The ability to work from anywhere has not lost its appeal in the past few years. On the contrary, working remotely offers employees a higher degree of autonomy that allows them to feel better prepared to do a good job and have a rewarding work experience. However, engaging and managing remote employees is still a challenge for employers, as they struggle to find the right leadership style, the best tools and a reasonable return on investment.
According to Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network, teleworking increased 80% from 2005 to 2012 and it’s expected that regular teleworkers will total 3.9 million by 2016; that’s 21% more than the current level.
Engaging remote employees
Overall, working remotely breeds higher engagement, according to recent research by Gallup, but only in the case of employees who spend less than 20% of their total working time doing so.
Remote work offers the great advantage of freedom. Autonomy is a strong engagement driver for employees, empowering them to manage themselves efficiently, to feel confident in their abilities and to perform at a higher degree.
What employees appreciate most at this remote working lifestyle is that they can more easily achieve work-life balance. The flexibility of working remotely saves them time by eliminating commutes and controlling their own schedule, improving their productivity.
It also allows employees to fine tune their work schedule to their most productive hours of the day, while using the downtime to tackle their personal issues. (At Hppy we see that 30% of the unhappy moods registered at work are related to personal matters, making it difficult to fully concentrate during imposed working hours)
On the other hand, remote working touches upon another important engagement driver: camaraderie and collaboration. It’s true that many of the collaboration tools available today are doing an excellent job at bringing people as close together as possible, in an online environment, to break physical barriers. Still, the social connectivity that employees experience in a workplace can never be entirely replicated in the online environment.
A great way to address this challenge is to encourage and support remote employees to try co-working spaces or environments where they can work socially surrounded by people that they enjoy being with, even if these are not co-workers per se.
As a manager, you should focus on maximizing the positive aspects of remote work, and using them to keep employees engaged.
“The technology is here; it’s never been easier to communicate and collaborate with people anywhere, any time.”
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of “Remote: Office Not Required“
Here are some approaches you should try:
- Manage and plan for results on the job, not time spent on tasks. This can apply to employees in the office as well;
- Set-up a working schedule that respects the employee’s autonomy and set clear expectations as to when a situation requires an immediate connection;
- Extend that flexibility to a commonly-agreed reporting system, that sticks to the flexibility of remote working;
- Leverage technology tools (teleconferencing, online meeting and file-sharing services);
- Equip remote employees with the necessary resources to get the job done;
- Recognize that even though they are remote, they are part of a team;
- Keep them informed on the business status, to make sure that they are always connected with your company;
- Don’t neglect the social aspect. Try to engage in some personal meeting, where you can communicate openly and build a camaraderie relationship;
- Have a non-formal communication channel, where you can also discuss things outside of the subject of work;
- Encourage a team culture. Even if you’re mostly connected online, you can still agree on common values, ways of working and communication principles;
- Recognize their efforts and achievements;
- Don’t micromanage. Remote workers should have a high degree of responsibility and self-awareness based on which they were selected;
- Try to have at least two offline meetings along the year, where you get to spend a couple of days as a team, discussing both work and personal issues;
- Use a mood-monitoring tool to stay ahead of employees engagement levels;
- Have a feedback system in place, to make sure there are no pending issues, frustrations or ignored suggestions.
Effective tools for managing remote employees
1. Workplace flexibility savings calculator
Before you get started with remote working teams, you could try the Global Workplace Analytics Workplace Savings Calculator to assess your costs.
Companies enter the number of employees they have and calculate what the bottom line impact of those figures will be in terms of productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. Small and medium enterprises, where budget is limited, can benefit a lot from this calculator to assess where most of their money will be spent and saved.
We ourselves have used Trello to get organized. It’s a very visual project organization tool, that helps you organize information, tasks and documents, and can easily be synced with multiple devices.
You can organize your workspace in boards, drag and drop cards between lists on your board and create your own workflow.
37signals was founded back in 1999 as a web design firm and has evolved to being a software company with Basecamp as a name and as their main product. Many of its employees actually work remotely.
As a project management tool, Basecamp offers a great workspace where you can collaborate with a remote team, organize files, tasks and plan your projects. From our experience, it’s a very reliable and easy to use tool.
Suited to your creative needs, Mural.ly can be used for remote brainstorming and idea mapping. This tool facilitates interdisciplinary collaborations, assisting with research, creative thinking, idea sharing and organization.
HipChat is hosted group chat and video chat built for teams. The tool enables real-time collaboration with persistent chat rooms, file sharing and screen sharing.
Also, to keep some fun in the mix, it has custom emoticons and bots, animated GIFs, Instagram feeds, and Twitter notifications.
With Slack you can create open channels for projects, groups and topics that your team shares. It’s a versatile team communication system and it integrates with Twitter, Dropbox and Google Drive.
Some great features worth mentioning are autocomplete, configurable notifications for desktop, mobile and email, as well as a context search function.
DaPulse is great for organizing your workflow and keeping your team updated about project status. Using a visual roadmap, you can set goals, create boards, assign tasks, share files and stay in constant communication.
You can also comment live on documents, create a knowledge base and tag people. The tool is integrated with Pipedrive, Google Drive and Dropbox.
With Beesy.me you can easily manage collaborative projects, consolidate information and assign actions to group members. It’s a great note taking app that also creates automated to-do tasks from your notes, allowing you to prioritize and assign them to team members.
A team productivity tool to plan and coordinate actions, share files and rich media and get updates from your team in real time.
Hivedesk helps you keep track of remote employees’ time and productivity. The software will let you know which of your team members are currently online and which projects they’re working on. It also takes periodical screenshots of employees’ monitors so you can watch their progress as they work.
You can set up as many projects (and tasks within those projects) as you like. Another great feature is that employees can check-in and check-out throughout a work day allowing them to take breaks without having to notify you when they return. They can easily switch between projects and HiveDesk will track how much time they spend on each project.
The explosion of technological advancements has redefined every aspect of our lives, especially the way we work. Remote employees are now a mundane aspect of today’s workplace and managers have to equip themselves with the knowledge and resources to keep them engaged.
Flexibility is a great advantage to managing remote employees but it can also be a challenge. Every team is unique, so, as a leader, you need to adjust your strategy to the reality of your team and keep communication at the basis of your relationship.
What other tools and best practices could you share with us on managing remote employees?