5 Ways to Prevent Remote Workers From Drifting
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The service industry sector has embraced remote work for many of its employees and managers, and by using geography as an advantage, service companies can leverage remote workers to improve field response time and ensure that critical issues are resolved quickly. With the advent of powerful collaboration tools, today’s remote workers are able to share critical data in real-time. This greatly improves decision making and has a positive impact on customer satisfaction.
My company has fewer than a dozen staff who come into an office each day. The rest of our employees and managers are field-based and work from our hospital office, home offices or coffee shops. Remote field managers are able to visit multiple customers daily and can meet regularly with our service technicians to discuss any work challenges, address performance issues or take them to lunch as a reward for outstanding service.
It is a good setup, but as time goes on, your remote staff can drift towards unproductive habits or become less engaged. We’ve been able to successfully address this drift by using some common sense management techniques.
1. Prioritize one platform for communication
Remote workers must make daily judgments regarding which communication tool to prioritize over others. If you’re currently using a mix of tools such as email, Slack, WebEx, Skype and Instant Messages, your employees are faced with multiple demands on their time that causes their attention to drift.
Try setting a priority for each tool so that the response expectations are clear. For example, we’ve simplified our communication use to focus on three core tools. Our first priority is Twist as our internal communications tool. Twist is similar to Slack and allows you to set up channels and threads for groups and topics, but also incorporates instant messaging for individuals and teams. Next is email, which we use when there is a need to add an external customer or partner to the conversation. For our shared calendar we use TeamUP, so it’s clear where our management team is deployed.
By setting the right priority, each employee understands where to focus their energy and attention on a daily basis.
2. Set a schedule and stick to it
Measuring productivity can be a challenge with remote workers unless the metrics are set and check-ins are done consistently. Employees should clearly understand what is expected, and they should have a set schedule to discuss their progress with their manager.
We use a combination of reporting tools to drive productivity. Written weekly reports — due each Friday — provide a method to document OKRs (objectives and key results), customer issues and resolutions, and any additional resource needs. This is coupled with bi-weekly one-on-one sessions for our managers and a monthly leadership meeting where we reflect on the big picture and ensure our team is aligned with the company’s goals.
The combination of written reports with individual and group meetings builds engagement and focus. This ensures our employees can remain productive regardless of their physical location and helps them avoid drifting towards less valuable work
3. Find one platform for information sharing
Service companies rely on real-time information sharing to solve customer concerns quickly before they grow into expensive problems. But, remote workers can become distracted and drift away from established documentation standards, which can lead to gaps in shared knowledge that may be essential to problem-solving.
It’s important to enforce a company standard for information sharing and documentation and monitor adherence frequently. You can add this to your one-on-one agenda and monthly meetings so that reinforcement is delivered consistently.
4. Keep remote workers accountable
Unfortunately, not every employee can succeed as a remote worker and your recruiting efforts should screen for the appropriate character traits. Remote workers are self-motivated, independent, responsible, confident and have high personal standards for the quality and caliber of their work.
If you find yourself wondering whether your remote worker has gone missing for the day, you may need to up the stakes on accountability through online timekeeping, random calls or establishing a daily check-in schedule. Building trust requires effort from both the employer and the employee, but don’t wait too long to address your concerns. Trust can drift away as more time passes.
5. Don't let distance dissolve company culture
It’s said that culture is what happens when you leave to room. Remote workers, in particular, present a real challenge to uncover any cultural misalignment or inconsistencies.
To ensure your remote workers are delivering on the company’s cultural experience, it’s important they are guided by the culture when it comes to decision-making. Remember that culture is observed and learned through interactions with other employees. Be sure you are encouraging your remote workers' participation in team meetings and company events. Try assigning a co-worker to partner with them on project work or customer visits.
Remote work is essential for most service companies and can be a rewarding experience for most employees. You can build a powerful competitive advantage with a highly responsive remote workforce by following a few simple techniques that help prevent employee drift.