In much of the discussion about the digital workplace, managing remote workers is often cited as one of the major challenges. However, remote working is on the rise and can clearly have many advantages for both workers and enterprises. In May, a study from Switzerland-based service office provider, IWG,found that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, while 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week.
Remote Workers Face Different Challenges
The assumption is that remote working is a good thing for both enterprises and individuals alike. However, at the end of last year, additional research from corporate training firm VitalSmarts, based on a survey of 1153 workers, found that 53 percent were working from home and that many feel that colleagues mistreat them and leave them out of decision making. In a post on the study findings by report authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield in the Harvard Business Review they pointed out that while remote employees may enjoy the freedom to live and work where they please, working through and with others becomes more challenging, and when conflicts arise they have a harder time resolving them.
So does this have a negative impact on the digital workplace? Meryl Evans, a Plano, Texas-based digital marketing professional says it depends on the company, employee, and setup. “What's critical is that the company has a baked in a culture that supports remote working. It doesn't work to identify this role or that role as a remote position,” she said.
“When one company told me they'd allow the position to be remote, I asked them if they had a remote workforce and culture in place. They did not. I turned it down because that's not a good environment for the remote worker. “That said, she pointed out that many companies have been very successful with their distributed workforce including Zapier, HelpScout, TaxJar, and InVision.
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Ensure the Right People And Processes Are in Place
If the first reaction from enterprises to the findings of these reports is to phase out remote working, it's worth noting that there are other solutions like finding managers that deal specifically with remote working problems. In the survey these seven items were called out as critical for the management of a remote workforce.
- Frequent and consistent check-ins
- Face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
- Ensure enhanced communication skills
- Clarify explicit expectations
- Always be available and have someone to respond to all times of the day
- Use wide range of communication technology
- Prioritize relationship to focus on team building and comradery
Eugenio Pace,CEO of Bellevue, Wash.-based Auth0, an identity management company, that has remote workers in 16 different time zones shared these additional tips on how best to shape organizational culture so it's remote worker inclusive.
- Hire a person whose sole responsibility is maintaining company culture
- Enforce a strict code of conduct in the workplace
- Encourage employees to get together in-person as much as possible (Auth0 has an annual offsite where employees across the globe come together for a week of work and fun. This year's offsite was in Panama)
- Transparent CEO who offers an annual Q&A where no question is off the table (attendees can ask about financials, disagreements, company offers, even personal life)
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Make Remote Workers Feel Valued
Henry Albrecht, CEO and co-founder of employee engagement company Bellevue, Wash-based Limeade, believes remote work is an essential element of the future of work but that it has the potential to damage workplaces and leave employees feeling isolated, disengaged and even hostile toward the company. Leaders, he said, must develop intentional efforts to make them feel valued, included and heard, or they could potentially assume the negative feelings uncovered in the VitalSmarts survey.
In 2015, Albrecht said, he discovered via a weekly pulse survey that the overall happiness of the firm's large remote workforce was lower than the happiness of workers at headquarters and that it decreased even more during the firm's busiest seasons. In response, the company started investing in teleconferencing tools to reconnect remote workers with headquarters. From there, he worked with on-premises teams to better incorporate remote workers in company meetings, mail them care packages during busy periods and approach every single team interaction with an eye for the remote experience. From this he offers four actions that enterprises with remote workers should be looking at:
- Show remote employees you care - When employees believe employers care about their health and well-being, they're 38 percent more engaged and 18 percent more likely to go the extra mile for the organization. Limeade sends care packages directly to remote employees' home offices. Notice an employee has been feeling under-appreciated in their daily work? Send them a small gift card to a local coffee shop to get their day started. A small token of appreciation will go a long way to show your remote employees you care.
- Set workers up with the right tech - It might sound obvious, but employees will thrive with access to the right tools. Whether it's providing online trainings or simply making sure your IT team is readily available, helping employees make their home office as advanced as company headquarters will help boost productivity.
- Encourage social interaction - Collaboration and productivity don't just happen during work hours or in the office. Provide all employees the ability to interact over different social media platforms. At Limeade, we encourage social interaction through a company Facebook group to keep all employees in the loop on competitive program challenges, weekend activities and even major life events.
- Communicate well and often - Communication is key. Are your internal communications geared only to onsite employees? If so, you'll need to revamp all communications, so they apply to everyone. This emphasis on communication goes both ways ― meaning you'll need to stay up to date with remote employees’ daily wins and any roadblocks they might be facing. Encourage consistent 1:1's between managers and their direct reports to keep lines of communication open. Provide tools like Skype, Slack or Microsoft Teams to invite communication and collaboration across offices.
Good Management Required
If problems with remote workers can result in significantly more severe impacts to productivity, cost, quality, and time, fear not, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things that can be done to prevent problems arising all of which come down to management skills that are not necessarily unique to the digital workplace. There’s no surprise there, as we have seen already that the management skills that drive digital enterprises are the same that drive traditional enterprises.