Look around your office. It’s likely that at least one of your teammates is working remotely today. According to a recent Gallup poll, from 2012 to 2016 the number of employees working remotely rose from 39% to 43%. And, of those who work remotely, 31% of them work remotely 80-100% of the time. Working from home and flex-time is coming to play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job.1
As employees increasingly become (or wish to become) remote workers, managers worry about the overall effect on performance, and how they can be effective managers. You must find new ways to effectively engage, motivate, and manage people. What are some of the best ways to do that? We asked managers for advice. Here are 6 tips that we think apply to any organization.
Managers have often equated face-time with productivity and accountability. That need not be the case. Many companies report greater productivity among their teleworkers as compared to their office workers. For example, “Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive.”2 So, employee productivity is not about butts in seats. It’s about time management and trust. Work together to determine priorities. Find out what challenges your employees face and how you can help them get their jobs done.
Once you’ve made the decision to let people to work remotely – either occasionally or you have a geographically-distributed team – you need to set expectations about availability, frequency of contact, responsiveness, and updates. On group conference calls make sure remote attendees have ample opportunity to speak; and they may need to interrupt because they cannot “read the room.” Be more deliberate about connecting with your people – by phone, email, IM or video conference. It helps establish trust and accountability. You may need different management tools, like hosted applications, to stay connected and confident about your employees’ productivity.
Explore Communications Tools for Remote Workers
It’s our nature to engage. In the office, people drop by to ask a question, chat while making coffee in the break room, and spend the first few minutes of a meeting sharing weekend plans. There is structured and unstructured contact and as the manager, you should engage in unstructured contact with your team. Instead of always emailing remote employees, or only having phone calls for 1:1s or project meetings, try just doing a daily check in by phone, IM or video call. Consider the kind of engagement you have in an office environment and consider how you can use technology to recreate it in a virtual world.
It’s very easy to be distracted by email, IM, or the pull to multi-task while on a conference call. Don’t. With remote employees your time on the phone with them needs to be focused. Listen and give your full attention. You cannot see body language but sometimes you can hear it. With HD quality audio phone systems, you can pick up a sigh, or sound of frustration, or a happy tone. Listen for the voice signals.
Remote employees need different handling to maintain their motivation and engagement. People who feel connected and valued are more engaged and likely to stay with your organization. So, connect. Use tools where you can see each other face to face. Don’t skip on the chit chat. Get to know each other and foster comradery. You know you’ve reached success when you get the same quality of engagement from an employee two states away as one two cubes away. And, encourage remote employees to be in office for team or company-wide events if feasible.
Give people, including yourself, the tools to be successful. With a distributed workforce, that can mean hosted file sharing and storage (Hosted SharePoint), Unified Communications – for audio/video calling and recording, screen sharing, instant messaging and presence detection – digital whiteboards, project-management applications like Basecamp, or Slack, and more. The right set of tools will make it easy to stay in connected and engaged.
Simply working out of the office reduces employees’ organic ways of interacting with others, which can lead to lower overall engagement. Your job as a manager is to make sure that all of your employees feel connected, engaged, and trusted. With planning, some spontaneity, and the right collaboration tools you can keep the lines of engagement open, and productivity high.
1Gallup Inc., State of the American Workplace (2017), 4.