I find it interesting that we live in a world of mind-blowing innovation, yet the concept of remote work isn’t fully mainstream. For example, we may soon be able to authenticate ourselves through retinal eye scans. In so many ways, we’ve bridged the gap between the technologies and processes customers prefer to create frictionless digital service experiences. As the CTO and SVP of systems and technology at a company that offers collaboration solutions, I believe the same opportunity exists for transforming remote team collaboration — yet some companies remain hesitant to embrace it.
Globally, many organizations allow employees to work remotely in some form. (A report from IWG found that 70% of respondents worked remotely at least once a week.) Yet for every step forward, we hear stories of someone who was laid off due to a scheduled move or is debating quitting due to a “no remote” policy. As if we need to get into the reasons why remote work is good for both employees and employers, here’s a quick reminder from a recent Indeed survey, “Remote Work Can Bring Benefits, but Attitudes Are Divided”:
• 47% of respondents said that a company’s remote work policy is an important factor in choosing a job.
• 40% of employees would consider taking a pay cut to have the option of remote work.
Additionally, remote work can create significant cost savings. Dell, for example, reports saving around $12 million per year in real estate costs through their flexible work policy.
From my perspective, it’s not a matter of if remote work will become the new norm (it will). It’s a matter of companies ignoring this paradigm shift and suffering big in the long run. Technology has evolved to the point where employees can seamlessly work from anywhere, how and when they want. From a technology standpoint, remote work is much simpler than what it’s made out to be. It’s everything else that seems to prevent companies from fully committing, like issues related to culture, accountability, connectedness and understanding.
Here are some of my first-hand tips for managing and empowering a remote team in today’s digital world:
Clearly define your remote work policy.
It’s important that employers clearly define their remote work policy, including what it is and isn’t. For example, should you be flexible and let people work on a case-by-case basis or implement more structured components? Should you have employees submit formal requests to become remote workers, or is the process more lenient based on factors such as trust and merit? Should you have requirements for the environment virtual employees work in, and should they differ depending on the frequency with which virtual work occurs (sporadic, short-term or permanent)?
There’s really no right answer here. Every remote policy will differ depending on the business and its industry, technological environment and cultural dynamics. To that end, I generally advise employers to keep five things in mind for a solid remote work policy: eligibility, responsiveness, equipment and technology, security and productivity measures. Start with these core pillars and build from there.
Build a culture of connectedness and inclusion.
There’s an exceptional magic that happens when a group of workers inherently know, trust and mesh with each other. How can employers create this spark among a group of distributed employees working across the country or globe? It all comes down to relationship-building.
Think about every time you had to complete a group project in high school or college. Chances are good that you dreaded every meeting and felt unproductive most of the time. Why? It was probably because your professor randomly selected groups. Managers should invest in building positive relationships between virtual workers to eliminate feelings of isolation or conflict that can so often occur. This could mean carving out time each week for chatting at your “virtual water cooler” to build rapport or perhaps gathering in person one to two times per year. When your employees know and care about each other, they’re more likely to work collaboratively to drive the outcomes you’re looking for.
Promote organic accountability.
Of course, you should make sure your remote teams are actually getting work done. Prioritize transparency across projects, tasks and individual goals so that managers and fellow team members can see who is working on what and when. Teams that inherently know and trust one another will likely see this less as a “big brother” strategy and more as a way to streamline efficiencies. I think an open-door policy is a great way to accomplish this. Anyone I manage knows they can always talk to me at any time. Make it a point to pause what you’re doing and give them your full attention so they know you’re placing value and importance on their time and concerns.
Also consider the importance of integrated or embedded communications. Communicating using the applications and processes virtual workers already use every day, such as Slack or Whatsapp, will only make it that much easier to communicate about progress and ensure accountability.
Keep your larger goals in mind.
Regardless of whether your teams are remote or on-site, what’s most important is that you enable them to engage without the same lulls they may be used to. How easy is it for your employees to access day-to-day tasks without having to jump through hoops? How are you enabling them to work smarter in the context of what they’re doing, wherever they may be?
At the end of the day, it’s also about empowering employees with the freedom to make decisions that can drive meaningful transformation (and subsequently, customer and business outcomes). It’s about redefining teams in today’s digital workplace, which can be worth it from productivity, revenue and customer-satisfaction standpoints.
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