Remote work can be a win-win opportunity for employers and employees alike. The benefits to your employee engagement, retention and morale, as well as your ability to expand your talent pool and attract and hire stronger candidates, are all well known.
But remote work offers unique challenges that companies must address to make the most of their remote work strategies. Maintaining a sense of connection with remote employees, ensuring technology helps rather than hinders collaboration and innovation, and overcoming the potential for employees to feel isolated and excluded are areas where most companies struggle.
Here, our experts offer strategies and best practices that can make supporting, enabling and developing your remote workforce significantly easier.
First and foremost, organizations need to identify their motivations for implementing or improving their remote work policy or policies, says Vip Sandhir, CEO and co-founder of employee engagement platform HighGround.
“What are you trying to accomplish? Whether it’s to attract top talent or to provide current employees with more flexible work arrangements, it’s key to understand why building out telecommuting guidelines is worth your time and energy,” Sandhir says.
From there, employers should establish formal guidelines to address which positions are eligible for telecommuting and how often employees are allowed to work away from the office. Setting and enforcing expectations is critical to making the arrangement work, so make sure employees understand your remote work policies — including the need to be online during certain hours or commuting to the office on a biweekly basis, for example, says Sandhir.
To make a remote work strategy successful, you have to be deliberate about it, starting with an understanding of the unique needs of your organization, your team and your individual employees, says Omer Moldan, CEO and co-founder of Vervoe, an applicant tracking system and video conferencing platform that replaces face-to-face interviews with video and simulations.
“Choose a way of working that suits your team, communicate your expectations clearly and then you’ll set everyone up for success,” he says. “If you want people in the office once a week, or you expect people to attend a daily call, then set those boundaries up front, clearly. People want to know how, and when, to communicate with their team members. Lay the ground rules and then do everything you can to build an operating rhythm your team can depend on,” he says.
Communication is critical to ensure remote work strategies are effective and deliver on the benefits they promise, says Sandhir. A successful remote work strategy often requires managers and employees to over-communicate, at least at first, until everyone’s comfortable and a level of trust has been established, he says. That starts with making sure you’re using technology that fits the needs of your business and workers, he says.
“To ensure effective communication, companies need to arm remote workers with the right tools — like Slack, pulse surveys and video conferencing — that make them feel like they’re a part of the team rather than apart from the team,” Sandhir says.
Here, specific vendors and functionality matter less than finding solutions that actually work well for your employees, says Erika Van Noort, senior director of talent acquisition at Softchoice.
Companies need to ensure that remote employees are able to function the same way they would at a desk in the office, Van Noort says. IT solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all, and — before enabling a modern, mobile and collaborative workforce — every organization first needs to understand how their employees work and how technology can enhance their productivity.
“Too often, organizations will jump into a technology implementation without first examining how it will integrate into current processes, as well as integrate with other technologies employees already use. That can hurt user adoption,” which, in turn, negatively impacts productivity and engagement, Van Noort says.
And, of course, the technology needs to work — and work consistently, Van Noort adds. Employees get disenfranchised easily if a technology fails or they can’t figure out how to use it.
“In our Softchoice employee collaboration study, 78 percent of [the approximately 1,000] respondents reported that they ‘frequently’ experience technical difficulties when collaborating with remote workers. This shows that the real downside organizations often associate with remote work isn’t that the employee isn’t physically in the office, but that they don’t have the proper technology in place to adequately facilitate remote collaboration,” she says.
The right technology tools don’t just facilitate good communication and collaboration, they also help remote workers connect on a personal level with colleagues, helping them feel they are a part of the office culture, just as they would be if they were physically on site, says Van Noort. That’s a major obstacle to a successful remote work strategy that’s often overlooked, she adds.
“Leveraging tools like video conferencing and screen sharing can go a long way in making remote workers feel included and help them feel that they’re not just in the same room as their coworkers, but ‘on the same page,’” she says. “Reducing the feelings of isolation and disengagement that so often crop up for remote workers is extremely important to boost engagement and productivity.”
“It's important that remote employees feel connected to their team members on a personal level, and are a part of the company's culture and values. Personalization is especially important in remote work arrangements, especially when it comes to engaging employees who work from home regularly,” says Sandhir.
Even though you aren’t physically in the same room, taking the time to schedule one-on-one, face-to-face check-ins with your employees is also important, Sandhir says.
"In-person check-ins give remote employees the opportunity to address any concerns with managers, provide feedback and track progress on goals " he says. “Conversations around performance require a human touch, so managers should increase check-in cadence with remote workers despite their physical locations.”
And don't make the mistake of using face-to-face conversations or meetings only to address challenges and areas for improvement. Make sure you're highlighting the successes and positive achievements as well, ideally in a public forum, he adds.
“Managers who oversee remote workers should recognize achievements as they happen rather than overlooking positive efforts and only acknowledging mistakes or missteps,” he says. “One way to keep remote workers engaged is by recognizing their work in a public forum where the entire team can send positive shout-outs. A simple, ‘Awesome job securing a new client today!’ is a simple gesture that makes employees feel valued while creating greater transparency into what other team members are working on,” Sandhir says.
That brings up another key point that’s often overlooked in discussions around remote work: mission, values and purpose, says Vervoe’s Moldan.
“The recipe for productivity is being mission-driven, so we let the mission be the common denominator, not geography,” he says. “People who care about the company and are passionate about its mission will be self-motivated and drive their own productivity; we find people who want to be part of the same journey and give them an opportunity to shape how they will contribute to that,” regardless of where they’re working from, says Moldan.
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