In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations have transitioned their employees to a remote-based workstyle. An article by Nicholas Bloom, economist at Standard University shows that 42 percent of workers are now remote based due to the global pandemic, a trend that is likely to continue after the health crisis has passed.
Despite the benefits of telecommuting in terms of protecting employee health, many organizations have not devised a successful strategy. In the majority of cases, this lack of strategy stems from the inexperience of managers in effectively managing a remote team due to managers not having (or recognizing) critical resources to ensure consistent performance and employee engagement.
The following discussion will provide managers with guidance in implementing a successful remote program across the organization.
Decide Which Jobs Are Appropriate
The first step is to decide which jobs are appropriate for remote-based work. Generally speaking, remote-based work is suitable for roles that can be performed via computer or telephone and do not necessitate the use of on-site equipment. Such roles could be customer service, help desk, tele-health counseling, medical billing and coders, accounting and recruiting professionals, as well as writers and graphic designers.
Jobs not appropriate for remote work include
- Any role that requires employees be onsite to perform the tasks such as emergency room physicians and nurses, home care nurses and aides, as well as hospitality and retail employees;
- Any role that requires the need to access equipment that cannot be moved offsite;
- Roles that require access to highly sensitive information, such as patient medical records or government databases.
Creating a Remote-Friendly Workplace
The transition to a remote based work environment will require significant cultural adjustments which will necessitate that organizational leaders revamp their workforce management strategy. In essence, managers will need to evaluate employee performance by results, rather than by office or facility presence. Before transitioning to remote-based teams, managers should consider the following guidelines to foster success:
- Leverage technology to maintain open communication channels with the remote-based team. Tools such as Slack enable easy communication between employees and managers.
- Restructure how roles are performed; e.g., transition any paper customer records to online databases.
- Schedule frequent virtual meetings and team activities to foster inclusion
- In the same way that managers have concerns regarding lack of accountability on the part of remote employees, so remote employees have concerns regarding feeling part of a team and being engaged with the culture overall. To build employee morale, managers should include remote teams in company-wide meetings, special events, such as reward ceremonies or retreats, as well as staff luncheons, and training programs.
Below are some suggestions to assist managers in fostering remote-based employee engagement:
- Adopt an “autonomy with accountability” philosophy. This means that, once performance expectations are voiced, managers entrust remote teams to complete their tasks without the need for micromanaging but also expect to see verifiable results via either written reports or spreadsheets.
- Assign challenging projects that require collaboration to foster a culture of collaboration and inclusion.
- Where possible, managers should work on a remote basis as this can be a valuable method in discovering the benefits, as well as challenges which will help build more effective leadership strategies.
- Respect the perspectives of remote teams in terms of needed resources and support, as well as the time frame for completing tasks.
- Encourage employee input when setting team goals to obtain buy-in to the project, while also fostering employee engagement.
- Assign tasks in an equitable manner between onsite and remote employees. For example, customer service teams are often split between onsite and remote so it’s important that calls are routed so that all representatives are provided equal opportunities to perform.
- Remain flexible with policies and procedures and be willing to revise where needed. Systems that work well within an office environment may meet with challenges when transitioned to remote teams. For example, it may seem a good idea to suspend routines but maintaining set schedules helps to lessen remote employee anxiety from the transition while also fostering a team environment.
Technology For Remote Success
Prior to transitioning to a remote workstyle, it’s important to first decide on the technology resources that will be needed so remote teams can perform successfully. The following list provides examples of technology options for remote-based work:
- Laptop computers or tablets
- Consistent Internet with a high-speed connection
- E-mail provider, whether Gmail, Office 365 or another option
- Landline or/mobile phone with a steady signal
- Scanner, fax machine or access to digital signature options, such as Adobe or DocuSign
- Chat rooms; e.g., G-chat or Slack
- Virtual meeting software, such as Zoom or GoogleMeet
- File Sharing program, such as Google Drive or Dropbox
- Collaboration software (e.g., chat rooms, water coolers, virtual white boards, Intranet discussion boards, etc.)
Since sensitive company information will be dispersed among the remote team, all aspects of the technology resources you choose, whether audio, video or files, need to be protected with high-level encryption software, that includes password protection and encrypted file storage. This protection is especially critical for any remote team members that may use a wireless connection as there are significant security risks within these networks.
Benefits of Virtual Technology
- Establishes a consistent mode of communication between managers and remote teams via phone, email, chat rooms, Intranet, IMs and virtual meetings. Technology, such as Slack and virtual water coolers also foster more informal interactions among the remote team so they can remain in touch with work-related questions, or engage in more socially-oriented discussions.
- By participating in virtual meetings and conferences, managers can be assured that remote team members are actively engaged with their colleagues and overall culture of the organization which reduces feelings of alienation and “other-ness.” In addition, virtual conference software which includes presence detection systems allows both managers and remote team members to see who is in attendance and participating and is a good tool for evaluating both engagement and job performance.
- Secure file sharing means that sensitive and confidential company documents are stored on the application’s server rather than employees’ personal equipment.
Cultivate a Culture of Excellence
The most effective method for establishing a culture of excellence is for managers to implement a formal process to manage employee expectations and develop consistent team communication.
Create Clear Expectations For Team Performance And Monitor
Prior to transitioning to a remote-based work environment, managers should clearly communicate performance expectations, focusing on short, concrete objectives. With a remote-based team, performance should be evaluated based on objective, verifiable results than specific behaviors, since these will be difficult to measure with a remote team. Quality, quantity and deadlines are three measures that can be readily evaluated whether the team works onsite or remotely. Examples of observable results include project reports, number of calls made and completed, etc. Results can be uploaded to shared drives for review by the entire team. Important is that managers offer frequent support and guidance via virtual meetings and use of chat rooms to maintain team focus.
This strategy serves two purposes: 1) builds consistent communication between managers and their remote teams; and 2) ensures that remote employees are focused on the right activities and don’t move in a wrong direction.
With a pandemic that affects communities and workplaces across the globe, remote-based work is the most effective method for ensuring the health and safety of employees. While managers will likely hit a few barriers during early transition periods, once they identify solutions, the organization as a whole will reap many benefits that remote-based workstyle offers and, perhaps, permanently transition to this mode of work after the crisis is over. The future of work is now!