The digital revolution has been changing the way work is done for years now, but recent developments like the coronavirus have made more companies than ever realize the true value of remote workers.
Remote work has plenty of benefits, such as flexible scheduling, increased productivity and reduced operating costs. These benefits, however, also come with trade-offs in the form of communication problems and declining company unity.
If you want your remote workers to bring their full value to your business, you need to be prepared to overcome some challenges along the way.
In 2020, business leaders need to be prepared to incorporate remote workers into their company effectively. Here are a few difficulties you might run into along the way and how to solve them.
1. Communication snags
If there's a single key to getting the most out of your remote workers, it's communication. While communication problems can arise in a number of different ways, a lack of clarity is most likely to affect your relationship with remote workers.
In an office, projects, and objectives can be constantly clarified and amended. If you're using email, perpetual updates and check-ins can be more counterproductive than anything. When sending out assignments, updates or questions, try to be as thorough as possible to ensure maximum clarity. Remote workers may not be used to needing regular clarification, so make it as unnecessary as you can.
2. Platform issues
Remote workers can often have different levels of engagement with your company – some might be freelancers, others might be full-time employees. For those less connected to your core business, email might be the chosen communication platform. But remote workers you regularly engage with might find constant back-and-forth emails a hindrance to doing business.
Email can be tedious and hard to sort through, and constant phone calls are a huge time drain. To smooth over these issues, your company could likely benefit from learning more about project management software. These platforms allow you to make dedicated communication channels for different groups or teams, ensuring that as little gets lost in the shuffle as possible.
3. Scheduling conflicts
Alongside communication issues come problems with syncing up schedules. Conflicting time zones or differences in lifestyle can make it difficult to find appropriate slots for critical meetings.
Calendar management for remote teams is as important as it is difficult. One of the best ways to get everyone on the same page is to use a calendar-syncing tool or a plugin that allows mutual calendar sharing. That way, endless back-and-forth emails figuring out slots aren't necessary. The right platform allows you to simply select available times and confirm meetings on the fly, streamlining your communication and scheduling at the same time.
4. Lack of accountability
If you've never worked extensively with remote workers before, you're probably not used to the dynamics that can come into play. In a traditional office, it's easy to check on an employee and be sure that they are on top of their work. With remote workers, it's not so easy.
One of the most effective ways to keep your remote workers accountable is by making your expectations for their work as clear as possible. Setting very clear targets for productivity and quality makes accountability much easier. If issues remain even after outlining expectations, try increasing your contact with them – either over the phone or via video chat. It's almost always easier to work out any issues in person, or as close to in person as is possible right now.
5. Trust issues
It can present challenges to build unity and trust with remote workers versus in-office employees. Being able to regularly have in-person meetings makes it easy to develop a rapport with someone and build the foundation for a meaningful business relationship.
When you only deal with someone on the phone, through video chat, or over email, laying the groundwork for that kind of relationship is much more difficult. While it may sound strange, one of the best ways to get around this is by taking a break from the professional now and then. Checking in on how a remote worker is doing personally or learning about some of her interests off the job is a good way of getting a sense of her as a person, and it's crucial to building trust.
6. Culture disconnect
While there are businesses that have a strong office culture, that culture can be difficult to transfer fully to your remote employees.
The first step you can do is understand what a good remote work culture is and make a set of priorities and values as a company. Even if your remote workers can't make it to Friday drinks, a strong set of objectives allows them to feel like they're part of a larger organization working toward a common goal. Make every effort to include remote workers in office activities. While that's probably easier said than done, even something simple like a fantasy football league can go a long way toward promoting unity.
7. Sluggish movement
For small businesses, agility is often the name of the game. To compete against large competitors, smaller operations need to be able to adapt and react at a moment's notice. Not managed properly, a remote workforce can seriously slow your business in its most crucial moments.
Most of this comes down to being overly reliant on older methods of communication, but information silos can be a large factor as well. If big changes are happening, it can be easy to simply forget to tell dispersed teammates important information. One way around this is through an open office culture, a culture that helps free up previously closed channels of communication. Having a companywide chat or a biweekly briefing sent to all employees helps keep people in the loop without putting a drain on productivity.
8. Dips in quality
Gallup data shows that more than 50% of full-time remote workers report feeling constantly unengaged in their work – a number that should seriously worry any manager looking to hire new remote workers.
While you can't visit each of your remote workers and coach them through every step of their job, you can and should provide detailed feedback on their work. After each major project a remote worker undertakes, give him a full report highlighting what went well and what he could've gone further with. Without an in-office manager to ask, most remote workers are hungry for advice on how they can boost the quality of their work.
Remote workers are becoming increasingly crucial to the modern office, but only if they're incorporated properly. By following the steps on this list, you can make your remote workforce a crucial part of your business and profit from it along the way.