Managing a Remote Workforce
Remote work and working from home used to be an elusive dream; only a few were lucky enough to call their reality. Recently, however, remote work has skyrocketed in popularity. In response to the uncertainties presented by Covid-19, many companies have transitioned to working remotely. Although close to a quarter of the U.S. workforce already works from home before the pandemic strikes, the new policies leave many employees — and their managers — working out of the office and separated from one another for the first time. These remote workforces are expected to remain even once the virus is contained.
What is a remote job?
This question might sound a no-brainer to many, but you can get confused by all the terms that have been used interchangeably with work-from-home setups. Teleworking, virtual job, remote job, home-based job. Are there any differences between these terms? In reality, these terms are commonly used as synonyms for one another. But they do have the same basic definition: a job that is not done from inside a traditional office. In essence, remote work happens when employees don't report to a physical office. They still work their normal hours though but from home.
Where can you work remotely?
The quick answer is: it depends. Data from FlexJobs shows that about 95% of remote job listings require a worker to be based in a certain location. This means, only 5% of remote positions are true “work-from-anywhere” jobs. Common reasons for requiring remote workers to be based in a specific location ( state, country, region, or time zone) include legal and tax issues, availability for on-site training or meetings, or to be close to the “home office.” Jobs that can be done from anywhere in the world are fully remote positions that allow you to work from home—or wherever you please.
How’s remote work in 2021?
For decades, many companies resisted the idea of allowing their employees to work from home. Presumably, business owners and managers feared that remote working would cause collaboration to fall to the wayside and productivity to decline. However, after at least several months into the large shift to remote work brought about by COVID-19, many of those concerns turned out to be unfounded. A recent survey conducted by the human resources consulting firm Mercer reveals that 94% of employers said productivity has remained the same or increased since employees began working remotely.
Managing a remote team
The way you manage a remote workforce will have long-term implications for your business, especially its growth potential. If done poorly, the morale and productivity of your team will suffer. If managed right, however, a remote workforce can remarkably help build loyalty and boost engagement. So whether you are running a remote team for the first time or have been in this teleworking setup since the start of your business, it is nice to be reminded of some of the best practices in working with distributed teams.
Here are 10 tips to help you tackle the challenges of managing your remote team:
1. Understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous activities
Working remotely requires a different mindset toward work and toward your team. As much as possible, avoid saturating your team with unnecessary meetings just to emulate the feels of physical work. This can be done by understanding which activities may need to run in real-time and which can be done asynchronously. A simple rule of thumb is: if a meeting can be an email, it should be an email. And if an email can be a Bitrix24 message, it should be a Bitrix24 message. Be mindful of people's time and be intentional about how and when you communicate. If your team is busy in meetings, when are they going to do the work?
2. Trust your team
Many organizations are reluctant toward remote working because they feel disconnected and lack control. Please, trust your team, and set realistic goals with them as well as reasonable deadlines for them to deliver their work. Trust that they are up to the task. Although you won't be able to watch over your employees as you could if they were in the office, that doesn't mean they aren't getting the job done. If you can't trust them, recall the reason why you hired them in the first place or what made you lose trust in them.
3. Treat employees as individuals
Successful managers strive to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of each individual who works for them. Leveraging this information, they are able to nurture and motivate each individual employee. That same approach and management style must be applied to working remotely. If one employee prefers to work in the early hours of the day, support it; if another is more of a night owl, encourage that. After all, what’s more important is the work getting done. Try to reach team goals rather than running daily activities. This makes the work more meaningful and helps the business achieve better results in time.
4. Get rid of micromanagement
The only thing micromanagers are good at is breathing on the neck. There are better, humane ways to handle remote employees. For instance, try remote employee monitoring software. Employee monitoring allows you to track employee activities and their engagement with workplace-related tasks. This helps you measure productivity, track attendance, ensure security and collect proof of hours worked. But it’s important to discuss this first with your teams, as one of the major drawbacks of employee monitoring would be employees thinking you don’t trust them, and such feelings of distrust and suspicion can harm your relationship with them.
The succeeding tips should be a must for your remote employees, but they do work for you, too.
5. Have a defined workspace
This should be the first tip or rule you give to your remote employees. Working from home doesn’t necessarily have to mean working from your bed. In fact, it shouldn’t. You should have a distinct space that’s created specifically for your “work” time. This could be a spare bedroom, a desk in the kitchen, a little living room set up… you get the idea.
More importantly, let your family and colleagues know what your work hours are. This will help set expectations and make them respect your “boundaries.”
6. Take breaks, but not too many!
Working from home can skew your sense of time. Instead of your usual indicators that an office environment has (lunchtime, scheduled breaks, etc.), working remotely means you’re going to need to manage that time yourself. And with that, it can be easy to get into a groove and forget to take a breather. Or you get distracted and take way more breaks than usual. Schedule out your day and plan certain in-between breaks to keep yourself on track. Because you’re making your own schedule, you can set these breaks at whatever time works best for you.
7. Keep your working time as close to a “normal” schedule as possible
Why? Well, first of all, this will make you available to other people in the company when they need to set up meetings, communicate on certain tasks, etc. This will also keep you from overworking. Take weekends off. Catch some fresh air. See some new sceneries. Of course, if you want to work from home so you can sleep in a bit later, it’s fine to adjust your schedule accordingly. But keeping as close to a “normal” schedule as you can, helps you stay on track and puts you in the best possible position to succeed with work at home.
8. Get dressed!
Wear proper dresses for work. This will help to be serious and concentrate on work. “Wanna work in your pajamas?” That’s a tagline we’ve seen many times with jobs that capitalize on remote work. While it’s nice to keep on your comfy PJs and get to work, that’s actually not recommended. Much like sticking to a normal schedule, getting properly dressed can help wire your brain into “work mode” vs. “downtime mode.” This tells you that the workday has started, and in turn, helps you get focused on your work. Then, when you change back into those comfy pajamas, your brain can switch back to a “relax” mindset.
9. Communicate often and extensively
Excellent communication is a must when employees work remotely. For remote jobs to be successful, each member of the team has to know what is expected of them – the deliverables and the deadlines. There should be no room for ambiguity. Encourage your employees to reach out through the communication channels if they have any questions or concerns. Having said that, provide several different communication technology options. Email alone is not enough. Remote workers benefit from video conferencing, as it gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were meeting face-to-face. Video chats are particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, for they provide a more personal approach than written or audio-only communication. Bitrix24 can help you with this. The platform doesn’t just function as a communications tool but is also great at CRM. In fact, it’s a platform for all your business needs. It’s an absolute must-try if you haven’t yet.
10. Provide opportunities for remote social interaction
One of the essential ways to better help your employees is to structure means for them to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. While this is true to all remote workers, it is particularly helpful for those who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.
Allocate some time at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items (e.g., “Let’s spend the first few minutes just catching up with each other. How was your weekend?”).
Other options include virtual pizza parties or virtual office parties where “care packages” are delivered to each member to be shared during conferencing.
While these types of events may sound forced, experienced managers of remote workers (and the workers themselves) report that virtual events help generate interaction and make the team feel more connected.
So go ahead and invite your team to that Friday online brunch!