A decade ago, the idea of a remote workforce seemed impossible. With today's technology, though, it has never been easier for people to work remotely and for employers to offer flexibility to their employees.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses pivoted to a primarily remote workforce to continue operating without risking workplace exposure to the novel coronavirus. This emergency measure served as proof positive that remote work is an effective and realistic method of doing business, and many businesses could end up maintaining remote arrangements with many employees.
Research shows that remote workers are typically more productive and healthier. Moreover, remote work reduces business expenses associated with office rentals. The key challenge of implementing and managing a remote workforce, then, becomes staying in regular communication with remote employees and establishing transparency and accountability. Luckily, an effective video conferencing solution can give any employer the tools they need to ensure remote workers remain productive on company time.
How to implement a remote workforce
Whether you are hoping to have a fully remote team or allow employees to work remotely as needed, here are some tips for implementing a remote workforce.
Get staff and management on board.
While it might seem like every employee would be excited about working from home, sometimes that's not the case. The first step to implementing a remote workforce is getting everyone on board.
Send out surveys and ask employees who would want to work from home what their biggest concerns are and the type of technology they need for their home offices. Once you have the results of the surveys, hold town halls and other meetings to address concerns, roll out a plan and make sure every team member feels heard.
Also, hold meetings and explain the benefits of remote work, such as saving money and time, increased productivity and the opportunity to attract top talent.
Find the right tools and software.
Once you hear your team's concerns and input, determine the tools they need to be successful and to create a physical workspace in their homes. Equip each employee with a powerful laptop, a monitor and any other tools they might need to effectively do their jobs.
The next step is to consider what technology and software your team needs to communicate. Instant messaging tools, video conferencing and project management tools are a must.
Check out tools like Vast Conference, which includes unlimited conference calling, video meetings that can be joined with just one click and scheduling integrations with major calendar tools like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. Vast also offers screen-sharing features, which are ideal for presentations that include geographically dispersed teams. Meeting hosts can also assign presentation capabilities to other attendees if a presentation requires more than one speaker.
Whatever tools you choose, be sure they have all the features you need to emulate an in-person office environment. Further, any software you use to accommodate remote workers should be easy to use and understand; the fewer issues a remote employee needs to troubleshoot, the better.
Establish a timeline, rules and core hours.
You shouldn't roll out a remote workforce overnight; it takes time and coordination. Create a timeline. Have employees work from home part time, and slowly increase the number of work-from-home days. With each step, consider what worked, what didn't, and how to pivot based on feedback from employees and managers.
Along with having reliable communication solutions, employees need to know when and how to connect with one another. When you're implementing a remote workforce, it's critical to establish core hours so that all team members are online and available. It's also important to train each employee on the tools and software your team uses.
Design a virtual workspace.
According to a 2019 study on remote work performed by Buffer, remote workers report that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges of working from home. To combat loneliness among your remote employees, create a virtual workspace were employees can openly communicate with each other and their managers.
This should be a consideration when you're researching software and technology. One way to implement a virtual workspace is holding frequent video conferences or conference calls that build team trust and friendships. Technologies such as instant messaging or video conferencing help create camaraderie and imitate water-cooler conversations.
Vast Conference, for example, offers a chat tool within video conferences that is useful for private messaging individual users or sending files to the group or individuals.
How to manage a remote workforce
Implementing a remote workforce is only half the battle. Managing a remote team comes with a set of unique challenges, such as communication and tracking productivity. Here's how to effectively manage a deskless workforce.
It's a manager's job to keep their employees in the know. When you're working in the same building, it's easy to communicate face to face. Communication is still key when you're miles apart.
For many remote workers, unplugging after work and communication are some of the biggest struggles of working from home. Managers should have regular scheduled check-ins with remote employees. Whether that is messaging employees when they clock in and out or having a daily online meeting, it's critical that remote workers feel like they're part of the team.
Moreover, it is critical that managers establish a company culture that encourages taking time away from work. Many workers will go above and beyond when they have around-the-clock access to their workstation in their home. While this might seem like a benefit at first, it is a sure way for your hardest-working employees to develop burnout, which ultimately hampers productivity. Be sure your employees are taking time to focus on themselves and their personal lives instead of logging on to work at all hours of the day.
It's necessary to have ways of tracking productivity. Most remote workers are motivated self-starters who are hoping to prove themselves. However, some people may take advantage of the freedom.
You should track a remote worker's productivity the same way you would with in-office employees. Establish goals or metrics that the workers should hit. Whether remote or in-office, today's managers should judge work performances based on output rather than how long they stay at their desks or seem busy.
While communicating with your team often and tracking productivity are components of a successful remote workforce, it all comes down to trust. If you don't trust your employees (or they don't trust you), it's almost impossible to have an effective team.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses that never considered remote work arrangements before are now well versed in how to manage a remote workforce. As those arrangements, in many cases, continue into the future, it is essential businesses put the right tools in place to keep up with the unique demands of a remote workforce.
With the right technology, employees can reach each other and their managers at any time. In addition to holding remote meetings, conducting frequent check-ins, and asking employees to ensure their workday abides by your company's core hours, consider scheduling work retreats once a year where all employees can meet in person. In-person meetings once a quarter also help establish camaraderie and trust.
While implementing and managing a remote workforce is the responsible choice to protect the health and well-being of both your employees and the general public, there are many benefits of operating on a remote-first model. With the right tools in place, your team will be able to remain productive and nimble wherever they might be.