Technology has forever changed the way work gets done. Today’s highly connected employees can work any time from anywhere. Working remotely continues to increase with about 43% of US workers working remotely at least some of the time. Companies benefit from the lower costs associated with telecommuting, as well as the opportunity to attract and retain the best employees, and increase engagement and productivity. Employees also benefit with a greater work-life balance, which 53% of employees say is very important to them when considering a job.
But telecommuting has its drawbacks. Employees often feel disconnected from the company and may not feel as committed to the company’s mission. Managers are often unclear of how to manage their remote team in a way that yields optimal results and promotes the organization’s culture. So, here are four tips for leading a remote workforce and supporting your company’s culture with your remote team.
1) Make the Orientation and Onboarding More Memorable: I have discussed the importance of creating a great impression for a new hire’s first day so that they emotionally connect to the brand, culture, and customers. Making a memorable impression is even more important for a remote workforce but often cannot be achieved in just a day. The initial orientation needs to connect these new people emotionally to the business and other employees who might also work remotely. Spend more time on helping new people develop relationships with both those working remotely and those in the office. You also need to devote more time to connect remote workers with their managers. The social activities and opportunities around getting to know people are important for remote workers, as they can often feel isolated. Onboarding, which certifies that someone can complete the tasks and responsibilities of a role, is important for any employee but needs to be especially thought out for a remote workforce. While eLearning and webinars can assist with training, it crucial to include testing, regular check-ins, and a survey in the first 30 days and again at 90 days to ensure expectations are being met. We recommend providing remote workers with a mentor that they meet during their orientation, someone they can call anytime with questions or just to connect to what is going on at the office.
2) Communicate Often: Just like in an office setting, effective communication is critical to developing teamwork and achieving results. In the traditional business setting, this is done by having daily meetings and face-to-face conversations, as well as more technology-driven communication methods. While it may not be easy, it is vital for you to create opportunities to talk beyond emails and memos. Company intranets and social networking platforms have created real-time interactions and conversation opportunities that were not available in the past. Even if you do not have access to these, you must regularly connect with your remote team (ideally daily) through a call, video conference, or other type of communication (other than email), which will provide an opportunity to discuss what needs to be done to achieve the company’s purpose and goals. Use this opportunity to reinforce values by explaining that how work gets done is just as important as the results achieved.
You also need to schedule the time to connect with your remote team in person from time to time. I recommend doing so at least each quarter by bringing everyone together for an end of quarter meeting or lunch. Having everyone together provides an opportunity to thank and recognize employees in front of their colleagues, as well as to reconnect to the company’s mission, vision, values, and discuss progress towards goals. Use these get-togethers as an opportunity to inspire your team.
3) Focus on Results, Not Hours: Many managers are uncomfortable with the idea of employees working remotely because it is unclear how often the remote employee is actually working. But shifting the mindset to focus on results rather than hours put in can help alleviate this anxiety. Research from Gallup suggests, “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their workweek (or three to four days) working remotely.” Flexibility and autonomy are essential to increase engagement and performance, which is especially true for remote workers. Micromanaging is not going to yield the desired results, so let go of the need to over-control, and focus on how you can provide support to achieve the desired results.
4) Create a Recognition System that Allows for Peer-to-Peer Interactions: Research shows that peer-to-peer recognition is a powerful way to increase engagement. The advent of recognition platforms has increased engagement and better acknowledges performance across dispersed workforces. Technology platforms allow remote workers to be involved in recognition actively and acknowledged for their efforts. Recognition not only increases the feeling of being connected but also enables learning and reinforces teamwork. While peer-to-peer recognition is effective, don’t neglect to provide recognition to your employees as well so that they feel as though their efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Employees’ expectations of being able to work from anywhere and at any time will continue to increase, especially for millennial and Generation Z employees who are so closely tied to using technology to communicate. Companies have to adapt if they want to remain competitive for the best talent. Embrace the benefits of having a remote team and use these tips to continue driving performance and engagement.