeting details, participants, etc. There’s even a built-in whiteboard feature, for some virtual education, brainstorming or outlining.

2. Google Meet

Google recently made this tool free for everyone, as long as users log in with an active Gmail account. You’ll be able to enjoy large-scale, secure meetings, and you can integrate Google Meet video conferencing links into existing Google Calendar invites. Share your screen to give employees a better understanding of what you’re seeing.

If your daily correspondence doesn’t require a video conference, it’s great to know that there are a number of instant messaging tools that help you consolidate daily communication. Check out our 3 favorite instant communication tools below:

1. Slack

Slack is the true do-it-all communication tool. Even if you elect to use a free subscription, you can integrate all of your employees into the business messaging tool, even dividing employees into respective channels according to team, project or business segmentations. In addition, Slack also includes video conferencing or audio-only call features, for quick face-to-face meetings when necessary.

2. Microsoft Teams

Send messages that are delivered directly by Microsoft Teams. This communication tool comfortably integrates into all other Microsoft tools, including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. There’s also an integration for Skype, Microsoft’s video conferencing tool.

3. Google Hangouts

A Google-sponsored communication tool, Google Hangouts gives complimentary communication access to anyone with a G Suite account. In addition to text communication that instantly delivers your message to any other integrated users, Google Hangouts allows on-the-spot video and audio communication with other team members, without the need to exit the application.

Embrace a new degree of freedom

Here’s the bad news: your employees will likely not be able to maintain the same control over their new schedules as they once did in their in-office routines. Working from home is a wonderful opportunity, but it also brings with it new challenges. Dogs need to be walked, groceries need to be purchased, doctor and dental appointments can sometimes compromise morning or an afternoon productivity.

As an employer, you’re only fighting an uphill battle if you expect employees to operate with the same rigidity of schedule they once did when they were driving to work each day. Instead, learn to live with the small differences. It’s ok if an employee does not email you, message you or call you back immediately. It’s ok if an employee accomplishes an assignment before or after work hours. It’s ok if your employees experience the regular effects of work-from-home fatigue, especially if this change is new for them.

Now here’s the good news: many employees actually find that they’re more productive if they can work from the comfort of their own homes. After all, these same employees can now dress more comfortably, take breaks when necessary and personalize their own work environments with more freedom than ever. As an employer, if you can learn to live with moderated schedules and a learning curve when it comes to working from home, you’ll likely be rewarded with increased overall productivity and employee job satisfaction.

Establish and maintain accountability standards.

Employee work hours and workplace environments will change when they work from home. Accountability standards should remain the same.

First, it’s your job to make sure that each and every employee has every tool they need to succeed. Whether it’s software or hardware, platform subscriptions or note-taking supplies, your employees deserve all of the materials they need to produce a job well done. As long as you’ve provided your employees with the necessary keys to success, those same employees should be expected to deliver reliable results, at the same pace as they could from an in-office workplace.

From day one, make sure that you set clear expectations for your employees. Especially with the distance that an at-home environment presents, you need to make sure you make these expectations crystal clear. If you’ve outlined goals for your employees, but they’re buried in a lengthy email or only made as passing remarks in a morning call, consider doubling back with those employees to make sure they understand their tasks.

Maintaining accountability standards across the board – for both your employees and yourself – is the first step toward ensuring that productivity remains unaffected by the change in workplace environment.

Give your employees the best chance to succeed.

Ultimately, your employees deserve every chance in the world to succeed, regardless of where they’re working from. That only happens when you make sure that each employee’s individual needs are addressed, whether they’re personal or professional. That’s where an employee assistance program becomes infinitely valuable: employee assistance programs like Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP help employees address any issues that might be compromising productivity or quality of life.

Whether that means helping an employee deal with grief or loss, take control of substance use or even attend marital counseling, an EAP pairs each employee with the resources he or she needs to move forward. In the workplace, you’ll see decreased employee turnover and workplace conflict, while at the same time yielding the dividends of increased employee productivity and overall job satisfaction.

As an employer, you want to provide every possible benefit to your employees, increasing their collective chance of success and eliminating barriers in their way. Between video conferencing tools, instant messaging and clear employee accountability, you’ll set the stage for happy, healthy employees regardless of where the team is located.

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