Building A Stronger Foundation For Remote Workers
If you’re taking a break in your workday and happen to be reading this from the comfort of your sofa, home office, or even your favorite coffee house, then you’re in the 70% of employees worldwide who now work remotely at least once a week. The chances you were doing this a decade ago? Much slimmer. Today, in the U.S. alone, there are roughly 12 million people who are full-time remote workers. Remote work is no longer a trendy, nice-to-have employee perk. It’s now a crucial element of workforce building that companies must examine more intently and incorporate when shaping their organizations.
Vast improvements in collaboration technology have accelerated remote work’s benefits of increased productivity, reduced costs, and a wider talent pool. And not surprisingly, expectations for remote work options from organizations’ current and prospective employees is steadily on the rise. According to a survey by Buffer, 99% of respondents said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers. In another survey by IWG, 69% of millennials said they would trade other work benefits for flexible workspace options. FlexJobs found that 80% of workers would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. Demand will continue to grow as Generation Z, a born-digital generation, enters the working ranks.
Letting employees choose when and where they work is not without its drawbacks though. Loneliness is the most common struggle as the lack of social interaction and ‘water cooler moments’ can lead to feelings of isolation and disengagement. Distrust and jealousy can arise between colleagues and with managers regarding workers they can’t see. Not to mention working from one’s home presents a whole different set of distractions than in the office – house chores, television, pets, children, etc.
The lesson here is that an effective remote work program is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” endeavor. Simply giving employees laptops and email access and saying, “go work from home” is a surefire way to sink a program. It requires a culture built through mindful planning and consistent execution.
When fleshing out remote work initiatives, keep the following in mind:
Structure is King
Set expectations early by first understanding what kinds of work are remote-friendly versus what is dependent on in-person interaction. This means breaking work down into specific assignments and responsibilities and determining whether they can be completed remotely. This assessment must factor internal responsibilities like regular one-on-one meetings with managers and weekly reporting. Have a set of performance metrics that quantifies goals and not just time spent on tasks and track progress on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than daily.
Once expectations are clear, communicate them to remote work candidates and give them the space to counter if necessary. If there is disagreement on what work can be done remotely, a trial period may be the best route. This allows both workers and managers to evaluate the situation before granting full remote privileges. The bottom line is that a foundation for trust is created when accurate expectations are set and employees feel that they are fully supported by management.
Create and Foster Connection
When employees are emotionally engaged and feel connected to their organizations, they experience greater psychological wellbeing. This might seem obvious, but the struggles that some organizations face in fostering this sense of connection is only amplified when dealing with workers who aren’t regularly in the office.
Organizations must create inclusive practices for remote workers to engage and interact with colleagues. Prioritize as much in-person time as practical before going the virtual route. For example, companies can schedule monthly meetups for employees to collaborate face-to-face as well as network with other colleagues from other teams. If monthly is not a feasible cadence because of travel costs, consider doing a quarterly meetup and make sure to reserve time for socializing and team-building activities.
If costs and logistics don’t make it possible to bring in multiple remote employees, look to build camaraderie through videoconference meetups and virtual activities. Additionally, managers should schedule weekly, informal check-ins with remote workers. There should be no specific work agenda for these, only to get a sense for their level of engagement, even if it means chatting about non-work related topics while sharing a virtual coffee or lunch.
Invest in Solid Technology
Effective technology is the glue that holds remote work programs together. Modern, SaaS tools now cover myriad business needs to seamlessly connect employees for work communication and collaboration and enable access to critical data. This includes tools for videoconferencing, collaborative work management, file sharing, and team messaging.
However, the boom in collaboration tools means that businesses now have more choices than ever when building a technology stack that enhances remote work. When evaluating collaboration tools for your whole organization, assess how well they check the following boxes:
- Security: The ability to protect your organization’s sensitive data is paramount. Know what security standards and certifications collaboration tools have and what efforts each vendor makes to giving you control over your data.
- Integrations: This is critical to reducing the friction created by logging in and out of different tools. A platform’s APIs and integration capabilities should be powerful enough for “one-off’ integrations as well as connecting complex workflows at scale across people and teams.
- Automation: Automating repetitive processes frees up time to focus on high-value, strategic work and helps ensure quality and predictability of outcomes.
- Intuitiveness: A tool must be easy to navigate, or it risks being just another tool that falls to the wayside from lack of adoption. An intuitive experience ensures cost-effective implementation, accelerated adoption, and lower training costs.
- Configurability: Different teams (and individuals) work in very different ways, so a system must be easily customizable to fit specific use cases. Easy configurability is also necessary for accommodating rapid business growth and changing priorities.
Remote workers present businesses with a unique set of challenges, but the benefits of productivity, engagement, and cost-savings from optimizing your organization for them are too great to ignore. Build a foundation for remote work through a purposeful, formalized approach and you will achieve these benefits at a much quicker pace and help set your organization up for future success.
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