Contrary to popular belief, you can manage a remote workforce while still making productivity and inclusion priorities in your company. Here's how.
Today, more job seekers want companies that offer remote work.
In the 2017 Workplace Trends "Human Face of Remote Working Study," 79 percent of the 25,234 U.S. employees surveyed said they work with at least one person who isn't in the same office. Almost one-third (32 percent) said they regularly work remotely.
These professionals cited increased productivity, job satisfaction and work-life balance among the benefits of remote work. However, offering this flexibility presents unique challenges. For starters, distributed teams are difficult to manage – especially with employees in different time zones. Also, collaborative projects and team-building exercises are tougher to accomplish with remote workers.
Even so, success is possible with teams distributed across the country, or globe. Here are three steps to achieve it.
1. Overcome a lack of trust
One of the main challenges of distributed teams is trusting that workers are staying on task throughout the day. When you're not able to physically see employees working, it's easy to assume they're slacking off. When you don't get immediate responses to questions, you can't tell if the message was received.
Overcome this challenge by encouraging brief but frequent check-ins throughout the day. These can be as simple as a brief status update. Even notice of snack breaks and the like will let you know that the employee is online and connected.
In addition, setting clear goals and expectations lets every worker know what they must focus on. Trust bonds are strongest when everyone knows what their co-workers are doing to satisfy tasks and meet deadlines. This eliminates feelings that one employee is working harder than others.
Investing in the right project management software can also help you overcome any trust issues. This software allows workers to see their own tasks and how their personal work factors into the overall project completion. Many platforms also allow you to leave notes and questions to promote frequent communication with employees.
2. Place a priority on communication
Though in-person communication isn't always possible with remote teams, you can still foster a culture of collaboration. Software apps and file sharing platforms make it easy for workers to keep in touch throughout the day. In addition, you can use video and audio conferencing tools to discuss project details.
Beyond work conversation, it's important to help remote workers feel connected on a personal level. Don't overlook the importance of small talk. Online chat platforms allow employees to post thoughts and funny photos, and also notify fellow team members about brief interruptions (lunch breaks, dog walks).
While immediate feedback isn't always possible with distributed teams, you can still schedule one-on-one project update sessions at least once a month. Connecting in this way creates a greater sense of belonging and loyalty.
3. Be creative with team-building opportunities
It's difficult to get a distributed team in the same place at the same time. However, that doesn't mean team building has to suffer. You just have to be creative to keep remote workers connected.
For instance, schedule virtual holiday functions or social video chats. It's important for employees to see each other and interact on a personal level, rather than an atmosphere of strictly business all the time.
Other fun ways to stay connected include shared music channels and innovative challenges or games. This prompts conversation about preferences and encourages workers to let their guards down.
Additionally, schedule exercise breaks and create friendly competition through activity trackers (who logged the most steps?). Many employees have a naturally competitive spirit and will be excited to participate. These programs also have a secondary benefit in that workers will become healthier, which means less sick days and lost productivity.
Finally, don't be afraid to self-promote. For example, everyone likes free stuff. Send company-branded materials (T-shirts, mugs, etc.) for workers, their families and pets. This has a dual purpose for building loyalty while promoting the brand to a larger audience.
It's possible to embrace the growing trend of remote work while still making productivity and inclusion priorities in your company. Through frequent communication and creating an atmosphere of camaraderie, your distributed workforce will feel connected to each other as if they were all in the same office.