The number of U.S. employees who telecommute at least one day per month has skyrocketed from 9 percent in 1995 to 37 percent in 2015 -- an increase of more than 300 percent in 20 years.
This movement not only makes it easier for people to apply to their dream jobs, regardless of geographical constraints, but it’s also expanded the talent pool for big companies and small startups alike. Entrepreneurs can now assemble dream teams of skilled employees who work well together and get the job done, no matter where they are.
Even on a budding startup’s budget, telecommuting can allow for better collaboration and increased productivity. But without established standards for remote employees to follow, much of this potential is lost.
Working virtually, assessments are influenced by both verbal communication and reports of completed tasks. The fact may be that someone turned in an assignment late -- but what’s the rest of the story?
Maybe he was lazy and didn’t finish it in time, or perhaps he put in so much time and effort that it took longer than anticipated. If a leader hasn’t set forth a clear set of standards, it’s going to be difficult to parse the details and determine which scenario is true.
Different strokes for virtual folks.
Many companies mistakenly use the same standards for in-house and remote workers, failing to account for the unique communication and assessment needs virtual teams present.
At very large companies such as Amazon, for example, which FlexJobs announced as one of the top three businesses offering remote working opportunities in 2016, this kind of misstep could result in company-wide inefficiencies.
Here are four easy ways to create the standards that work best for remote rock stars:
1. Leaders need followers.
The creation of standards shouldn’t happen in a vacuum -- employees and management must collaborate to devise standards that define how to take action together. When everyone on the team feels positive and motivated about remote work, they are more likely to be successful working outside of the office.
At my company, a project manager explicitly declares the mission, and open discussion is encouraged to set the standards that everyone must verbally agree to before moving forward. This meeting of the minds creates trust, ensuring the team empowers the leader to lead. We end up with a solid team, and the mission document can be used as a template for similar projects.
2. Keep it simple.
If rules are straightforward, they’re easier to maintain.
Look at Disney’s dichotomous “on-stage” and “off-stage” customer service standards, for instance. Areas where staff members can decompress are considered “off-stage,” and the park itself is “on-stage” -- where personal issues are left at the door. This is one way Disney maintains high customer satisfaction. There’s no magic to it: Break down goals to their most basic components to make them easy for virtual teammates to follow.
3. Don’t take too much on at once.
Focus on one standard at a time. According to new research by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, 80 to 90 percent of all American workers want to work remotely at least half of the time. When it comes to making this transition, it's best to test the waters bit by bit in order to sufficiently explore each aspect of your new virtual model, rather than diving right in.
For example, when looking for ways to improve client interactions during the onboarding phase of a project, we realized we weren’t doing anything special in this area and wanted to raise the bar.
We’d been emailing clients an intro document with our team members’ pictures, names and roles, but we decided that those weren’t compelling enough. We added short employee bios to give clients a greater sense of personal connection. After examining one aspect of your virtual work standards, take just one more small step.
4. Watch out for repetition.
The initial set of rules won’t be perfect right off the bat, but you have to start somewhere. Borrowing standards from other companies or taking inspiration from books is great, but if you find you’re doing something over and over again, that’s an opportunity to reflect and set a standard based on that.
For example, if thank-you emails often distract you, set a standard that you don’t send them. Small, repetitive distractions such as this can add up to a lot of lost time, so set a course correction by creating rules to address or eliminate them.
Once guidelines are set, remote teams still need to be actively managed to make sure things are running smoothly. Creating simple, clear standards that are agreed upon by all in advance makes your job significantly easier and will help you get the most from your remote dream team.