August 10, 2014
This article is a follow-up to yesterday’s “Why Remote Work is Booming.”
The Internet – and all the technologies that piggyback on it – is responsible for a transformation in hiring practices in the last decade. With email, Skype, Basecamp, Google Docs, and the like, working across continents is not any different than working across cubicles.
However, distance does bring certain challenges that businesses have never had to deal with before. Let’s take a look at what these are and how successful businesses are overcoming them.
1. Get the right people
Remote work requires adequately qualified workers who are self-motivated and capable enough to perform their duties with minimal supervision. It also demands skilled managers who can build strong working relationships with teams located in different geographic pockets and enable them to perform as efficiently as possible.
2. Schedule working hours, establish reporting systems
Just because an employee works from home does not mean that regular work hours do not apply to him or her. Define clear times that remote employees are expected to be available. When all hands are on deck at the same time, this helps in getting things done quickly and efficiently. In the case of employees in different time zones, it helps to know the best time to reach them.
Set up reporting and communication channels with your remote teams that help in collaboration, supervision, and troubleshooting. This could be via a daily conference call with your remote teams, a daily chat over instant messenger, or any other platform that works best for your company to stay on top of work schedules.
3. Embrace the right technology
Technology is your best friend when dealing with remote teams. It goes without saying that an organization that encourages remote working ought to have mobile computing devices – laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Introducing a BYOD policy is another smart way to be flexible toward employees’ preferences, while simultaneously cutting overhead costs.
Besides the obvious email networks, use cloud computing to access, modify, and store data that the team works on. Project management and collaboration tools like Basecamp or WorkZone help remote teams contribute ideas, brainstorm on new projects, and stick to deadlines. They also help managers assign responsibilities and track progress clearly.
4. Set clear goals and expectations
In a regular workplace, employees learn about what is expected of them not just from the goals penned down in black and white, but also from subtle hints picked up during face-to-face interactions with their managers and other coworkers.
Remote workers lack the benefit of these numerous daily face-to-face interactions and water-cooler conversations that regular employees enjoy. For this reason, it becomes imperative to set clear expectations from them. Define micro and macro goals and long-term deliverables to the tiniest detail to avoid any miscommunication.
5. Make daily contact with head office teams
As pointed out earlier, remote workers lack the one-on-one interactions that colleagues in an office have on a daily basis. These interactions help in building a team spirit, in understanding workplace dynamics, and in building a sense of belonging among employees.
Foster these feelings in your remote workers by ensuring that they interact with their manager and other functional teams on a daily basis. This prevents them from feeling left out of the action at the workplace. It also engenders a seriousness that remote workers can sometimes lose due to working from home in non-corporate surroundings.
6. Incentivize productivity, provide regular feedback
Competition between coworkers often pushes them to excel and produce better results than the next guy. Remote workers often don’t have coworkers against whom they can measure their own performance. Keep your remote workers informed about how their work measures up. Offer helpful tips, tools, and resources that will help them overcome specific challenges more effectively.
Reward your remote teams every time they go above and beyond set expectations. This need not always be a monetary reward – a pat on the back or an email to the entire team recognizing exemplary work can equally raise spirits and spur motivation.
7. Be available for troubleshooting
Just as onsite teams have help on hand from their managers or other cross-functional teams, demonstrate to remote teams that they can reach out to key team members who work onsite anytime they face a stumbling block or need guidance for the way forward.
Keeping the lines of communication open is as important as the actual act of problem solving from remote locations.
8. Trust your team
Lastly, but most importantly, give your remote teams the twin gifts of breathing space and faith in their abilities. Trust them to deliver the goods the way they are meant to be and put away the urge to micromanage every small activity.
One of the reasons people opt to work remotely is the independence that they get. Don’t take away this crucial component that makes remote working attractive to your team members.
Remote workforces, while unimaginable just a couple of decades ago, are the new reality of our age. Instead of rebelling against lost local opportunities due to jobs migrating to other locations, individuals and organizations would do well to embrace the flexibility that remote working grants each of them.
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