No employee wants to feel like a cog in the proverbial wheel. Everyone wants to be treated and respected as a valued contributor. Yet the notion of giving employees more control is often surrounded by misconceptions and assumptions — playing on the cliché that if you give someone an inch, they will take a mile. Where remote employees are concerned, putting more control in the hands of workers is further clouded by negative connotations, given that most telecommuters already work under minimal direct supervision.  

Misconceptions, assumptions and stereotypes about remote employees are not evidenced-based facts, however. Research has shown time and again that employee empowerment is not detrimental to organizational success. Rather, it is a boon for business. 

If you are a remote team manager or telework business leader, consider these three actionable steps to promote independence among your remote employees and reap the shared employer-employee benefits of creating a culture of trust within your organization.

1. Continue Fostering Workplace Flexibility  

During 2020, home-based work plans expanded within companies already operating remotely and made remote-enabled businesses out of traditionally brick-and-mortar organizations. In fact, due to the pandemic, the Pew Research Center reports more than 70% of American workers performed all or most of their job duties from home in the last year.

Curious about the future of remote work in a post-pandemic economy, McKinsey & Company surveyed a sample of US employees about their opinions on the future of remote work and noted a 22-point pre- to post-pandemic increase in favorable opinions about working from home. Pre-COVID-19, only 30% of respondents wanted their companies to adopt hybrid virtual-work models, which incorporate elements of both onsite and home-based work, compared to 52% of respondents who supported permanent flexible remote work opportunities post-COVID-19.  

Modern workers will continue to view the option for workplace flexibility as a key point of consideration for their future career paths. Competitive companies will offer remote work options as tools to empower and retain employees. After all, hybrid work arrangements lower operational costs for businesses, allow employees to have greater control over how and where they work, and broaden recruiting prospects to attract the most talented workers, no matter where they live. 

Related Article: Dealing With the 'Soft' Challenges of Remote Work

2. Encourage Job Autonomy 

The nature of remote work itself carries with it varying degrees of autonomy, but workplace flexibility is not the only form of job autonomy managers and business leaders can (and should) encourage among their employees. “Autonomy Raises Productivity: An Experiment Measuring Neurophysiology,” a neuroscientific study by Rebecca Johannsen and Paul J. Zak, indicates why. Johannsen and Zak found “increased perceived autonomy can significantly improve individual and group productivity,” as well as inspire healthful mood benefits within the brain. And, as research continues to prove, employees who feel engaged and satisfied at work are more efficient and likely to stay in their jobs longer.  

At its core, job autonomy is simply an avenue for shaping company policy, strategies and culture to evoke the best performances. It is important, however, for hesitant remote managers and business leaders to remember that increased autonomy within remote workplaces does not mean a lack of oversight. In truth, job autonomy is also about finding the right balance between control and accountability, and new pro-autonomy remote work policies can be introduced gradually.  

Here are three suggestions to get started:  

  • Recruit employees who are autonomous: When hiring, look for candidates whose resumes and work histories include examples of self-motivation, self-regulation and innovation. 
  • Set boundaries: While it may seem like giving remote employees more control involves the exact opposite of setting boundaries, boundaries provide remote workers with the parameters within which they can work autonomously. If remote workers are informed of and understand their responsibilities and objectives, as well as the company’s limits on autonomy — such as the required use of reporting or project management software, task or time tracking, and the frequency of audio, visual or physical check-ins — employees are then prepared to thrive on their own terms.
  • Give employees the tools to succeed: From hardware and software to training, workshops, and continued education, supply your remote employees with the resources they need to not only meet their goals, but to excel within their positions and see the horizon of upward mobility. 

Related Article: The Future of Career Mobility

3. Streamline Internal Communication Processes 

Clunky communication processes clog the flow of information everyone needs to do their jobs effectively within a business. Poor communication strategies are of particular concern for remote workers, especially those part of an organization operating with a hybrid model, allowing some employees to work in office while others work from home. 

When communication methods are not streamlined, remote employees, like digital nomads and those who fully work from home, may have to wait for status updates or information from managers and co-workers. This can exacerbate feelings of isolation and, in turn result in poor work performance, diminished engagement and apathy within remote workers. 

Developing communication strategies that promote independence can help remote teams avoid the consequences of inadequate communication. Follow these 10 ideas and workable strategies to STREAMLINE communication processes in remote work environments and give greater control to remote employees:

S – Shareable. Ensure relevant internal communications are accessible to your remote team members. Rather than reaching out to individual team members or wasting time searching emails, message threads and digital documents for information, employees should be able to access appropriate files when needed. 

T – Technology. Use remote technology to your team’s advantage. Remote team communication tools, like Slack, Zoom, Twist and Google Meet, create avenues for remote teams to interface via text, audio or video.  

Learning Opportunities

R – Responsiveness. Within reason and depending on the depth of information received or requested, reply to pertinent emails, instant messages and notifications from team members as you receive them. Employees should be encouraged to be equally as responsive, but at minimum, remote managers and leaders should establish guidelines for the maximum time employees can take to respond to internal communications (e.g. 24 hours).   

E – Engagement. Facilitate opportunities for employees to be heard, because giving a voice to employees empowers employees. A Salesforce research study on “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business,” which collected survey data from more than 1,500 business professionals, found that when employees feel their voice is heard in the workplace, they are 4.6 times more likely to perform at their best. 

A – Automation. Communications like employee feedback surveys, calendar updates, project reminders, newsletters and company announcements, and emergency push notifications can all be automatically distributed through an intranet, social media platform or internal communications application.  

M – Metrics. Clearly defining goals and objectives for employees takes the guesswork out of expectations and deliverables. Project management software and tools for remote teams, such as Trello, RedBooth, Basecamp and Asana provide spaces, tools and resources to organize, track and archive project progress. 

L – Leadership. Lead your teams by example. Managers and business leaders in remote workplaces can set the tone for streamlined communication by modeling the behaviors and communication methods they want to see used by employees. As a result, employees will be reassured of the company’s values and empowered to proactively communicate. 

I – Inclusivity. Remote teams are diverse. Telecommuting employees work across time zones and an array of cultural norms to collaborate on projects and complete their shared objectives. One of the best ways to foster a cohesive work environment and empower employees is to practice and require inclusive communication. Inclusive communication means making all employees feel welcome and seen. It involves checking unconscious biases, using inclusive verbiage, and being mindful. When all remote employees feel welcome and acknowledged, communication becomes more streamlined and less stressful.  

N – Newsletter. Periodically publish a company newsletter that reiterates the organization’s mission, celebrates the business’s achievements and recognizes employee contributions. Depending on the size of your business, the newsletter can be emailed to employees or shared via remote communication channels on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.  

E – Evaluation. Regularly examine the effectiveness of your communication methods. Check in with your remote teams about what is working and what can be improved. Asking for feedback, and receiving it with openness and intention, will promote trust within your organization and keep communication strategies current. 

Related Article: Can Asynchronous Collaboration Survive Our Always-On Workplaces?

Set Remote Employees Up for Success

Introducing organizational changes at any level understandably elicits caution among managers and business leaders, but friction is what makes organizations evolve. Putting more control in the hands of your remote employees is a proven strategy to bolster employee morale and productivity. It helps remote employees feel valued rather than isolated from their onsite counterparts, as well as increases engagement and work-life balance, decreases turnover and inspires employees to develop and nurture their own leadership qualities. Meanwhile, leaders can focus their attention on big-picture planning and organizational goals instead of becoming micromanagers. 

With actionable steps like continuing to foster workplace flexibility, encouraging job autonomy, and streamlining communication processes, managers and business leaders can build a company culture founded on trust while enjoying the shared employer-employee benefits of an autonomous workplace.

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