How to Keep Your Remote Workforce From Growing Distant
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Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines when she banned most telecommuting in 2013. But Automattic, the company that owns WordPress, just took the opposite tack: It closed down its 15,000-square-foot San Francisco office space entirely, in favor of an entirely remote workforce.
Automattic didn't make that change because of rising rent prices or cramped cubicles. Its leaders made their decision because only a handful of employees actually went to the office on a daily basis, while the vast majority were already choosing to work from home. Despite Automattic's having operated in an open, airy and accommodating modern office space, no one actually wanted to be there.
That story is hardly an isolated one: The shift toward a much broader remote workforce is happening fast. According to a Gallup State of the American Workplace survey, 43 percent of workers polled said they'd spent some portion of their work time in 2016 working remotely. In addition, a CoSo Cloud study suggested that 77 percent of the remote employees it studied were more productive in a shorter space of time than office-bound employees.
So, the implicit message is that employers need to recognize and embrace this trend -- and make plans to develop successful, productive and connected company cultures among their remote workers.
Don't fear telecommuting.
In the past, many employers might have been wary about relying on a remote workforce, focusing on the common misconception that remote workers are lazy and underproductive. But,as the CoSo Cloud study showed, employees who work remotely are happier, healthier and more productive.
Remote work allows employees to create a more seamless work-life balance. Rather than meander from meeting to meeting, engage in long conversations over the watercooler or take multiple coffee breaks to pass the time, employees who work from home can set their own schedules and avoid numerous office distractions.
The key to successfully implementing a remote workforce is to offer the structure and resources necessary to keep remote employees connected to the business and engaged in their projects. In my own experience, a remote workforce is much more effective when it has a sense of cohesion. Just as happens in a regular office, people should feel that they are part of a team with common objectives, individual responsibilities and a unique character. The challenge is cultivating this feeling when people rarely, if ever, meet in person.
Making remote work for your team
A totally remote workforce can be an asset to a business if its leaders make an early effort to create a connected, effective team culture. Consider these strategies to help build such a culture:
1. Use the right mix of technology. Advances in technology have made remote work viable, with web tools that aid video conferencing, project and task management, customer service and more, making it increasingly seamless for teams to stay connected. Remote work has increased by 115 percent since 2005 among those workers who aren't self-employed and has grown almost 10 times faster than in-office employment, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com.
So the first thing entrepreneurs considering remote workforces need to do is ensure that technology is available to every employee. Workers need access to tools necessary for performing their responsibilities and for communicating quickly and effectively with one another.
In addition to ensuring access to your internal systems, you should set up chat, phone and video platforms that your team can use in place of in-person meetings or slow email responses. It's also helpful to have a tool in place that records employee activity, to prevent duplicate efforts. Our team works with Slack, and all of our tools are tied to that platform, making it a one-stop shop for workplace communication.
2. Plan for in-person activities. The social aspects -- or lack thereof -- of remote work are a critical consideration. Help organize in-person events in areas where many of your remote workers live. These events could range from a happy hour at a trendy New York City bar, to drinks and dinner at a seaside restaurant in Miami, to a coffee hour in Seattle.
My company hosts regular happy hours that are optional to attend but popular with many of our remote workers. Wisconsin company Vault Cargo Management does the same thing: Its six-person workforce meets occasionally in person even if they have no pressing business to discuss. Occasionally meeting in person outside of work can help foster a team's bonds.
Gallup found that an employee with a close friend at the workplace is 50 percent more satisfied and seven times likelier to be engaged in his or her job. Happy hours, company lunches, sports matches and volunteer shifts can all create opportunities for the kind of in-person bonding that increases job satisfaction.
3. Focus on engagement. Another survey from Gallup showed that fully remote workers studied were just as disengaged from their jobs as fully on-site workers, largely because they felt disconnected from co-workers and unsupported by managers. Ensure you are fostering communication among your employees -- and that you're engaged and available as well.
With my own remote teams, I try to be as present as possible. I want my employees to feel liberated while working remotely, but I also need them to know their performance expectations and deadlines remain the same. When individuals or groups accomplish something notable, I let the whole team know, and encourage shared celebration, highlighting my remote employees' connections to one another. Conversely, when an incident requires correction, I address the problem immediately.
4. Commit to core hours. Even if your workforce is entirely remote, you are still running a business, so employees need to be present for work. Requiring team members to be available via chat, phone or email during a set of core business hours each day creates baseline expectations for everyone. This expectation gives employees necessary structure without implementing a strict schedule.
I have set core hours for my teams, but I judge my teams on the basis of their efficiency and productivity, not the number of hours they work in a day. What's important to me is the quality of the time they spend working. I trust that the time my employees spend working will be productive, so even if one works just five or six hours in a day, I know those few hours will be worth more than the eight distracted hours they would have spent in an office.
In sum, a business with an entirely remote workforce centered on a supportive and connected culture is a force to be reckoned with. Happier, more productive employees will lead entrepreneurs at startups and established companies alike to long-term success.