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While companies prepare to transition employees back into the workplace over the next few months, remote work is expected to have an expanded role in the future. This shift to a hybrid work model can be attributed in large part to the benefits of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a survey conducted by Georgia Commute Options about the remote work experience for the Atlanta region’s workforce, employees and managers alike reported reduced stress and increased productivity.[1] Working remotely wasn’t without its challenges, though. Key among these is how management had to adapt. In the same survey, 30% of managers reported that they were concerned about declining staff morale, and nearly half of surveyed managers reported that they struggled to unplug from work.

While working remotely, managers supporting distributed teams had to learn how to oversee workflows, maintain lines of communication and keep staff morale up — strategies that will remain important as hybrid work becomes the norm. We spoke with two Atlanta-area managers to learn more about their experiences with remote management during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their perspectives shed new light on how managers can help employees thrive in the emerging hybrid work paradigm. Here are their experiences, told in their own words.

Kevin Collins, Program Manager at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division

I oversee a team of six employees who are responsible for environmental cleanup projects. Prior to the pandemic, my team conducted field work and used the office to complete research, analysis, reporting and training.

When the pandemic started, we had to postpone site visits, and we kept employees at home. The transition was smooth, but in the first few months of the pandemic, I noticed a spike in productivity. Typically, there’s a lot of work like meetings and training. With those stopped, my staff had way more time to invest in the work they had on their desks and, in turn, sent more work to me.

But my meetings kept on, and my schedule stayed full even with my increased workload. I had to learn how to prioritize and stay on top of it all. One of the biggest realizations I had was that I could rely more on the staff’s expertise and skills. There are some people in my unit that have 20-plus years of experience. Putting more trust in them freed me up to spend more time where I needed to, like supporting newer employees.

As we start back site visits and allow some in-office time, I plan to encourage flexibility because it has improved my staff’s morale and output. A happy team is a productive team.

Sanjeev Pathak, IT Manager at GE Core Tech

I directly manage a team of five people who specialize in tech support. Prior to the start of the pandemic, some people were already remote because we outsource some functions and work to people based in different states and countries. My team was already spread out as well, with a few people here in Atlanta as well as Texas and Ohio. So, we’re already used to not being together.

But it was the social aspect that was the most challenging. Talking to people on your lunch break or while getting a coffee just doesn’t get to happen anymore. And people that you used to talk to once or twice a week, you now might chat with just once a month. You can’t replace that human interaction. So, our company has hosted optional social activities once a month or so just to offer something fun and give people a chance to meet others.

As a manager, my biggest lesson has been to stay engaged with everybody as much as I can and as much as time allows. Obviously, everyone’s busy, but try to make the extra effort to reach out to your team and ask how things are going – not just work-wise, but personally, too.

Leading companies and organizations are rethinking where, when and how we work for a better, more resilient future. Learn how Georgia Commute Options can prepare you for what comes next. Get started.

[1] Georgia Commute Options conducted the Remote Work Survey in April 2020, with follow-up surveys in August 2020, October 2020, January 2021 and April 2021.

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