There’s a reason more companies have been giving employees the opportunity to work remotely: It’s effective, according to Gallup Research. Companies offering flexibility tend to attract better talent and keep high performers longer. That ultimately leads to greater overall performance.
Now, we have another compelling reason. As public health officials urgently call for “social distancing” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, companies are forced to rethink remote work policies. Those offering remote work options could prove to be more resilient in the face of this and future “black swan” events. Those that don’t might find themselves scrambling to be productive while developing remote workflows on the fly.
Companies that offer remote work, but don’t have tools or processes in place, may suffer from communication gaps. Over time, these hurt morale and productivity. Likewise, a lack of transparency regarding expectations for remote workers could lead to widespread disengagement. That’s a potentially expensive problem for any organization.
Running a high-performing remote team requires you to be intentional about how you create a sense of inclusion and engagement among team members. Prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak or not, three strategies will improve the way your remote team works together.
1. Use tech to make employees feel like they’re at the office.
Remote work wouldn’t be possible without technology, but technology alone doesn’t make it possible. You need tools for staying connected, accessing servers remotely, managing projects, and communicating with team members in real time. Fortunately, these tools exist. It’s how you use them that will ultimately determine your success.
Many companies that rely on videoconferencing tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting confine their use to formal meetings between team members. That’s how Moovweb, an enterprise platform-as-a-service company, began enabling its daily team standup meeting. But that’s not where things ended. “Over time, that meeting got longer and longer, and they got in the habit of leaving the video conference open all day on their computers after that morning conference,” says Ajay Kapur, co-founder and CEO of Moovweb. “This helps the team feel less isolated and allows them to participate in the easy, impromptu communications that people are used to in office settings.”
2. Celebrate positive results.
If you want improved employee morale and productivity, look to employee engagement. Especially on teams that rely on a mix of remote and on-site workers, remote employees often feel they’ve fallen off the radar. That’s not a recipe for success. That’s why the founders of Aha!, which makes web-based road-mapping software with a fully remote team, created a culture prioritizing engagement.
Similarly, the team at Github, a software development platform that’s now a Microsoft subsidiary, has daily rituals. These are designed to recognize individual achievements and celebrate group success. For example, Github employees post successes to its online #toasts forum; employees post selfies “toasting” their fellow employees’ wins. Make sure to celebrate the accomplishments of team members who sit across the country as excitedly as you would if they sat across the room.
3. Don’t let team members burn the midnight oil.
Remote workers feel pressured to be constantly “on call.” Unfortunately, this mindset can quickly lead to burnout and severe health consequences over time. Workers need to understand when to step away from the computer. “It’s definitely important to have a hard stop,” says Jesse Parker, customer champion at Zapier, an app integration platform. “There is always work to be done, and you’ll have to accept that it’s not possible to finish all of it. If you try, you will burn out.”
In an office, it’s easy to spot signs of exhaustion and burnout. A remote team is naturally harder to monitor, but it can be done. An overworked remote employee could be logging way more than 40 hours. Likewise, he may procrastinate rather than face everything on his plate. Take note if a remote employee is working unusual hours — or working too few or too many hours. Communicate your concern, and work together to come up with a solution. Oftentimes, knowing you care about work-life balance is enough to motivate employees to make positive changes.
Even in a world without a pandemic, remote work can be a good idea — though not a flawless one. To ramp up your remote work efforts the right way, be intentional about your employee experience.