Work remote is tricky. Common concerns I hear from leaders frequently are: Are people really working? Are they getting the support they need? Are the teams collaborating as they should?
While these questions may be considered “old school” and stodgy… because, of course, we have technology, and the 24/7 nature of work requires us to work remotely anyway…
I would say these questions regarding the challenges of managing remote employees are much deeper, culturally.
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?
Because Fierce is a small company, I understand the value of having our people physically being together in key functions. That said, working remotely is an option some time of the week and in extenuating circumstances. There’s also value of having a remote workforce in order to create more ease for our Fierce Learning team that is constantly on the road working alongside our clients.
I share this because I do not think there is an easy answer when deciding what’s right and wrong for remote working. And maybe there isn’t a one-size fits all approach.
Regardless, the thing I think leaders who question remote working don’t fully acknowledge is that life doesn’t happen outside of the old-school mentally of needing to be physically at the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
At Fierce, we’re able to effectively manage remote working as an option because we have a strong culture of accountability and delegation. If that culture wasn’t present, it would be very hard to make a remote work policy effective.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that work remote is actually on the rise.
This 2018 study 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.
GALLUP reported that in 2016, 43% of employees in the U.S. worked from home at least some of the time, up from 39% in 2012. As mentioned in our 2018 PREDICTIONS, we expect this percentage will continue to rise.
There are a number of reasons for this increase in remote work — aside from the ease of communication made possible by virtual technology. Employees are wanting to reduce commute time, increase flexibility, and boost their sense of autonomy.
Gallup further revealed that "despite not always having a manager nearby to monitor their productivity, remote workers actually log more hours at their primary job than do their on-site counterparts."
This counters some of the misconceptions people may have about working remote, such as the idea that remote workers are just watching TV all day, distracted by pets or family members, or taking intermittent cat naps.
Though it may come as a surprise to some, it appears that fewer office-related distractions, more autonomy, and the comforts 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:
Those are some great perks! So, how can organizations make sure they do remote working 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 communication.
Whether employees are near or far, conversations need to be happening on a regular basis, and with a strong level of efficacy — whether at home or in an office environment.
While every company is different, allowing employees to telecommute — either full time, once a week or every once in a while — takes a unique set of navigation skills beyond the job at hand.
To do so successfully depends on the priority given to conversations. The less they are prioritized, the harder it will be to make remote working work for everyone involved.
Regardless of physical proximity, feedback needs to remain ongoing and communicated in the moment. When challenging conversations are in order, such as a confrontation, both employees and leaders will need to be sensitive about the mode of delivery.
For conversations that are more sensitive in nature, a video chat, telephone, or in-person meeting would be most appropriate, whereas chat, text, or email may suffice for day-to-day logistics. Most Fierce conversations should NOT happen via text or email — they need to happen live.
On an individual leader level, before agreeing to allow an employee to work remotely or hiring someone for a remote job, be sure to talk through your expectations, along with theirs. Ask about their individual preferences and how they work best — some people are most productive when working remotely, some when working in the office, and others when there is some combination of the two options.
Be clear and upfront about the hours you want them to be available, types of communication and frequency required, times you will need them in the office, etc.
Once they've been telecommuting for a few weeks, check-in again. Find out what's working, and what isn't. Adjust as you go to ensure both the employee and manager are satisfied with the situation. Decide what the appropriate cadence is for these check-ins, and make sure they are happening.
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:
Exactly what you provide depends on the agreement made with employees, and beyond the computer hardware, ensure you have the technology set up to make communicating and collaborating easy between team members.
Also provide training for these programs for those who aren't familiar 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 remains critical.
Provide training to help people best communicate both in written and spoken format. 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.
We have trained teams on multiple continents, and in multiple languages to approach a conversation the same way — what I like to call a common language, in different languages.
This common language approach can be a huge comfort and empowerment to remote workers. This tool creates a huge comfort for people who are craving 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 a part of the team no matter where they are located.
Those dialing into call 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 the 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.
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.
Without trust, there is nothing. Employees crave it, employers must give it, and people require it as a fundamental component to all relationships.
Without it, there is handholding, micro-managing, clock-watching, and side-glancing paranoia — none of which is productive, and all of which can have a negative impact on employee well-being.
Trust your employees to be accountable for the work at hand, just as they would if they were in the office. In most cases they are, 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.