Getting the Most From Your Remote Workforce
The trend of working remotely is steadily on the rise, and is already a normal workplace occurrence in the U.S. and abroad. A key question many employers with remote teams ask is: how effieciently is my team working while out of the office? According to a recent poll, 30 percent of U.S. workers have telecommuted, up from nine percent in 1995. More significantly, 55 percent of college graduates have telecommuted and 58 percent of Americans believe remote workers are just as productive as those who work in an office setting. While a majority of people acknowledge the promise of working remotely, what will it take to ensure the other 42 percent see the efficiency of remote work?
Here are a few strategies that can help make your remote teams be more responsive, productive and motivated:
1. Improved communication.
In virtual environments it’s especially important to create opportunities for team members to “chat” both formally and informally since they don’t have regular in-person interactions. Clear communication minimizes task overlap, thereby making teams more efficient. Some effective communication options are online chat rooms, project management software, video conferencing, or collaboration tools. Workers shouldn’t underestimate the power of speaking either; sometimes it’s easiest to pick up the phone and talk out loud about an idea or issue. Improved communication isn’t just about better practices for chatting or meeting. Another key way to improve this is instituting documented, standardized ways of working that can be constantly refined to suit the needs and preferences of the team. Minute details such as how virtual folders and documents should be labeled can drastically improve organization, and cut down on unnecessary communication when your team is spread out.
2. Chart productivity.
With remote teams it's critical that you measure their productivity to see what works and what needs improvement. The good news is that working remotely often boosts an employee’s productivity. A study showed that people who worked from home were able to do nearly an extra workday’s worth of tasks in a week, and also resigned half as much as people who worked from the office. To be on track to accomplish team goals, identify the key indicators of success for teams and individuals and look into tools for time-tracking and task-management. Having regular catch-ups with individuals can help determine how each person is working and what they can do to be more successful at their job. Give your remote workers at least a full hour every week of your undivided time as their own "open door policy" to address any factors that might be holding them back from success.
3. Hire Appropriately.
One of the biggest benefits of having remote workers is being able to hire the best candidates, regardless of where they are based. Recruit people who are open to working virtually and who are willing to work with remote team members. If telecommuting plays a significant role in your company, it is wise to bring this up during the hiring process. If employees have never had the experience of working remote, allow them a trial run where they work remote once a week for a month or perhaps for a whole week to see how well they adapt. Working from home or from a coffee shop isn’t for everyone, so ensuring you have the right people before signing a contractual commitment goes a long way.
4. Team Atmosphere.
Be mindful to let remote workers know they are contributing to the company's goals, and to make them feel like they are part of the “crew”. It is crucial to keep remote workers updated on how the company is doing which can be done in a variety of ways including company-wide meetings or weekly newsletters. Provide remote workers with the same perks and opportunities as their in-office counterparts. Include them in office contests and mail them company branded swag like pens and hoodies. Send them cards or gifts for birthdays and special occasions. Invite them to company events if they’re in the area and encourage them to work from the office if and when they desire.
5. Troubleshooting Availability.
Have designated onsite employees on hand so that remote workers can reach out to onsite team members anytime they face a stumbling block or need specific guidance for a particular challenge. Remote workers should feel empowered to get help from other teammates and never feel ostracized or ignored. There is nothing worse than a remote employee becoming frustrated because they can’t do their best work due to lack of support.
Interacting with virtual team members can be understandably frustrating – especially when you are first starting out. You might not have any idea what your team is working on at a given time, you also may have difficulty reaching them immediately and it can be especially tasking to find and hire people remotely. The good news is these are valid concerns that can be remedied with the right approach so that you can get the best out of your remote teams.
Leif Hartwig is a seasoned entrepreneur who has spent his career helping small businesses accelerate growth and revenues. He founded Bolste to develop an easy-to-use tool to help today’s entrepreneurs, small businesses and teams within larger organizations quickly increase productivity and efficiency. For more information about Leif and/or Bolste, please visit www.bolste.com.