Best practices for managing a remote workforce.
By Jo Deal
Remote work is no longer just for independentÂ entrepreneurs, distant employees, or gig-economyÂ workers. Smart companies are realizing they need to goÂ where the talent is, even if that means hiring someoneÂ away from their offices. Remote work also does notÂ exclusively refer to independent employees based awayÂ from a main office. It includes employees and teams whoÂ communicate and collaborate across multiple companyÂ officesâa reality that global organizations have embracedÂ for a long time. Having this physical distance betweenÂ teams requires companies to adapt and learn how best toÂ manage and motivate when everyone is not in the sameÂ building.
With Polycomâs recent The Changing World of Work: AÂ Global Survey reporting that 49 percent of employees 50Â years or older and 70 percent of millennials already spendÂ some time working away from traditional officesâandÂ an ongoing uptick in these trendsâHR leaders need toÂ rethink their people programs and strategies to ensureÂ high productivity and engagement.
A partnership with IT is key. Technology will make a hugeÂ difference in ensuring human connections are made in theÂ absence of the physical watercooler. For example, videoÂ conferencing tools can make distant employees feel as ifÂ theyâre in the same room. However, everyone needs toÂ play ball: If a meeting consists of a mix of in-person andÂ remote attendees, everyone should turn their camerasÂ on and those in the room should make sure to specificallyÂ address those who arenât so that all participants areÂ equally included and involved. At LogMeIn, the CEO turnsÂ his camera on for every meeting with remote attendeesÂ and ensures that he makes eye contact with his camera asÂ much as he does with the people in the room.
Shifting away from the old school mindset of âwhat canâtÂ be seen canât be managedâ is another key element ofÂ effectively overseeing a remote workforce. The person inÂ the cube next to the manager may spend 10 hours a dayÂ in the office, but are they catching up on sports, shoppingÂ online, or planning their next vacation? Managers canâtÂ assume that the employees they can see are working orÂ that employees they canât see arenât. Therefore, managersÂ need to set goals for each employee and have regularÂ check-ins to compare goals with results. This allowsÂ managers to focus on each employeeâs results and businessÂ impact, regardless of where theyâre based.
If an employeeâs results start to slip, managers need toÂ explore why. Is it a skills or training issue, a poor hiringÂ decision, or is there something else causing the employeeÂ to struggle? Itâs not likely to be caused by workingÂ remotely. In fact, most people perform better in thisÂ setting as they can escape all the noises and distractions ofÂ the office.
How to Keep Remote Workers Engaged and Productive
According to a recent Gallup State of the Global WorkforceÂ Report, only 15 percent of employees globally are engagedÂ at work. The lost productivity of the other 85 percent costsÂ businesses an estimated $7 trillion per year. The messageÂ for HR managers is clear: Keeping employees engaged isÂ essential for their productivity and the businessâ success.
There is no question that managing remote workers canÂ be challenging. Managers have to plan interactions andÂ they can miss the rapport-building moments that naturallyÂ happen when in the office together.
However, with a little forethought, it is not difficult toÂ create opportunities for engaging with remote employees.Â In addition to the individual performance check-ins,Â managers should coordinate regular virtual teamÂ meetings to help people stay connected with their remoteÂ teammates. These meetings are also a great opportunityÂ for recognizing individualsâ accomplishments and for teamÂ building.
Additionally, managers should coordinate occasional in-personÂ team activities that will further strengthen theÂ bond between employees. One suggestion: Escape Room.Â A little competition goes a long way! During these in-personÂ gatherings, managers should find ways to connectÂ with remote employees on a personal level to strengthenÂ relationships and make it more enjoyable to work togetherÂ from a distance.
Active and regular communication is also key in continuingÂ to grow the type of relationships typically built in person.Â Having access to a solid virtual collaboration platform willÂ help make this communication seamless and effortless.Â The platform needs to be reliable, of course, but it shouldÂ also work the way employees want it to work. ThisÂ means offering a variety of options to collaborate, fromÂ real-time messaging and file sharing to audio and videoÂ conferencing. The ability to see colleagues, partners,Â and customers on video rather than just reading theirÂ messages or hearing their voice through a conference callÂ helps employees connect with them on a more personalÂ level. It also allows them to pick up on many subtle,Â nonverbal cues and guide the conversation accordingly.Â This is critical, as effective listening involves so much moreÂ than just hearing the words being spoken.
Video technology not only helps remote workers betterÂ understand what is said and not said, but it also keepsÂ them more accountable; having the camera on encouragesÂ focusing rather than multitasking. Seeing the other peopleÂ in a meeting makes it easier to stay engaged and retainÂ the information being discussed.
Many companies enable remote working for itsÂ productivity benefits and others do so to attract the bestÂ talent out there. Whatever their motivation, companiesÂ shifting to a remote workforce need to change the wayÂ they measure performance, focus on keeping employeesÂ engaged, and ensure they have the right technology inÂ place to support seamless collaboration.
Jo Deal is the CHRO of LogMeIn.