While the startup world has always been an early adopter of remote working, the concept has recently become the new normal for companies across the globe in the face of a global health emergency.
Remote work has and will continue to grow in popularity. Consistent work from home has grown by 159% since 2005. Between 80–90% of US employees want to work remotely, at least part-time according to Global Workplace Analytics. About half (50%) of jobs in the US workforce are suited for at least partial remote work. To some extent, 40% of employees already work from home.
Despite the documented benefits of remote work, various companies have pushed back against remote work. Remote teams can result in culture clashes and teammates who work from home can experience decreased morale. The distance between teams can subvert office camaraderie that results from “water-cooler” chats.
Nevertheless, Global Workplace Analytics found that in the last five years, 40% more of US employers offer flexible workplace options. The trend of increasing work from home options indicates that managers are increasingly likely to manage a remote team, and employees will encounter more options for remote work.
To leverage the benefits of the changing work landscape, employees and managers should establish the following guidelines:
- Align on expectations
- Communicate often
- Recognize the change in responsibilities
By emphasizing those three qualities in a management strategy, businesses and employees can benefit from a work from home option.
1. Align on expectations
While not fundamentally different from in-house staff, supporting remote workers requires proactive leadership. From the outset, managers should communicate goals and expectations.
Disseminate organizational knowledge
Remote employees should begin with the same organizational knowledge as their in-house counterparts. Managers should train out-of-house employees the same as local teams. This ensures every employee begins with the same organizational knowledge. A unified knowledge of company policies, structure, and brand identities fosters a system of shared values, which provides direction for remote teammates’ work.
Remote employees inevitably miss the value of reinforcement that happens in-house naturally. As a result, managers need to contextualize the work that remote employees produce. This context need not only relate to company culture, but also standards of work.
Be explicit about deliverables
Managers should also be explicit about the deliverables. To be successful, remote employees must understand what they should focus on each day, week, and month. Leaders can share examples of completed projects, calendars, and establish metrics. A collective focus on tracking metrics at the beginning of each project, will ensure employees who work from home remain informed and productive.
Create performance metrics to measure success
Managers can set key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess remote employee performance. These benchmarks not only communicate a clear standard, but also help employees who work from home remain on track.
Various project management and collaboration tools such as Asana.com exist to manage tasks between teams. These tools are used by team leaders to assign projects and tasks to remote employees. Team members can access assignments and view priorities, which helps ensure the correct work is delivered on time.
Managers should not only meet or speak with remote employees to outline expectations of remote work, but also provide resources such as training, project management tools, and KPIs to support their success.
2. Communicate often
Even in today’s global and tech-enabled workforce, negative perceptions around remote work persist. To reduce tension between in-house and remote workers, leaders should facilitate communication between their in-house and remote staff.
Remote employees are often portrayed in popular culture as lazy and isolated. Meanwhile, they are more likely to report feeling that in-house colleagues do not treat them equally. A Harvard Business Review poll found that employees who work from home more often worry that in-house employees make negative comments behind their backs, make decisions without their consultation, campaign against them, and do not advocate for them.
Unify communication channels
From day one, it is important for companies to ensure remote employees have access to primary channels of communication. This includes formal channels such as emails as well as any chat or collaboration platforms such as Slack. Managers can foster engagement by including remote employees in meetings and brainstorms. This mitigates the effects of a lack of proximity, which remains the primary predictor of collaboration.
Advances in video conferencing technologies make fostering an inclusive work culture easier. Video platforms such as Skype or Bluejeans.com encourage connection between in-house and remote workers by enabling more face-to-face engagements. Remote employees can instantly join, host or manage a meeting from their location. Managers can leverage this technology to invite remote employees to meetings, but also in-office events virtually.
With open lines of communication, managers can foster collaboration between in-house and remote employees to support a more productive work culture.
3. Recognize the change in responsibilities
Ultimately, it is the company’s responsibility to communicate the unique challenges of working from home to employees.
Acknowledge the challenges
Managers should communicate that remote working success requires self-motivation and expert time management, given the added difficulty of managing one’s own time without direct oversight.
Following a schedule and managing a to-do list can be more challenging for remote employees who encounter additional stimuli for procrastination such as a dog pleading for a walk or playtime.
Beyond the lack of direct supervision, it is important for remote employees to recognize the conceivable perceptions associated with working from home. Given the misperceptions that remote workers are less productive slackers, in-house employees may be skeptical about out-of-house colleagues.
Help team members feel less isolated
Internet access and communication tools may not entirely mitigate the feeling of isolation. Remote workers miss opportunities for impromptu conversations. This may increase focus but limits personal interaction.
Opportunities for miscommunication are compounded by distance. Without active inclusion efforts, remote employees may feel out of sight and out of mind.
By communicating the realities of remote work, managers help employees make an informed decision about working from home.
Remote working success
Remote employees need company-wide support to be successful. Team managers and remote employees must align on expectations. This challenges leaders to actively communicate standards of work and to encourage success by providing training and tools to help employees connect their work to organizational goals and track their progress.
By using chat and video communication tools, managers can create an inclusive culture. Teams will not only feel more connected but also collaborate more often to improve business processes.
There are intrinsic benefits and challenges to working from home. As a leader, it’s important to communicate the scope and with the right strategy, the company will benefit from remote working as a whole.
As a content and editorial associate at Clutch, Kate Russell is responsible for ensuring the quality of content that business buyers can reference to find, compare, and make a decision about the best services providers for their needs.
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