A hallmark of today’s changing business landscape is the rise of the remote workforce. Companies are warming to this trend because it reduces real estate expense and increases productivity and loyalty when workers can spend time working rather than commuting. It eases the emotional conflict between families and work responsibilities.
Leaders need to clearly communicate what working remotely means in their companies. Every company may have a slightly different approach based on culture, interaction with other parts of the business, and the expectations of the customer base. That said, there are some key actions and policies executives can put in place to have a positive impact.
1. Communicate often. Leaders are learning how important it is to bridge the communication and affiliation gap among people who are never together. Today’s leaders and managers need to deploy a distinct type and cadence of communications
“Almost all leaders manage some team members who work remotely. This requires stronger communication skills and the need to reach out more regularly,” explains Gail Meneley, principal and co-founder of Shields Meneley Partners, a career-transition and leadership-coaching firm. “Leaders must be proactive and use all types of communications—videoconferencing, texting, tweets, and emails, as well as utilize collaborative online platforms.”
2. Build a sense of team. Although many people enjoy working independently, it can be difficult when you don’t have a thought partner to help solve problems. A leader who practices proactive communication and checks in regularly increases motivation and promotes a feeling that “we are all in this together.” Although working alone makes many people feel more productive, it can also create stress and a feeling of isolation because they are out of the day-to-day communication loop in the office.
“Loneliness is a huge problem among remote workers and the lack of in-office face time might also lead to higher anxiety around job security,” according to FastCompany. “It’s a little harder to notice when someone might be going through a difficult time…you have to go above and beyond to make sure they’re happy at work.”
One way to create a sense of team is for managers to hold regular video calls so everyone can see each other and discuss any number of topics. Project updates are part of it, but encouraging “watercooler” banter is, too. This helps build friendships and professional relationships that develop when you are sharing an office. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of remote employees feel more connected when this technology is used.
Establishing a policy about communication response times is also beneficial to keeping your remote workers connected with your in-office workers. Everyone must be held accountable for supporting other members of the team when it comes to goals and deadlines.
3. Goal-setting is a must. In-office employees typically know what is expected of them. The same should be true of remote workers. That means every employee, regardless of location, needs to know exactly what is expected in the short and long term. Executives need to develop tools that measure success and anticipate challenges for all employees.
“Successful leaders of remote teams have learned how important it is to create a culture of mutual trust and transparency,” explains Meneley, “and to measure and observe individual and team performance in real time to prevent projects from going off the tracks.”
4. Explain company policies. Managers of remote staff should ensure that all employees adhere to the same rules including social media, confidentiality, decorum, formality, and other business behaviors.
5. Invest in office supplies. Today’s CEOs and CHROs can expect to save money on office space, but they still need to invest in technology and other tools and supplies that are necessary to perform a given job. While executives are not be expected to manage the supply closets of remote workers, a workaround could include providing a stipend to employees to make sure they have the tools they need to execute their jobs.
The great news is that two-thirds of managers surveyed report increased productivity. Remote team members are also enthusiastic because they say they get more done in less time.
“If you have not yet confirmed policies that pertain to how remote employees will be supported, put a committed team together to create a blueprint to help you attract and retain high performers,” says Meneley. “The war for talent is real. Make your company an employer of choice.”