Newly-minted remote workers are not the only ones who need to make a significant adjustment when they trade-in (entirely or partially) a corporate office for a home office. Leaders also need to shift their approaches, actions and attitudes.
To achieve cohesion instead of unleash chaos, below we highlight five best practices for managing remote workers:
1. Individualize the remote working experience.
Some remote workers are energized and delighted about the prospect of working alone; especially if they carry out tasks that require long periods of intense concentration. Alternatively, some remote workers find the experience isolating, others find it draining, and many (at least for the first few weeks and months) struggle to establish a boundary between home life and office life.
To alleviate this common and costly gap on the remote working landscape, leaders should seek to understand each remote worker’s preferences, and within reason try and customize the work experience. For example:
- Adjusting the frequency of check-ins (some people prefer more touchpoints and others prefer less).
- Empowering remote workers to control their daily work schedule (focusing more on outcomes than activities).
- Providing coaching (this is often overlooked for remote workers)
Often, even when certain accommodations cannot be made (at least not at the current time), remote workers are nevertheless grateful for the opportunity to be heard and treated with respect, and this sentiment goes a long way towards fostering a positive relationship with management and organizational leadership in general.
As advised by Gallup: “Accepting a remote worker’s method and reasoning helps managers coach to the individual on behalf of the company, promoting the corporate benefits that characterize off-site work. Individualization helps remote workers feel cared for as a person, which is a fundamental element of engagement.”
2. Equip remote workers with tools for success.
A survey by Gartner has revealed that 74 percent of CFOs plan on shifting at least five percent of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions once the COVID-19 crisis ends. To ensure that this mass migration from the corporate office to the home office is smooth and successful, leaders should ensure that their remote workers have all of the following essential tools:
- Fast internet to support day-to-day work activities, such as video conferences, streaming, accessing cloud-based services, and so on.
- A virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt traffic from a remote worker’s endpoint (e.g. computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone) to the internet. Since hackers don’t have the key, they cannot snoop and steal data.
- Data backup and recovery software, which is not just necessary for productivity (having to re-write a 50-page report or proposal due to a corrupted hard drive is agonizing), but vital for security.
- Endpoint security software and training, so that remote workers are not the “weakest link” of the cybersecurity defense chain.
- Cloud-based collaborative work management (CWM) software such as Clarizen Go, which integrates adaptability, collaboration and effectiveness in a centralized platform that is used by all workers — remote and in-office alike.
- A productive and comfortable work environment, which may include laptop stands, ergonomic chairs, and other types of equipment and accessories that foster productivity and prevent long-term injury. Some organizations such as Google are even giving their remote workers $1,000 to set up their home office.
3. Foster trust.
Perhaps the most challenging adjustment that leaders must make has to do with control. In a corporate setting, leaders can see that their team is working effectively and productively. However, in a virtual environment, leaders need to implement and evolve a supportive structure that fosters trust. Micromanaging not only deeply frustrates remote workers on a personal level, but it impedes rather than enhances productivity. It also prevents leaders from seeing the bigger picture.
According to research by Gallup, some of the ways that leaders can foster trust with remote workers include:
- Provide all necessary materials, equipment and information.
- Continually share feedback related to talents, performance, and opportunities for learning and development. Don’t just focus on the negative.
- Follow through on promises made during the hiring process.
- Help remote workers contribute in ways that are meaningful to them, and recognize them for it.
As warned by Gartner: “[Leaders] may be concerned and even frustrated to lose the constant visibility they once had into their employees, but don’t respond by micromanaging. That will only disengage and fatigue already stressed employees.”
4. Establish expectations.
Remote workers want and need to know what is expected of them, and leaders who fail to provide this information (or fail to provide it clearly) will invariably struggle with performance, productivity and morale issues. With this being said, the rules of engagement should be reasonable, realistic, fair, and consistently applied across the entire team — including leaders.
As advised by Inc.: “Set yourself and your team up for success by clearly stating both the tasks and the reasons behind them, and help your team understand exactly how you will measure success. That means defining the scope, deadlines, and deliverables for each task or project your team is working on. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if a few weeks from now you find yourself wondering what everyone was doing.”
5. Over-communicate vs. under-communicate.
One significant shift from the in-office work landscape to the remote work landscape is that while over-communication on the former is usually problematic, on the latter it is highly beneficial; if not vital. Obviously, this does not mean that leaders should engage in a non-stop campaign of emails, texts, video conferences, and phone calls. Rather, what it means is they should realize that communication in a remote working context is not just instructional (telling people what to do) or remedial (fixing problems).
It is also a core part of team cohesion and overall engagement, which of course includes listening to their team and taking their feedback, opinions and perceptions into account. In other words, over-communication should not be a symptom of mistrust; it should be an expression of an authentic desire to drive engagement on an individual and team-basis.
As advised by Entrepreneur: “It’s best to over-communicate rather than under-communicate to ensure the team is running smoothly. Companies may consider holding daily or weekly meetings to resolve any issues so that the distributed team feels confident using the designated communication channels.”
The Bottom Line
Leaders who effectively adapt, adjust and evolve their playbook for managing remote workers — which is a process that takes time, and involves experimentation and optimization — will find themselves at the helm of high-performance, cohesive teams that are far greater than the sum of their individual parts. As McKinsey & Company concludes: “remote working was gaining currency before the crisis, but the pandemic has shown that telecommuting is here to stay.”