Managing Remote Employees
The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, which showed that working from home increased employee productivity by 13%. Participants in the study were also generally happier in their work–no longer soured by hellish commutes or distracted by chatty deskmates–and Ctrip saved money on office space and electricity.
Not covered in the research—but important to note—is that companies employing a remote working model are also freed up to hire exceptional out-of-town or international job candidates.
If remote working has all of these benefits, why don’t we quixotically convert The Woolworth Building into an indoor garden and kiss the traditional office paradigm goodbye? Some companies don’t have the capacity to build infrastructure for remote working, some don’t trust that their employees will work hard, and others are happy with their team and culture and don’t want to risk losing relationship capital.
If you’re thinking about reducing your overheads and giving remote working a chance, there are a few principles that could help you avoid these pitfalls and build a productive, dedicated, slipper-wearing workforce.
Hire people who thrive working remotely
Some people just aren’t wired to work unsupervised, they feel lonely during the day, or find it difficult to concentrate in deafening silence. Find people who have a track record of getting things done without someone looking over their shoulder. On top of the hard skills you need them to demonstrate for proficiency in their role, they should also show you that they are a great communicator and self-starter, with a positive attitude.
Out of sight should not be out of mind
One thing that tends to happen with remote employees is that they get passed over for promotion or learning opportunities. There are a few things you could do to avoid holding remote workers back:
- Use a learning and education platform like Lessonly to help them sharpen their skills and stay up-to-date with industry standards.
- Create a video-based coaching or a mentorship program so that your employees see you’re invested in their professional development.
- Use an engagement and performance technology platform so that your managers can both measure and drive their team’s achievements.
Plan creative time together
If you’re worried about missing out on the “water-cooler effect”—those breakthrough moments when staff work face-to-face and exchange ideas casually—there are lots of ways to get people together who live in relatively close proximity:
- Have an all-hands meeting together twice a month, with a couple of hours for planning and creativity, and the rest of the day working as normal alongside each other to maintain relationships and riff on upcoming projects.
- Have smaller team get-togethers once a week in various co-working spaces across your town or city.
And if your team is too spread out:
- Arrange three or four get-togethers per year, where everyone has to travel. Leave breakfasts and lunchtimes long and relaxed for people to chat informally.
- Have open online chat forums for things that aren’t ostensibly about projects you’re working on, like a book club or skillshare.
Role model the behavior that you want to see in your team
If you start dipping in and out of work, sending half-thought-out late-night Slack messages, or logging in 15 minutes late to a video conference because of ‘connectivity issues’, your remote employees will start to do the same. Building a culture of trust can be tricky when you aren’t face-to-face, but there ways to foster positive communication:
- Set an appropriate cadence for communication, which could include how quickly your team should follow up with emails, times of day people are expected to be online, and how often they are expected to check in.
- Give employees regular updates about how your company is doing and enough ‘big picture’ information that they feel included and part of something bigger.
- Be intentional. Tonyalynne Wildhaber told Forbes about creating a remote workforce atmosphere of engagement and 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.”
Put time and resources into systems to support your employees
“Modern businesses live and die by their ability to zoom out to 30,000 feet to get the big picture and then come back down to solid ground and put in the work…The right project management tool lets you organize your team to do its best work. It lets you plan sprints or tasks and track who’s doing what to make sure you’re working in the most efficient way possible.” according to Inc. Project management tools, employee engagement tools, education platforms, and IRCs only work when everyone in your organization is using them consistently. If some of your project documents are hosted in Basecamp, and others are hidden in email attachments, it’s a recipe for disaster.
- Do the hard work of fleshing out your project management systems, not only setting them up, but also mapping out scenarios and projects so that your employees aren’t left guessing when they look at the tool through their own user experience lens.
- Document your systems and processes to dissuade people from building their own ways of doing things in isolation. Make sure it’s a living document that’s updated regularly and that any onboarding includes adequate time to learn how your company works together.
The ingredients for a successful remote working relationship with your team are not much different than those that will help you in any office setting; clear communication, shared goals, trust, and courtesy.
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