The way we work is changing. Whilst the majority of us are currently classed as ‘office’ workers, based permanently at our organisation’s main office or site location, this is unlikely to be the case for very much longer. We are seeing an ever-increasing trend towards remote working, whether from home or from smaller satellite locations which could be just about anywhere on the planet.
There is a wealth of evidence which supports this shift of approach. Commuting time is reduced, with traffic on our roads and public transport networks decreasing proportionately; employee productivity and job satisfaction has also been reported as positively impacted as a result. Whether we like it or not, the shift to remote working is a trend which is here to stay.
What about our management practises?
The challenge we face is that, while technology is keeping pace with and indeed leading the way for remote working, our management practises are not. In order for remote workers to benefit from the increased productivity and job satisfaction which has been reported, it is vital that managers ensure that employee engagement levels are not affected by a move to working outside of the main organisation’s location.
Much like when it comes to managing those employees who are office based, there is no one size fits all approach to managing remote workers. There are however certain things which all managers can do when it comes to getting the best out of employees who are not office based.
During my latter years at Candyking, I had direct line management responsibility for the administration team within our Dublin office. Having never managed a remote workforce before, I had to learn on the job, and sought advice from the individuals themselves in terms of what they needed from me. Here, as a result of that experience, are five things to consider when managing a long distance relationship.
Let’s start with the blindingly obvious. Communication with remote workers seems like it should be the easiest thing to put into place, but, ironically, it’s often the first thing that’s forgotten.
The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’, can become uncomfortably true if we’re not careful. Working together, face to face, there is an opportunity for umpteen unscheduled conversations to take place each day between employee and line manager, and information flows continuously as a result. Without those unscheduled interactions, it is critical for communication touch points to be diarised and committed to. Discipline in communication is vitally important. Often, the easiest thing to move back in your diary to make space for a critical meeting is the 15 minute call you had scheduled with one of your remote workers. However, that failure to touch base is, ironically, likely to create more issues than almost anything else, due to the missed opportunity to share business critical information. Communication needs to be your priority, not at the bottom of your to do list.
Technology and Equipment
Rapid developments in technology mean that more and more jobs can now be carried out from a home (or other) location. However, make sure neither you nor your remote employee take the presence of that technology for granted. Identify exactly what technology, and what equipment, they need to maximise their efficiency outside of the office. Assess it, and invest in it appropriately to ensure that it’s working. Few things can be more damaging to a remote worker’s engagement levels than the frustration of having to spend 3 hours just trying to get onto the network.
Ways of Working
With your office based teams, again it’s easy to agree ways of working. A stand up huddle to share updates works perfectly first thing in the morning; employees needing support later in the day can just come over to your desk and ask for help. With your employees who aren’t office based, no, they can’t participate in these face to face, but that doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate a way of working to also include them. Does your huddle have to take place face to face? Can Skype or similar business communication tools be employed in order to connect everyone, regardless of location? Can software such as Trello be used to record team progress, rather than it relying on face to face conversations? By making subtle adjustments to your ways of working, you ensure that everyone can be effective, regardless of their location.
One of the things I’ve most heard remote workers say that they struggle with is the lack of colleague interaction. Again, technology means that location shouldn’t be a barrier to this. Trial some communication tools and seek feedback from your employees working away from your main location as to which they prefer. Actively allow them to seek out the ‘water-cooler’ conversations which would happen organically if they were physically in the same space as their colleagues. This helps to build and maintain relationships and will ensure that the team dynamic isn’t negatively impacted by location.
Face to Face Contact
Finally, while technology can make the experience of working remotely almost seamless, don’t forget the power of some occasional good old fashioned face to face contact. Dependent on your employees’ location, this could be anything from once a week to once a year – but use your annual conference, monthly away day, or even Christmas meal as a chance to occasionally get people all into the same space – and remind them that, wherever they might work physically, they’re all a hugely important and valued part of your team.