All the tools for remote working have been at our disposal for a long time now – internet connectivity, advances in business broadband, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, centralised file sharing, cloud project management – but change happens slowly.
As millennials began to dominate the workforce, their calls for more flexible approaches to work became too loud to ignore. They were prepared to move jobs to get the flexibility they wanted, and the remote work movement finally broke through the last points of resistance. In 2018, 68% of global, full-time employees were working from home at least one a month.
The Benefits of Remote Working
- Remote workers are more productive
A study by Stanford Economics Professor Nicholas Bloom found that employees who worked from home were 13.5% more productive than those doing the same work in an office.
- It provides greater flexibility
Offering flexibility is the number one thing a company can do to appeal to today’s workforce. A global study by Ernst & Young highlighted that a lack of work flexibility was among the top reasons for millennials to leave their jobs.
- Remote workers are happier at work
A 2019 report by Owl Labs found that remote workers say they are happier in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers.
- Avoiding the dreaded commute
In the same report, remote workers cited ‘No Commute’ as one of the top reasons for remote working.
- It saves money…for everyone
Nicholas Bloom’s research above found that one company saved $1,900 per remote employee over a nine-month study period, simply on office space and furniture alone. For employees, cost savings include public transport, parking, petrol, and meals.
- Promoting work-life balance
A knock-on effect of greater flexibility, productivity and reduced commuting time is more time to spend with family and enjoying hobbies.
- Greater company loyalty
Companies who embrace remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t
- Employees feel more trusted and respected
Offering remote work has shown the potential to improve manager-employee relations. In a study performed at MIT, 62% of employees reported feeling more trusted and respected when given the option to work remotely.
The Challenges of Remote Working
- Difficulty switching off
Respondents in a 2019 report by Buffer cited unplugging after work as the biggest struggle for remote workers.
- It can be lonely
In the same report, loneliness was a close second.
- Coordinating time to communicate
In a study by Zogby Analytics, remote workers reported a lack of information from management and the timeliness of information as the biggest challenge of working from home.
- Time zone differences
When a company’s remote workforce spans different time zones, coordinating time to communicating can be more difficult.
- Home distractions
As cited in the Buffer report, another downside of working from home is the potential for a new set of distractions to interrupt flow.
- Fostering company culture
An organisation’s culture often relies on frequent, in-person encounters. The switch to remote working makes it even more important for leaders to communicate company values and foster company culture at every opportunity
- Remote working takes some getting used to
An interesting report by Slack in 2020 looked at the differences between experienced remote workers and newly remote workers. It found that those new to working from home are twice as likely as experienced remote workers to say that they’re now less productive and are more likely to struggle with communication and collaboration.
How to Manage Remote Teams
It’s easy to see the case for remote working. Employees expect to be afforded flexibility in their work and they’re not afraid to look elsewhere if your company can’t provide it. They save money, they save time, and they have more time to spend with family. Remote workers are generally happier, more productive and feel more respected. It appears resistance at this point is futile. Your ability to attract and retain the best talent and enable them to work to the best of their ability is largely reliant on whether you can embrace the shift to flexible working. The rest of this guide offers 6 key points of focus to help you and your team to overcome the challenges of remote work and reap all the very many benefits.
- Equip your team with everything they need
The first thing you need to do as the leader of your remote team, is to make sure they have everything they need to do their job effectively. Ideally, their remote work set up should be as good as, if not better than their in-office set up. If the shift to remote work has been sudden, there’s a good chance they need basic tools: It’s not reasonable to assume that everyone has all of the basics at home, and it’s your responsibility as a manager to make sure they do.
- Laptop • Mouse • Keyboard • Monitor • Software • Printer • Comfortable desk and chair • Phone or VoIP • High-speed internet connection with secure business broadband • Optional: A furry friend
Three Common Pitfalls for Newly Remote Workers
An easy trap to fall into. Advise employees to set a clear end point in their day and to be wary of sneaking a peak at the inbox after hours.
You’ll be setting up communications plans to combat this (discussed later) but in the meantime, it can help to flag this with your team and encourage them to connect regularly.
- Poor communication
Probably the biggest challenge for newly remote workers. Just as you will be prioritising good, constant communication, make it clear to them, especially in the early days, that if in doubt, communicate.
Trust Your Team
The top benefit of remote working for employees is the flexibility it gives them. A flexible work schedule makes it easy to juggle work, hobbies and family-time which ultimately reduces stress. Now they can walk the dogs and bring them home, instead of racing to drop them off at doggy day care on the way to work. They can skip the crowded 6pm gym session in favour of a mid-morning exercise break.
They can nip out for their 12pm dentist appointment instead of fighting the rest of the 9-5 community for a coveted evening slot. While some managers might wince at the thought, this is the type of flexibility that needs to be embraced to unleash the full benefits of remote working. Trust your team. Believe it or not, finding that balance between trust and accountability isn’t that difficult.
Set Clear Expectations
As great as they may be, your team members aren’t mind readers. So, it’s your responsibility to set clear expectations so they can perform in the way you need them to. When laid out clearly, fairly and with good intentions, setting expectations are in no way limiting for employees. They are enablers. Once the team is clear on what is expected of them, they can work in their own individual ways to best achieve their goals and be happier, more confident, less stressed, and more successful. There are many facets of remote working that your team will appreciate clear expectations around:
What meetings do you need individuals to attend? What channels should be used for different communications? Do you need to agree a timeframe for email replies, e.g. within 24 hours?
Is everyone clear on what they need to do? How long they have to do it? And to what standard?
What milestones can you set along the way to help keep the team on track in their tasks?
As long as your team is clear on what needs to be accomplished and is delivering that, then take the pressure off yourself and quit worrying so much about what’s being done at every minute of the working day. Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished. If the team is meeting those expectations, and doing it their way, then great. If not, then it’s time to take a closer look at the situation.
Get the Right Tools in Place
Cloud-based tools and software are the secret sauce that has made remote work a reality. There are dozens of accessible and affordable apps out there that can help you connect with and manage remote employees.
Project Management Tools:
Whether you’re in the office or remote, project management apps are an essential tool for managers. They allow you to organise projects and instantly see what’s being worked on, by who and what stage the project is at. They allow for collaboration by all team members and can act as a command and control, centralising important details and conversations that tend to get lost in email threads. They allow easy access to all project documents and easy communication around specific tasks.
Step 1: Define your needs
What pain points do you need the tool to solve? Write them down and check whether each tool can solve that problem. Disregard the tools that can’t.
Step 2: Do your research
Find out what your colleagues have used before. Talk to your peers in other companies, what do they use? Read the websites. Read online reviews.
Step 3: Trial the tool
If you ask, most companies will be happy to grant you a free trial and help show you how to get the maximum benefit from their tool. Get a small team together to take it for a test drive and work on a real project.
Step 4: Get your team’s feedback
How did the pilot project go? Would your team recommend using the tool? Did it make their workflow more efficient? Does it have the capability to integrate with other tools you’re using to take your processes to an even greater level?
Step 5: Is it worth the money?
Can you get a sense of how much time and stress the tool will save your team? Which of your identified pain points will be eradicated? Do you want to jump into a 12-month contract, or would a monthly subscription be a safer first step? At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your tools will only be as good as the processes you build with them. Fail to establish and engrain the processes and the tool could just as easily become a source of frustration rather than the game changer you’d hoped for, so take your time to plot out how they fit into your grand scheme of better enabling your team.
There’s no way around it, as you learn how to manage a remote team, there will be challenges. Some have been well documented, perhaps others are still to emerge. But what’s also clear is that if you can overcome those challenges, the benefits for you, your business, your team and their families are endless, and even life changing. Like so many facets of life, the key to success is communication.