The number of remote workers is increasing year by year, and the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. According to a survey conducted by OWL Labs, 16% of global organizations are now fully remote and 52% of employees around the world work from home at least one day a week. With modern technology keeping people more connected than ever, location has ceased to be a limiting factor in the workplace.
Allowing your staff to work remotely at least part time has numerous advantages. According to OWL labs, employees who work from home at least once a month are 24% more likely to feel happy and productive at work than their desk-bound colleagues. With no tiring commute, no office distractions and more flexibility in taking breaks when they need to, remote staff can accomplish more in the same amount of time. As flexibility becomes an important job satisfaction measure for many professionals, allowing remote work – at least part time – can significantly increase the talent pool you choose your employees from. In addition, a remote team can effectively reduce your expenses by decreasing your office rental and equipment costs.
But the idea of managing a remote staff makes many employers uncomfortable. They may fear losing control over their organization and find that building a trust level with a remote team can be a bit of a challenge. But embracing that your staff will be spending at least part of their work hours at home or in a coffee shop is a crucial step in keeping up with your changing role as a business owner or manager.
Below are a few tips I have learned about managing a remote workforce.
Trust issues are the most commonly cited reason why many employers are not ready for managing a remote workforce. They want to ensure that their teams are completing the work they are supposed to while out of sight. Overcoming trust issues is a complex endeavor, but many businesses find success in exchanging their time and activity-based management style to tracking goals and accomplishments instead. When you know your team is achieving the objectives set for them, you will worry less about how much time they are spending in front of their computer. Having clear goals in place and checking in on the progress regularly will also have a significant role in moving your organization forward.
However, this strategy can only be effective if your staff has a well-calibrated workload. Too little responsibility can make employees doubt your trust in their capabilities. But expecting more than what they can accomplish sets your team up for failure, which will only add to your distrust. Give your team the opportunity to grow in their roles by keeping them productive and challenged, and avoid overwhelming them with more than what is reasonable to handle.
Another great way to reduce trust issues and keep your remote team successful is to have clear expectations and guidelines in place. Everyone has a different idea of what “fast” or “well-done” means. So ensuring that everyone on the team is on the same page regarding project goals, quality expectations and timelines can go a long way in setting your team up for success.
Creating work-from-home guidelines can further reduce distrust and boost productivity. Rules, such as responding to emails within 24 hours, participating in all scheduled calls or looking professional in video conferences with clients will ensure that your team is productive and connected, no matter where they are working from.
Since remote workers are out-of-sight and out-of-mind, employers often neglect them during the onboarding process. Many remote employees feel disconnected from their organizations from the moment they start their new positions. They often miss out on information critical for their work and feeling isolated affects their morale and productivity in the long run. Depending on their unique arrangement, they may not need a desk, a chair or a key to the office. But introducing them to their colleagues, getting them acquainted with your organization’s values and goals and giving them access to key tools to perform their job duties is critically important.
Community-building is also an important component to developing an engaged workforce, and a remote staff is no exception. Look for more inclusive alternatives to the office watercooler chat and use technology to create dedicated spaces for socializing. Including remote staff in recognizing employees, celebrating birthdays and company milestones, such as years of service, can go a long way in keeping your entire team engaged.
Businesses with remote workers also need to go the extra mile to keep communications channels open. Remember, your local people see you in the hallway, eat with you at lunch or stop by your office for a quick question. But your remote team doesn’t have the same access to you or their direct supervisors, making them feel distant. Such silence can leave your remote staff wondering how they are doing.
Always respond to them as soon as possible and include them in any conversations and event invitations that affect them. Online collaboration tools provide a great space for team discussions and videoconferences that are accessible from anywhere and keep everyone on the same page. Also consider assigning remote employees with a local contact who can help ensure that they are kept in the loop.
All employees need thorough training during the onboarding process to perform well in their new positions, and regular corporate training programs ensure that your staff grows and advances in their roles. But quite often businesses find it difficult to include remote workers in programs that were originally designed for their in-office staff. As remote workers are often frozen out of regular office human interactions and find it more difficult to get their questions answered, trainings become a crucial tool in keeping them successful in their roles.
Take advantage of modern videoconferencing tools to coach your team, include them in local group trainings and provide them with critical files. When you take an interest in your team’s career goals, care about their learning life and support them in their growth, their engagement and performance improves dramatically.
Keeping a remote team successful and engaged is not a simple endeavor. Trust issues pop-up at most businesses that introduce work-from-home programs and the staff is often unsure what is expected of them. But contemporary cloud-based technologies have made it remarkably simple to bridge any gaps between your local and remote teams, replacing face-to-face interactions with intuitive videoconferencing and multimedia collaboration tools. Take advantage of these new advances in technology to manage your remote staff successfully.
With VoIP technology, your team can now easily place or receive business calls or start a teleconference straight form a desktop or mobile application, whether they need to communicate with colleagues, clients or vendors. Using their corporate caller ID for all conversations, this technology enables them to stay productive and professional from any location and any device. Many applications have the Presence featured enabled, allowing you to see when your team is online, on a call or away. In addition, with call center features enabled, you can easily manage and coach your customer service or sales agents, no matter where they are located.
Online videoconferencing and multimedia collaboration tools have also made it easy to meet and communicate with your team as if you were all sharing a conference room. Videoconferencing provides your staff with all the nonverbal channels common in face-to-face conversations and allows them to be included in any on-site meetings. Advanced file sharing and multimedia annotation features allow your dispersed team to collaborate and ensure that they are always on the same page.
Clear expectations, goal tracking, unencumbered communication and advanced collaboration tools can dramatically improve the performance of your remote staff and enable you to manage your team successfully. But while modern technology empowers the majority of the modern workforce to perform their job duties from anywhere, some roles simply require face-to-face contact or a physical presence. In addition, some staff members are self-motivated, but others may rely on the energy of the team to get going. Before making a decision on your work-from-home policy, determine what environment would bring out the best in your employees and what level of flexibility would be most suitable for their roles. Re-evaluate from time to time to ensure that your team continues to be happy and productive.
Allowing your team to work remotely at least part time can go a long way in boosting their performance, productivity and job satisfaction. A flexible work environment enables you to attract and retain the best talent while keeping up with the changing needs of your business. Implementing a few changes, tools and policies will help you maintain control over your evolving organization and manage your remote staff successfully.