Have Remote Workers? You’d Better Do This One Thing

September 12, 2019 | Stacey Engle | HCI
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Photo: Getty Images

Remote work is tricky. Common concerns I hear from leaders include: Are people really working? Are they getting the support they need? Are the teams collaborating as they should? 

These questions may be considered “old school” and stodgy, but we have technology and the 24/7 nature of work, which require us to work remotely anyway.

These questions are much deeper and reach us on a cultural level. 

Are people really working? Well, are they working in your physical office? Is this a lack of accountability? Clarity? Delegation? 

Are they getting the support they need? Do you feel confident they are when they are in an office space?  

Are the teams collaborating as they should? Do you feel confident they are when they are in an office space?  

I see no easy answer when deciding what’s right and what’s wrong for remote working. And maybe there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. I do see; however, that leaders who question remote work don’t fully acknowledge that employees can get plenty of work done without being physically at the office from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday - Friday.

At Fierce, we’re able to effectively manage remote working because we have a strong culture of accountability and delegation. Without that culture, it would be very hard to make a remote work policy effective. 

It’s no surprise that work remote is actually on the rise

As CNBC reports, Switzerland-based serviced office provider IWG found that globally, 70 percent of employees work from home at least once a week. That number is less for U.S.-only workers; however, it’s quickly been on the rise over the past several years.

Why is this? Though it may come as a surprise to some, it appears that fewer office-related distractions, more autonomy, and the comfort of home can increase productivity and motivation for many employees.

In fact, according to recent data, remote workers have brought some pretty amazing benefits to their organizations:

Increase of productivity, engagement and efficiency. 
Decrease of employee stress and improved morale.
Decline in overhead and real estate costs.
Better impact on the environment.
Attracts Millennial and Gen Z workers.

Those are some great perks! So, how can organizations make sure they do remote work the right way so they, too, can see these improvements? Here's the single factor that will make or break the success of telecommuting:

Effective conversations.

Whether employees are near or far, conversations need to happen on a regular basis, and with a strong level of efficacy — whether at home or in an office environment. 

Regardless of physical proximity, feedback needs to be ongoing and be communicated in the moment. When challenging conversations are in order, such as confrontations, both employees and leaders will need to be sensitive about the mode of delivery. 

For those considering offering telecommuting options to their employees, or for those who already do, here are some additional ways to ensure these effective conversations are taking place:

1. Provide the tools for communication (the obvious ones).

Exactly what you provide depends on the agreement made with employees. Beyond the computer hardware, ensure you have the technology set up to make communicating and collaborating easy between team members. 

Provide training of these programs for those who aren't familiar with them, as to avoid delays in communication. Use internal chat platforms (such as Slack or Zoom), SharePoint, and shared folders that are accessible remotely. The technological form of collaboration should be made easy. 

Even if employees are in different locations, the ease with which we're able to engage in conversations and share ideas as they arise is critical.

2. Provide the right tools for communication (the non-obvious ones).

Provide training to help people best communicate both in written and spoken form. Practicing conversation models for when and how to collaborate, confront, or even have a one-to-one conversation is a powerful way to keep the culture of a company consistent when many employees are remote.

This common language approach can comfort and empower remote workers. This tool creates ease for people who crave connection and a common way to come together. 

At the end of the day, knowing an accepted way to address all items together — conflicts, opportunities, and growth — is an amazing opportunity for people to feel connected and part of the team no matter where they are located.  

3. Make meetings work (this is harder than it seems).

Employees dialing into calls can be forgotten, so be sure to include them fully in the conversation. Although they aren't sitting in the room, they have valuable ideas to add. 

Consider asking them to give an update early on to ensure everyone is aware of their presence and take time to ask for their input. Ask specifically if they have questions or thoughts, as appropriate. 

It can be more challenging for someone dialing in to find a way to chime in once a conversation really gets going, so make sure to provide plenty of opportunities for them to do so. Practicing and modeling great virtual meeting leadership is key.

4. Provide opportunities for in-person interactions (duh?).

This isn't always easy because people telecommuting may live far away from the central office, but when you can, provide opportunities for team members to meet face-to-face. 

This could mean an off-site event once a year, or weekly meetings you expect the remote employee(s) to attend. Even a short amount of face-to-face time can strengthen employee relationships and make communicating through technology more productive during remote work.

5. Trust your employees (and if you don’t, let’s start there).

Without trust, there is nothing. Employees crave it, employers must give it, and people require it as a fundamental component to all relationships. 

Without trust, there is handholding, micromanaging, clock watching, and side-glancing paranoia — none of which is productive, and all of which can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing. 

Trust your employees to be accountable for the work at hand, just as they would while in the office. In most cases they are working hard, and it's also possible they're being even more productive.

The bottom line is that telecommuting can be a great perk for your employees and something that improves overall morale and company culture … if done right. Remote jobs are on the rise, and you can gain amazing talent if you are open to different geographies. 

As with any endeavor, having the conversations necessary for success and the ability to discuss issues as they arise is critical.