Helpful Strategies for Managing Remote Teams
As someone who works 2,284 miles from my company’s main offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I have firsthand experience with remote work. I won’t lie: I miss my coworkers. Things can get a little lonely here in Portland, Oregon, gazing at the steady rain falling on bespectacled hipsters passing by my cozy coffee shop on unicycles and skateboards. But thanks to a supportive team, real-time digital messaging platforms, and reliable online conferencing, I remain deeply ingrained in our business.
My move to Portland has been successful due in large part to the efficient work processes and platforms we rely on every day at LaFleur. Thanks to tools like Slack, Asana, Bonusly, and SharePoint, I know exactly what is expected of me at all times and can track my team members’ progress related to larger projects I’m involved with. If it weren’t for an empathetic and supportive staff and steadfast reliance on the project management tools listed above, however, working remotely would be nearly impossible.
With many companies allowing their staff to work out of the office, challenges (and opportunities) await business owners and executive staff attempting to adapt to a non-traditional work environment. And while these challenges can sometimes feel overwhelming, if you want to retain the best and brightest talent, you might consider loosening the leash and staffing your business, firm, or agency with employees from around the United States and beyond.
Examining the Modern Workplace
Last February, the New York Times published an article detailing the results of a recent Gallup survey that polled 15,000 working Americans about their work habits and environment. According to that study, in 2016, 43 percent of Americans “spent at least some time working remotely,” which was a 4 percent increase from 2015. This trend shows no signs of slowing down, and many employees leverage the opportunity to work remotely as a bargaining chip when negotiating the details of a new position. And many employers are happy to oblige because it helps reduce overhead while increasing productivity.
“What’s that?” you ask. “Working from a relaxed private environment is more affordable and productive than being jammed in a suffocating cubicle next to your manager and around the corner from your boss in a stale office setting replete with watered-down coffee and never-ending interruptions?” Believe it or not, it’s true!
According to another study, this one conducted by a Stanford economic professor named Nicholas Bloom in conjunction with Ctrip (a massive travel agency in China), “home-based employees worked more than office workers — 9.5 percent longer — and were 13 percent more productive.” They were far less likely to quit, and Ctrip saved about $2,000 per employer each year (which actually seems like a conservative figure given my personal experience).
Despite being more productive and saving their company thousands of dollars each year, telecommuters were far more likely to miss out on being promoted, according to the study. Further, following the experiment, about 50 percent of employees requested to come back to the office because they felt lonely and were concerned about not being considered for a promotion.
According to Professor Bloom, there are several possibilities why remote employees aren’t being promoted at the same rate as their traditional colleagues and counterparts. “It may be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said Bloom. “Or it might be that you’re not drinking in the bar with your boss. Or it could be you’re not managing your employees as well if you’re not around them.” All of these seem like plausible reasons, but it’s also important to note that just because an employer is working more or being more productive, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing a better job or being more effective.
At any rate, it seems that there are several advantages to having at least a portion of your staff working remotely, but it may be wise to give them the option to work from home and remotely — or perhaps to include monthly fees for a coworking space into their annual salary. Providing more choice will likely result in the employee choosing the most comfortable and productive environment for them.
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Overcoming Challenges Associated With Managing a Non-Traditional Work Environment
Just because employers can save money and retain more productive staff members doesn’t mean you should put your office space on the market this afternoon. There are significant challenges associated with managing a remote team as well. There are also numerous considerations to take into account when weighing whether to shake up your work environment.
While more companies are embracing remote employees, that doesn’t mean all employees are up for the task. We are in the middle of culture shift, and most of us are so used to traditional work environments that the transition to telecommuting may be challenging and/or impractical for some workers.
To be successful out of the office, employees must be adept at managing their time, handling conference calls and meetings responsibly, and creating a schedule that results in producing great work (instead of just more work). While most of us are capable of this sort of adaptation, there will be a learning curve regardless of aptitude. This is where motivation and focus, along with your ability as an employer to cultivate these skills, come into play.
As a business owner or manager offering remote employment opportunities, here are a few tips to get the most out of your remote staff.
Keep Them in the Conversation
Successful managers take the time to cultivate real relationships with their employees. They stop by the water cooler after lunch, and they buy the occasional round after work. Sure, the bulk of the relationship should remain professional, but be sure to ask about your remote employees’ family and hobbies occasionally so they feel like valued members of the team.
These casual conversations happen every day in the office, but they can get lost when working with off-site staff. Make time for one-on-ones, and don’t rush the conversation. Your employees look up to you, so taking the time to have a genuine discussion with them will amplify their confidence and result in better work.
Use Video Whenever Possible
As a remote employee myself, I can speak to the value of a video conference over a phone call. Not every single discussion needs to take place on Skype, Hangouts, or Zoom, but actually seeing the person you’re speaking with adds a level of intimacy and togetherness that frankly can’t be replicated on the phone.
Plus, most communication is nonverbal. Being able to use body language to express a thought or emotion is helpful, and interpreting others’ intentions and actively listening are easier when you can see someone in front of you. Video conferencing also makes it possible to share a screen, which promotes mutual understanding and allows for making accurate changes in real time.
Remote Employees Aren’t Freelancers (Unless They Are)
If you’ve set the right expectations and established the right culture, full-time remote employees are incredibly valuable. Given the distance, though, it can be easy to treat them more like freelancers — mercenaries who exist solely to produce and generate ROI.
While some managers may see all employees in this way, we have not yet welcomed our robot overlords. The human element of successful and effective workers still exists. They have career goals and are eager to expand their individual skillsets, so do your best to cultivate their talents and aspirations by inviting them to work retreats, sponsoring their attendance at relevant conferences, and offering help and engage wherever possible.
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Attendance Is Mandatory…
If you are having a meeting on site or online, make sure all relevant personnel attend, even if that meeting is ad hoc or brief. If it’s important and relates to them directly, they need to be there. Conversely, since these employees aren’t just over in the next cubicle on the left, make sure they are aware of all scheduled appointments, and try to alert them in advance if a last-minute discussion requires their attendance.
Also, since we’ve already established these workers aren’t freelancers, their attendance to mandatory meetings isn’t optional. Two missed meetings constitutes a trend, so if you notice unexcused absences, you want to address that right away to make sure expectations are clear and that your employee is engaged and productive.
But, You Don’t Need to Take Roll
It is not your job to spy on your employees — remote or traditional. If you are paying a qualified individual to perform a service during defined hours, they should be fulfilling their end of the bargain, plain and simple. You are not a babysitter and you shouldn’t be spending your valuable time keeping tabs on your employees. However, that doesn’t mean your employees’ status and whereabouts are none of your business. Instead of playing the role of Big Brother, though, play the role of big brother.
Stay in close communication with your staff to help create schedules that work for everyone and result in the best work being created. Once you set the expectation, it’s on the employee to meet it. And if you notice any strange patterns or lack in production, schedule a call to discuss their work habits to see if they need to update their shifts or responsibilities. However, if you need to have this conversation multiple times, you might want them to begin tracking their time or creating daily status reports.
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LaFleur Can Help Your Team Consolidate and Optimize Your Work Processes
Among our growing team of 12 employees, three of us work remotely full time, and the remaining nine usually work from home at least one day each week. In fact, most of us are encouraged to stay home or find a more comfortable space outside the office when we have especially busy or challenging days. This sort of trust and flexibility has been fostered over several years of friendship, efficiency, and spectacular work.
Given this experience and the success we’ve achieved as a direct result, we are confident we can help you and your company improve your work processes and dynamics. Our primary focus is in the digital marketing sphere, but we have helped numerous clients consolidate and optimize their workforce while also increasing their productivity and decreasing overhead through automation, project management, technology consultations, and more.
If you are interested in learning more about any aspect of our services, whether they relate to consulting, branding, or automation, among others, we would love to speak with you about your goals. Please contact us today by calling (888) 222-1512 or completing this brief form.
Chokshi, N. (2017, February 15). Out of the office: More people are working remotely, survey finds. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/15/us/remote-workers-work-from-home.html
Tugend, A. (2014, March 7). Its unclearly defined, but telecommuting is fast on the rise. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/your-money/when-working-in-your-pajamas-is-more-productive.html
Turnbull, A. (2014, May 1). The pros and cons of being a remote team (and how we do it). Groove. Retrieved from https://www.groovehq.com/blog/being-a-remote-team