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Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce

“Remote working practices are successful when there is a trust bond between both parties and again, employees who have that privilege are more likely to feel happier at work and loyal to their employer.”

Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce

This is no ordinary blog post. We’re not interested in sharing generic tips that lack practical knowledge or first-hand experience of managing a remote workforce.

We manage a remote team every day, and we take it very seriously. In this guide, we share our own experiences of building and managing a remote team in the virtual office industry, plus extensive research that supports our theories and backs our decisions.

Why? Because if it’s not done right, remote work can be a hassle. You need to approach it the right way. We believe the negative stories you hear about remote workers can be avoided with good hiring, planning, training and solid management practices. Running a virtual business takes forethought and dedication.

This guide offers advice on how to implement the right procedures to build a positive remote working culture and a happy, productive team.

Remote Workers are More Productive. Fact

There, we said it.

There’s a ton of solid research to support the claim that remote working boosts productivity and best of all, remote work and teleworking has been happening for decades, which means we have a good benchmark of data.

Even so, emptying your HQ of people isn’t the type of decision any entrepreneur takes lightly. So we’ve gathered a number of in-depth reports and surveys to help illustrate the productivity benefits of a remote working culture.

  • A Cisco Funded commissioned study polled more than 1,800 employees, 100 managers and 50 businesses across New Zealand and Australia and found that hybrid teleworkers – those who work remotely one to three days per week – rated their productivity significantly higher than office-based employees. Managers also found that hybrid teleworkers delivered better work and were absent less. For full-time teleworkers, their ratings increased a further 12%.
  • In 2014 a study by Canada Life Group found that homeworkers ranked their productivity at 7.7 out of 10, compared with a score of 6.5 given by office-based workers. The study also revealed that homeworkers took fewer sick days, which could be linked with work-related stress; office-based employees were almost six times more likely to feel stressed at work.
  • long-term study by Cardiff University found that 73% of workers put in more effort when working from home, with a further 39% often working additional hours to finish tasks or help colleagues, compared with 24% of office-based workers.
  • The University of Illinois found improvements in the task- and context-based performance of telecommuting employees. It found that telecommuters want to be seen as “good citizens” of the company in order to justify their flexible work arrangements. They even tend to overcompensate, which leads to higher work output and improvements in productivity.
  • Chinese company Ctrip conducted a two-year experiment with Stanford University that found a productivity boost among telecommuters equivalent to a full day’s work. The study found that work-from-home employees worked a true full-shift (or more) as opposed to arriving late to the office or leaving early. There was a 50% decrease in employee attrition along with fewer sick days. What’s more, the company saved almost $2,000 per employee on rent by reducing their office space.

Is Remote Working a Win-Win?

No business would shift to a remote working policy unless it represented significant gains. So what are they?

For employers, the primary motivation is gaining a more productive workforce. We’ve already seen some of the research on this topic, and we also know that employees are eager to prove the success of their remote working arrangement by working longer hours, delivering higher quality of work, being “better citizens” and generally overcompensating in their role.

Furthermore remote workers use less office space and facilities, and are more cost-effective.

A study by Global Workplace Analytics (updated in 2016) found that a typical business saves $11,000 per person per year by implementing a remote work agreement in which employees work from home at least half of the time.

The same resource also revealed that flexible work programs result in better employee satisfaction, an increase in employee empowerment, lower attrition rates, enhanced collaboration, and more.

For staff, the idea of bending over backwards to prove your worth isn’t exactly appealing.

But it’s not a prerequisite; this is often a by-product of feeling happier and more motivated at work. Because people who enjoy their work tend to spend longer doing it.

Other motivations are the prospect of better work-life balance, reduced commuting and travelling expenses, fewer distractions, reduced exposure to office politics, and simply having more free time.

There is also a sense of privilege. Remote working practices are successful when there is a trust bond between both parties and again, employees who have that privilege are more likely to feel happier at work and loyal to their employer.

Supporting these claims, a 2018 survey from FlexJobs identified the following employee motivations when searching for remote jobs:

  • Work-life balance (73%) was ranked more important than salary (70%) when evaluating a job prospect.
  • 76% of respondents said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.
  • 28% of respondents said they would take a pay cut in exchange for the option to telecommute.
  • Only 8% of workers said they prefer going to the office to do important work.

The Pros of Remote Working are Clear; Now for the Cons.

For remote working to really work, it needs total buy-in from both parties. Trust is essential, as is regular communication.

Moving from the office to a home or alternative work environment is not an easy change. Employees suddenly switch to a quiet, isolated environment, and managers must put aside distrustful tendencies to envision employees slacking off instead of working diligently.

Other challenges include technical glitches, such as difficulties accessing the secure network or problems with home broadband.

While you can’t expect to overcome all of these challenges overnight, it is important to lay out remote working policies to enable you – and your employees – to work through them.

Tips for Creating a Remote Work Team

Research by Upwork in 2018 found that two-thirds of US hiring managers have the resources to support a remote workforce, yet the majority (57%) lack a remote work policy.

These 10 tips will help you put the right processes in place to create a successful remote working culture in your business.

1. Set Clear Expectations

Do you expect remote employees to work 9-5 and take 1-hour lunch breaks? Whatever you expect of them, make sure they’re fully aware and where necessary, make it part of their employment contract. Smaller details, such as setting out an acceptable response time to emails, should be listed in a shared document that’s easily accessed by both parties.

2. Document Regular Processes

Documentation becomes a whole lot more necessary when there’s distance between you and your remote team. Documented processes provide a useful guideline on how to do any given task, and provide a little assurance without any extra effort. Remember, remote workers can’t simply turn up at your desk to ask a question, and those little assurances go a long way towards supporting remote teams, particularly those who are new to the remote lifestyle.

Check out this detailed resource on how to build process for remote teams without bringing in consultants. Another helpful resource is from Hubstaff, which takes a deep dive into documentation and goes into meaty detail on how process maps, flow charts and blueprints help remote teams work more efficiently.

3. Maintain a Feedback Loop

Watch out for one-way conversations. If a remote employee offers feedback or asks a question and doesn’t receive a response, they can quickly feel isolated. Likewise, a manager whose request falls on deaf ears will soon lose trust in their remote team’s ability to operate efficiently. So, be sure to maintain feedback – even if it’s a quick “Thanks, I’ll look into it.”

4. Monitor Contributions

Remote workers are often called upon to join teleconference meetings or video calls. If you happen to notice that someone is not contributing regularly to the conversation, follow up with that person privately. Consider ringing or messaging them to ask for feedback.

Make sure that they know their voice will be heard and encourage them to voice any questions or feedback during your meetings. In fact, it may help to speak directly to specific people on the call to ensure they’re focused and clear on what they need to do.

5. Structure Group Calls by Project

During group calls, there are times when the topic of conversation is not relevant to certain members of staff. When that happens, there is a temptation for that person to drift away from the conversation to read emails or multi-task. To avoid wasted time, structure your calls by project, or task, and when certain people are no longer needed you can allow them to leave the call and carry on with their day. That way, you keep the group focused and maximize everybody’s meeting time.

6. Choose Your Tools Wisely

We can’t stress this enough; the right tools are absolutely vital for a successful remote working arrangement. Email is bad enough in an office environment, and it can quickly become a black hole of unread messages and long complex chains.

When working remotely, a messaging app is a great way to ask a quick question or check up on a task. Slack is a brilliant messaging tool with tons of other facilities. Skype is handy for messaging and also doubles-up as a video conferencing tool, plus most people already have the app and are familiar with how it works. If using Skype, remember to ask employees to set up a new account for work-related conversations, otherwise there’s too much crossover between work and personal contacts.

7. Take Project Management Online

When you’re sitting next to your team, it’s easy to check-in on certain tasks or projects. When you’re working remotely, use a centralized tool like Asana to provide progress updates. It helps keep projects humming along smoothly and enables you to assign tasks and set deadlines. Asana sends timely reminders about upcoming deadlines and new tasks too, which means less person-to-person chasing.

8. Share Documents

Cloud storage and shared folders enable work to be stored securely in one place, and shared documents are a boon for instant feedback. Google Docs is the obvious choice; it’s intuitive and lets multiple people work on the same document, with or without editing rights, and users receive notifications when changes have been proposed. It’s essential for remote working and reduces the time-consuming burden of sending documents back-and-forth over email.

9. Schedule Regular Catch-Ups

Unsurprisingly, a large part of setting up a successful remote working culture is to stay in regular touch with your team, using the right tools and policies. This is really important. Keep up regular communication with remote workers, perhaps more than is necessary, as it will help minimize the threat of isolation.

Keep a recurring meeting in your calendar, be it a video call or a regular telephone conversation, which could be 2-3 times per week or even daily, depending on workloads and projects. It gives each team member a deadline to work towards, because no-one likes joining a meeting without something to report.

10. Make Time for Idle Chat

Remember those watercooler moments back at the office? While remote teams can’t recreate them in person, you can still make time for idle talk. Use your instant chat tool for a simple “How was your weekend?” or spend the first 5 minutes of every meeting talking about nothing in particular. Ask your remote employees about their day, ask about the weather, ask about their cat… It’s one more step towards building a stronger team culture, regardless of the distance between you.

Over to You

So, that’s how we help our remote team work more productively. It takes a lot of time and practice to get it right. No two company cultures are the same and there’s no failsafe blueprint, so there will be a considerable amount of trial-and-error involved before you find that magic formula. But trust us, it’s worth the effort. Once you find and implement the right procedures you’ll have all the ingredients you need to grow your company with the solid support of a happy and productive remote team. Let us know what works for you!