BY AMY COOLEY
There is no doubt that remote and flexible work arrangements are high on the preference list for workers in 2022. Back in 2018, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported that when companies permit employees to work remotely, 81 percent opt to do so, and predicted that “by 2020 the mobile workforce is projected to comprise roughly three-fourths of US employees.”
Well, it has been a long four years since that report, and the conversation about remote and flexible work arrangements has shifted—and accelerated. In January of this year, ApolloTechnical.com reported some eye-opening statistics arising from a survey by Owl Labs:
- During COVID, close to 70 percent of full-time workers were working from home.
- After COVID, 92 percent of people surveyed expect to work from home at least one day per week and 80 percent expected to work at least three days from home per week.
- 23 percent of those surveyed would take a 10 percent pay cut to work from home permanently.
- 81 percent of those surveyed believe their employer will continue to support remote work after COVID.
- 59 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to choose an employer who offered remote work compared to those who didn’t.
How do you foster a team environment? How do you ensure active and productive communication between your team members? How do you guarantee your team doesn’t feel isolated from the rest of the company? In short, how do you create a culture of engagement when your team isn’t co-located, and some may never enter your office at all? Below are three strategies to implement when managing your remote workforce.
COLLABORATE. This includes establishing goals, roles, tasks, processes, and responsibilities. Set goals by position and include measurables such as numbers of reservations booked, numbers of avoided service incidents, and maximum numbers of farm-outs required. Goalsetting should be a combined effort between employee and manager; when it’s a joint effort, the employee’s commitment to those goals is increased. It does not mean that you are giving them carte blanche to create their own objectives, though. Instead, you are coming together to ensure your employee understands how those goals affect the overall business, to make sure they are achievable, and to help encourage buy-in.
Beyond setting goals, remote employees must fully understand their job descriptions and responsibilities. Processes and tasks must be assigned and followed up on properly. When working with a remote staff, you cannot over-communicate on processes and procedures, as those are the make-it or break-it pieces of the remote workforce puzzle. Be careful, however, not to confuse over-communication with micromanagement. Consider what approaches to communication will be most effective with your remote employees. Regular manager/employee phone calls, impromptu video meetings, and ongoing text or chat threads may all be useful tools, depending on your shared communication styles.
Additionally, there are innumerable collaborative online tools designed to enable remote collaboration. Think about project management platforms, such as Monday, Basecamp, or Trello, as well as document-sharing tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, and SharePoint.
Finally, remote employees should set a schedule for their “office” hours, so team members and managers alike know when each employee is available and working. Set response-time guidelines for returning calls and emails to ensure proper communication flow. Responses to emails vs. phone calls may be on different timelines, but having a policy in place is essential for both in-office employees and remote employees.
CONNECT. It is absolutely critical to your success as a leader to communicate clearly and frequently with your team. Engaging with remote employees takes a bit more planning but is just as easy once you have found your groove. Here are some ideas to help you with your planning:
- Check-in calls. With in-office employees, chance run-ins and conversations happen daily. With remote employees, those spontaneous meetings are lost. Beyond regularly scheduled calls (which are of utmost importance to communication), remember to reach out for an informal chat. Remote employees have lives outside of work just like those working in the office, so ask how they are doing, how their kids are, and if their favorite team will win this weekend. Check-in calls can be daily at first and then move to semi-weekly, but they should be weekly at the very least to stay connected to your remote employee.
- Team meetings. Remote teams don’t have to mean no meetings. If you weren’t comfortable with video conferencing four years ago, we’re willing to bet you’re more experienced now. While Zoom is certainly prevalent, several other platforms are available. Here at The LMC Groups we’ve been using Microsoft Teams and have found it to be relatively user friendly. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, found that 7 percent of any message is communicated through words, 38 percent through “vocal elements,” and 55 percent through nonverbal cues. If you are only using phone, chat, or text for team conversations there’s a chance you are missing up to 93 percent of what you are communicating with each other.
- Creative engagement tools. Social media has its ups and downs which we don’t need to dive into here. One positive is the ability to communicate in a more casual and organic way with your team. Facebook is of course commonly used, but there are other opportunities as well, such as Yammer. With any social media outlet, there need to be ground rules, but it’s well worth the effort. Since many of our team members are hybrid or remote, LMC’s private social media groups help to keep us connected as the brilliant and hilarious humans that we are.
- Face-to-face activities. When possible, getting the entire team together for some work or play time goes a long way in helping your employees gel as a team. Going to industry events each year? Take a few employees to each one. This not only allows the team to be together face to face but also allows them insight into the industry. They will get to meet others in their roles, understand that their trials and tribulations translate throughout the industry, and make valuable contacts. Not going to an industry event? How about an annual retreat? If the budget won’t allow it, schedule a teambuilding day—anything that brings your remote and on-site employees physically together.
Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at the European Business Institute INSEAD, said: “We have a tendency to overcompensate and approach remote workers and virtual teams as these mythical beasts.” True: Sometimes we disregard everything we know about good management just because these workers are not in-house. However, I challenge you to find one thing in this article that says that the way we manage remote employees is different than the way we manage in-office employees. Mortensen goes on to say that “you shouldn’t think about them in a fundamentally different way. They are still people working in an organization to get stuff done.” The essential components of management—communication, goal-setting, coaching, and training—never change, whether your direct reports are right down the hall from your or miles away in their home offices. [CD0622]
Amy Cooley is HR Administrator for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.