Well before the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to pivot, there has been a rapidly rising demand for remote work.*
Very recent Gartner research concludes that by 2030, the demand for remote work will increase 30%, largely due to the preference for remote work by Generation Z.1 As we now know, generational preferences are not the only force behind dramatic workplace changes. Social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us forward. Remote work is here, across the U.S. and the world.
With the dramatic increase in people working remotely, comes managerial worry about the overall impact on performance. Finding new ways to engage, motivate, and manage people can be challenging. How can managers be effective in this new situation? What are some of the best ways to do that? We asked managers for advice. Here are 6 tips that we think apply to any organization.
1. Trust your employees
Managers have often equated face-time with productivity and accountability. That need not be the case. Many companies report greater productivity among their teleworkers as compared to their office workers. For example, “Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive.”2 So, employee productivity is not about butts in seats. It’s about time management and trust. Work together to determine priorities. Find out what challenges your employees face and how you can help them get their jobs done.
2. Set communication expectations
Once you’ve made the decision to let people to work remotely, set expectations about availability, frequency of contact, responsiveness, and updates. On group conference calls make sure remote attendees have ample opportunity to speak; and they may need to interrupt because they cannot “read the room.” Be more deliberate about connecting with your people – by phone, email, IM or video conference. It helps establish trust and accountability. You may need different management tools, like hosted applications, to stay connected and confident about your employees’ productivity.
3. Be spontaneous
It’s our nature to engage. In the office, people drop by to ask a question, chat while making coffee in the break room, and spend the first few minutes of a meeting sharing weekend plans. There is structured and unstructured contact and as the manager, you should engage in unstructured contact with your team. Instead of always emailing remote employees, or only having phone calls for 1:1s or project meetings, try a casual a daily check in by phone, IM or video call. Consider the kind of engagement you have in an office environment and how you can use technology to recreate it in a virtual world.
4. Pay attention
It’s very easy to be distracted by email, IM, or the pull to multi-task while on a conference call. Don’t. With remote employees your time on the phone with them needs to be focused. Listen and give your full attention. You cannot see body language but sometimes you can hear it. With HD quality audio phone systems, you can pick up a sigh, or sound of frustration, or a happy tone. Listen for the voice signals.
5. Find ways to maintain motivation & engagement
Remote employees need different handling to maintain their motivation and engagement. People who feel connected and valued are more engaged and likely to stay with your organization. So, connect. Use tools where you can see each other face to face. Don’t skip on the chit chat. Get to know each other and foster comradery. You know you’ve reached success when you get the same quality of engagement from an employee two states away as one two cubes away. And, encourage remote employees to be in office for team or company-wide events if feasible.
6. Use collaboration tools
Give people, including yourself, the tools to be successful. With a distributed workforce, that can mean hosted file sharing and storage (Hosted SharePoint), Unified Communications – for audio/video calling and recording, screen sharing, instant messaging and presence status – digital whiteboards, project-management applications like Basecamp, or Slack, and more. The right set of tools will make it easy to stay in connected and engaged.
Simply working out of the office reduces employees’ organic ways of interacting with others, which can lead to lower overall engagement. Your job as a manager is to make sure that all of your employees feel connected, engaged, and trusted. With planning, some spontaneity, and the right collaboration tools you can keep the lines of engagement open, and productivity high.
*Originally published June 1, 2017, this post was updated for recent data on remote work and current events.
1Gartner Research 2020 Future of Work Hidden Trends: Rising Demand for Remote Work