The remote worker is almost as old as the internet itself, so we’ve had more than a couple of decades to learn how to manage employees who aren’t physically present. But as we see this trend increase, it’s clear that effectively managing an employee whose “office” is in their home with an internet connection and a computer doesn’t mean that there’s a truly symbiotic relationship between a manager and their remote, work-from-home reports. It’s a lot more complicated than that. In fact, the learning curve has turned out to be steeper than any of us anticipated, and this specific employee group continues to be severely underrepresented despite their very unique needs.
A recent survey of 2,000 frontline workers and 2,000 managers in the U.S. and the U.K. shows that there is a major disconnect between workers on the front lines and business leaders. In fact, almost 90% of these employees feel connected to direct co-workers, but less than 15% feel connected to HQ. Worse, just 3% feel connected to their C-suite. That disconnect is affecting the bottom line. Less than half of workers say they share ideas with senior team members, and more than half say they feel voiceless. That can contribute to an environment where suggestions go unsaid and innovative ideas are stifled.
These numbers provide some important food for thought. Are you at risk of losing exceptional remote-based talent because you’re unclear on how to best manage and retain those workers, especially if your “work from home” policy extends longer than previously anticipated? (Which we know many companies are facing now, with COVID-19 impacting businesses worldwide.) During a crisis—or if someone is at home with family, or sick, etc.—people may need to take a more flexible approach. To better accommodate families and work in general during these times, have frequent team check-ins to understand your team’s needs and be sensitive to their well-being.
It’s time to meet these challenges head-on because the future is only getting more distributed. Here’s how leadership can navigate this evolving modern work environment and create an organization that values each employee.
Onboarding, Training and Managing Remote Workers
For an in-office worker, the first day on the job is usually filled with introductions, new equipment, and the crucial first lunch. But the first day for remote workers looks very different.
Just because a remote or deskless worker isn’t at the office doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same onboarding experience and training as the rest of your team. Send a welcome package in the mail along with necessary equipment (where applicable) and include a training schedule as well as some introductory instructions (login information for work accounts, for example). Also, include handbooks and style guides. Assign a work mentor to whom the new employee can turn for help and advice. Better yet, take advantage of the tools at your disposal, like creating a bot that will automate monthly check-ins, or create a direct chat where you can take advantage of immediate, one-on-one feedback. Entire businesses can also benefit from newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and more. We must be open to these ideas and be unafraid of pushing the boundaries of innovation that enable greater and more interesting connections.
From the beginning, managers of remote and distributed employees should be asking questions about preferences for minor things that make a big difference, such as feedback style and meeting preferences (for example, do they prefer videoconferencing for one-on-ones or group catch-ups?). Create a “How I Work” document and ask your direct reports to fill it out. You can capture very important information, and it shows you’re being mindful, thoughtful and preferential to what works for them. It’s also important to regularly communicate and check for context. When teams are dispersed, it is difficult to know who has been exposed to project knowledge and updates, so reinforcing context in writing, during one-on-ones and team meetings is important.
Managers should also make a list of where remote employees can find helpful resources, from important company updates to how to reach IT for technical issues. Ensure your organization has enterprise tools that are available on mobile devices and have little barrier to entry for frontline employees who may not be in a home office.
Encourage Engagement While Your Workforce Is Distributed
The old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” can certainly apply to those not in the office. It’s easy for remote workers to feel they aren’t heard, and it can be difficult to collaborate with people who aren’t physically present.
It would seem obvious that the correct way to address this disconnect would be to invest heavily in collaboration tools. But the same survey shows that while 95% of business leaders recognize the value of collaboration tools, only 56% have rolled them out.
If your organization is serious about tapping into the potential of remote workers, it needs to invest in the best technologies to make sure collaboration tools are not just suggested but are incorporated into all processes to ensure that all workers, remote or at HQ, can have their contributions equally seen and heard.
So why not make this a fun process for your workforce while they work distributed? Perhaps make a company-wide “work where you want” day, and have your workers send a photo to your HR team for them to post on a company forum somewhere to showcase all the different places and ways that your colleagues work, best practices or work-from-home hacks that colleagues can share with each other.
Remote workers also need to be included in things such as all-hands meetings hosted by the CEO via videoconferencing and Q&As that can be watched live or bookmarked to view later in local time zones.
Adapting to Changing Environments and Work Culture
As organizations become more global and increasingly mobile, leaders need new ways to build, scale and sustain culture across their organizations. Technology is the key to creating an open, transparent culture. After all, when you connect people and give them access to information, you can change culture and transform your business. It’s no surprise that working alone can be isolating, so it’s important to leverage the right technology that not only connects everyone, but makes them feel physically present.
However, technology is only one influential part here. The people make the largest impact. If you have your mission and vision written on your website, provide some swag for your remote workers to keep on their desks at home—for instance, printed on a calendar, a water bottle, a notepad, etc. Remote workers aren’t just looking for a connection to each other but to the very vision they believed in when accepting their current role.
Helping Change Managers’ Mindsets About Distributed/Remote Organizations
Managers, executives and C-suite leaders should focus on where the best talent resides and realize that those employees may not always be located in the corporate headquarters or local office. Alternatively, as the world changes, it may be a safety precaution or requirement that must be taken and may be prolonged due to unexpected conditions.
This means understanding that what’s best for your organization may mean enabling workers across the globe who are best suited to meet your bottom line, assist your customers and serve your business, from a desk or the front line. Leadership must embrace this as well and ensure that employees know that the quality of their work will remain more important than the location they’re getting their work done. As leadership encourages a forward-thinking organization, you will retain and attract like-minded employees who end up being great colleagues.
When there are annual meetings, remote and distributed employees need to be there. And if they can’t attend holiday functions, make sure to make them feel seen and valued by sending a treat (cookies can do wonders). Remember that all the perks of being an in-office employee extend to distributed and remote employees.
When it comes to being a distributed organization, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. The trick is to get strategic about the tools at your disposal and ensure your leadership team is equipped with a set of tools to best manage their direct reports, whether in-office or online. You’ll also need to shift the organization’s mindset to recognize that teams extend beyond just the people in the office.
Leadership teams and managers also need to ensure they’re collecting feedback and sentiment about the distributed employees they manage. That will ensure that corporate offices are aware of pain points and how to best incorporate and provide feedback with the goal of creating a unified, collaborative environment that prioritizes open communication and support.
While we can’t predict what will happen with the world in a few months, weeks or days, we can follow the trends that point to the fact that remote workers aren’t going anywhere, and companies need to adapt to remain competitive. Hopefully, leadership teams will equip managers with tools to feel heard, gather feedback, celebrate wins, understand work preferences and ensure connection to global headquarters.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained here. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax or financial advisors to understand the tax, financial and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this article.