With 50% of the workforce working in some sort of telecommuting role and 80 to 90% of all employees saying they would like to work remotely at least part of the time; therefore offering remote opportunities is an attractive way to gain productive workers.
While this is the ultimate work scenario for many employees, it can be difficult for many managers to come to grips with. You may feel like you have no control over the situation or find that gaining a trust level with a remote team can be a bit of a challenge. Yet, it is the way of the future of the workplace, and managers need to adapt to make the situation work for everyone involved.
To give managers some guidance, here are some top tips for companies to both embrace and better manage a remote workforce. Here’s our recommendation:
1. Set Clear Expectations
Everyone has a different idea of what doing something "quickly" or "well" means. Whether showing examples of what you expect to be done, calendar sharing, etc., make sure you have clear expectations from those you work with online. The more prepared they are, the better they can serve.
2. Treat Remote As Local
Treat your remote people like they are local and treat your local people like they are remote. Give remote people as much access to you as possible. Remember, your local people see you in the halls, eat with you at lunch, stop by your office, etc. The remote people don't have that access and can feel distant. Respond to them as quickly as possible. Make your local people set appointments.
3. Engage Regularly
Engage your remote workers on a daily basis through some kind of communication. Use multiple channels to communicate. Then, plan a regularly scheduled face-to-face meeting. This can be weekly, monthly, or annually, and could be combined with a training or coaching program. This constant interaction and engagement will help remote workers feel included in an important aspect of the organization.
4. Schedule Video-Based Coaching
I think it's incumbent, especially with virtual employees, to schedule time and look at one another when you're speaking. We use Zoom to work with our clients and our employees. If we do not schedule time or talk with one another and hopefully face to face, silence becomes very loud and dangerous, as remote employees might end up wondering how they're doing.
5. Trust Your Team
Sometimes, companies are not willing to embrace a remote workforce because there's uncertainty about whether or not the work will get completed at the same level as if they were in the office. To combat this belief, set up work-from-home guidelines, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours, use text for urgent matters, and no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock.
6. Make It Feel Inclusive
Too often, it's easy to just relegate remote staff to a secondary consideration. This can be overcome with virtual meetings and staff partnerships. Consider assigning remote staff with a local point of contact where communication and connection are valued. Do expect there to be a ramp-up period filled with clear steps, expectations, and check-ins to ensure the process is fully embraced.
7. Filter For Mission, Values, Outcomes And Role
Remote workers are often frozen out of regular-office human interaction, so on-target overcommunication is critical. Help them get aligned with the mission, the values that truly matter to them, as well as the outcomes they love delivering to others and their natural role in any situation. This will keep them truly motivated and working with you longer and more productively.
8. Have Reliable Tools First
If remote employees can't download files, struggle hearing on a conference call, and consistently receive meeting invitations for times when they are still asleep, you have failed to address the basics. First, invest in reliable tools to make collaboration possible. Then develop clear processes to use such tools.
9. Stay Focused On Goals, Not Activity
It is important to manage expectations and stay focused on goals when embracing a remote workforce. Don't worry as much about what is being done. Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished. If we are meeting our goals, then great. If not, we need to look into the situation further. It is all about accomplishment, not activity.
10. Be Intentional
Create a remote workforce atmosphere of engagement and genuine connection. Be intentional in preparing and orientating employees for the remote workforce culture. Establish clear expectations. Make each team meeting count with intentional purpose and opportunities to engage and contribute in a variety of ways. Intentionality is an essential practice, particularly when we cannot readily "see" our people.
11. Create A Communication Strategy
Managing a productive team remotely begins with a strategy for communication. First, arrange for the appropriate number of weekly formal "report-ins." Second, set guidelines about daily needs. Some people work better with a shopping list of questions and thoughts while others like a trickle. An understanding of what is urgent will further mitigate inefficiency, allowing ultimate productivity.
12. Avoid Multi-Tasking
Figure out how to avoid multi-tasking. Video conferences instead of phone conferences work well. Encourage people to stay in working mode and off email back-and-forth as much as is reasonable. Email trails with extensive "reply all" can be stifling on productivity. This tends to peak on Fridays as people are trying to move work off their plate. Send a note to whoever needs it, but send it early in the day!
13. Connect Their Goals With Yours
The world is shifting quickly to a workforce interested in learning and skills advancement rather than stability. Working for 30 years for the same company has gone the way of the dodo. I take a personal interest in my team's learning and life goals, and in our meetings, will often take a moment to connect their interests to the goals of my company. Engagement and performance stay much higher.
14. Use Technology To Build Community
Building community is important to developing an engaged remote workforce. Use technology to create dedicated spaces for celebrating special days (e.g. birthdays), company milestones (e.g., months or years of service), as well as community recognition. Being intentional about creating community helps develop a corporate culture that inspires connection, which can result in increased productivity.
15. Establish Close Bonds, Help, And Support Frequentl
Empathize and appreciate their life by discussing family, commonalities and shared beliefs. On the management end, check in frequently (daily) using collaboration tools, shared docs and spreadsheets, phone calls, chat, and video to invest in the relationship. Show you are supportive of their success by using inquiry to help them achieve their goals rather than a check on their progress and numbers.