by Sunny Nickel
It is a common misconception that remote workers have it easy when it comes to work. This idea has clouded the reality of the challenges that come with being a remote worker, and managing a remote workforce. Meanwhile, working remote is one of the most successful means of employment, and has increasingly becoming the hottest work trend of 2018.
More and more, people are requesting the freedom and flexibility to work from home. Working remotely may seem like something that’s only feasible in the tech industry, but it isn’t limited to that by any means. A study by Gallup has shown that other industries are jumping on the bandwagon, too. Working from home is not a single-industry trend-- all types of companies from varying sizes and backgrounds are allowing their workforce to at least have the option to work remotely.
The Benefits of Remote Work
Studies have found that allowing some employees to work remotely could help the company’s bottom line. It’s estimated that one company saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months that they experimented with remote work. This number includes savings on the cost of furniture, snacks, space, etc. in the office for each employee.
Research has also shown that having the option to work from home can raise productivity and help employees keep focused in their respective tasks. Meetings, drop-ins, “quick-asks,” etc. are just some of the distractions each of us must mitigate while trying to hunker down, and get work done in an office setting. Distractions are greatly reduced when employees are not physically in the office, and some workers report feeling like they are more productive working remotely, and away from the randomizing interactions of being around their colleagues.
Managing the Challenges
To quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And, most of us need perimeters and rules in place to work, excel, and grow within a field with great perks, flexibility, and responsibility (like working from home).
Whatever your management style might be, if you are looking to allow some of your employees to work remotely, or already have some of your workforce working from home, take a look at these techniques to make the employee experience better overall:
1. Include “Time Management” in your employee’s contract
Although you cannot enforce exactly what people do at home, and you certainly don’t want to micromanage your employees, you can absolutely outline expectations early on for your remote workers. When a new employee gets hired, set expectations right from the get-go. It is completely reasonable to lay out expectations for the number of hours worked per day, and request that each employee minimize distractions in order to ensure that the required hours of work are met each day.
Being clear with expectations is crucial to the success of your remote workforce. For example, go through details to avoid confusion: important daily (and weekly) tasks, key projects and deadlines, and discuss mandatory scheduled meetings early on. This will lead to less confusion later on, and make remote work more harmonious.
2. Set work hours
Once you have set expectations, then you can set defined work hours with your remote workers. Ask yourself a few questions: Do you want your workers available between set office hours? Are you OK with them tracking their hours, as long as they’re available for specific meetings?
Once you have answered these questions, it is a good idea to be especially clear about hours and availability with your staff. This will set accountability between you and your direct reports, but also add a layer of transparency among your team as they will need to interact with each other occasionally as well.
Once you have a plan in place, it is a best practices to fully trust your employees to stick to what you have previously agreed upon. This will allow your remote workers to feel autonomous and grow within their role. An employee’s ability to stick to a plan, work their set hours, and stick to them is proof that they are responsible, valuable employees, and prove that they are ultimately a great asset to the company.
3. Limit distractions
One of the greatest hurdles in limiting distractions is learning what our own time wasters are. As a manager, it’s a good idea to have candid conversations with all of your direct reports about their classic “time-wasters.” Naturally, these things vary individual to individual. But, to get ahead of these problems, you need to know what these time-wasters are, and how to get ahead of them.
Some classic time-wasters include (but are not limited to) spending too much time on Instagram, scrolling through Facebook, watching Youtube videos, or online shopping. Pinpointing these time-wasters with your direct reports, and simply asking your staff to avoid them during set work hours, may not be the most realistic tactic.
Instead, ask your remote workers to set aside time each day in their schedules to devote to these activities. This way, they will be less inclined to indulge in them when they should be working.
Also, texts can also be a HUGE source of distraction. Friends and family reaching out at inopportune times of the day can be a nice break, but too much can derail a day’s work. Talk to your remote employees about their texting habits, and ask if turning the ringer off is a good solution for work hours.
If turning the phone to silent isn’t enough, you can limit texts by downloading any one of these apps which are designed to keep users from texting while driving. This is a great solution for those employees who are perpetual phone-checkers. Find what works best and urge your employees to try to get rid of anything that distracts them from focusing their attention on the tasks at hand.
4. Create collaborative virtual spaces
When your team is part in-house, and part remote, it is vitally important to remain inclusive. Making all team members still feel included is vitally important to the success and retention of the members of your team. Be sure to invite all team members to every all-hands meeting, office party, and any meetings related to them.
Ideally, most of your remote workforce will still live close enough to drop in to the office occasionally, and will still be able to attend mandatory meetings in person. But, in lieu of all of your remote employees ability to be there physically, try instead to create virtual meeting spaces and hangouts for your remote workers.
Plenty of remote teams like to use virtual meeting rooms like Google Hangouts or Go-to-Meeting to communicate during weekly alignment meetings. You can also set weekly one-on-one meetings to stay in communication with your remote workers, and stay on top of individual, and overall company goals.
In addition to having a virtual meeting space, having a collaborative space to speak freely with fellow coworkers is imperative to feeling included in day-to-day goings-on. Here at TINYpulse we use Slack, a cloud-based team collaboration tool that aligns with our cultural values and meets our needs as an organization. Whether we are working remotely, or from the office, Slack is where most of our internal communication takes place.
5. Promote balance
For remote workers, avoiding burnout and finding balance is key to success. This means making time for self-care in the midst of work responsibilities. For example, exercise, travel, getting out into the sunshine, networking & socializing, or pursuing a hobby outside of work are all great ways to ensure that work-life and home-life do not become one in the same.
One great way to do this is to set up a home office. Encourage your employees to separate their home space from work. Having a space that is solely for work within the home is a great way to separate the two worlds. This way, your employees can have focused work time in a designated area that is not cluttered with other home-life distractions.
Another idea is to encourage your staff to work occasionally from coffee shops or other remote locations. For example, research shows that one-fifth of millennials already regularly enjoy work from coffee shops, compared to only 10% of Baby Boomers. Try to get your entire remote workforce out and about! This will alleviate some of the mundanities of working in the same space day after day.
Remote work, not a passing fad.
When remote work is done right, employees can be happier and feel more free within their professions. This type of flexibility is extremely attractive to job-seeking top talent, and can attract workers that companies may not have had access to previously. According to Gallup, remote working has been on the rise: from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016. And by the year 2020, the mobile workforce is projected to compromise roughly three-quarters of U.S. employees.
There are a lot of different reasons to allow your workers to either occasionally work from home, or work remotely on a more consistent basis. But, the bottom line is, to allow more freedom, flexibility in schedules, and attract more top talent, companies may want to reevaluate their position on a remote workforce. Hopefully, with the right guidance, companies that are considering allowing employees to work from home can get off on the right foot, and set their remote workers up for success!