For decades now, technology has made it possible for some employees to work wherever they choose. In New Zealand, natural disasters like the Christchurch earthquakes quickly provided a wake-up call about having remote working capabilities in place. But it took a global pandemic for many organisations to make the change on any sort of scale.
What people were less prepared for was the shift to leading remote workers on a continuous basis. Even as onsite teams began to return to their workplace, some employees had formed a preference for the flexibility of remote working. More organisations had also discovered the efficiencies and cost savings it enabled. For many team leaders however, managing remote workers was is a very new challenge.
This article provides six strategies to help organisations make the most of the new reality, which typically includes a mix of remote and onsite employees.
1. Define the goal
Before you start adding remote employees to your mix, it’s important to establish what you’re trying to achieve and how you’ll get there. This can involve anything from defining how remote employees can support your vision, purpose and values to detailed analysis of the effects on people and processes. Here are some questions to help you get started:
Do you have any roles that are not compatible with remote working? Will some people have to be onsite for some of their work time? Are there cross-team dependencies that mean members of different teams have to be onsite at the same time?
Are you willing to have remote employees in different towns, regions or countries/time zones? Would a more widely distributed workforce create opportunities to better serve customers? Could it help attract and retain the talent you need? If you have a high percentage of remote workers, would a smaller workplace be possible and offer advantages? Would several smaller premises in different locations add value? Obviously, there’s plenty to think about.
It’s important to include current employees in your planning. That way you can explore the down-sides, considerations and advantages they see for themselves, their roles, colleagues, customers and the organisation.
2. Ensure remote applicants are seeking more than flexibility
Sometimes the opportunity to work remotely can be such a priority that applicants may compromise on the jobs they apply for. It’s important that people applying to work remotely are just as keen on the role and committed to your organisation as people who would work onsite.
Here are some interview questions to consider:
- Why did you apply for this job?
- Are you aware of our values? (state them if necessary) Which ones do you feel most aligned to and why?
- If we appointed you to this role, what would you want to achieve in the first three months
- What do you see yourself doing in 12 months’ time?
- What can you tell us about this organisation and where did you get that information from?
If you’re not interviewing a candidate in person, be sure to use video so you don’t miss non-verbal responses and you can get to know each other a little better.
3. Set team meeting times fairly
When you have a mix of remote and onsite workers, a certain meeting time may not suit everyone. This can be particularly true when people live in different time zones, but is quite common even when everyone is based in the same country. If you can’t find a consistent time that suits everyone, it helps if people take turns at having the team meeting outside their normal hours. Giving everyone the option to join remotely can often make it easier all round.
4. Invest in communication and file sharing tools
The internet has made remote working possible, so it’s important to take advantage of the latest online tools. Even if you only have a few remote workers, these tools give everyone the option to work when and where they choose. This can be a real bonus when caring for a sick child, helping elderly parents or meeting a tradesperson to get something urgent done at home. Finally, if an emergency takes your premises out of the picture, if everyone is already using remote working tools your organisation can get up and running quite quickly.
Here are some examples of collaboration and remote working software solutions designed to streamline core business processes. Most of them integrate with each other, making it easy to build a combination that works with ease.
Email has its uses, but messaging apps like Slack can bring remote teams together like never before. Separate Slack channels provide easy communication feeds (text, audio, video) for different teams, projects and topics. Access to a channel can be by invitation only or open to all in your organisation. You can even set up channels for people in more than one organisation who are working together.
From important one-on-one conversations to full team meetings, video conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are the way to go. They make it very easy for people to connect and communicate in a realistic and rich way. This includes sharing a computer screen or presentation as you would in a physical meeting room with a projector and screen.
Online file sharing apps like Google Drive have taken the complexity out of making files and folders available to specific people or everyone in your organisation. They also let people work collaboratively on the same file, tracking who made what contribution and when. This includes additions, deletions and updates to the content, as well as comments and replies to the side.
When you give everyone in a project team online access to tools like Trello and Asana they can check progress and provide updates whenever they like. Gone are the days of waiting for the weekly project meeting and hoping everyone is there. Now questions can be asked, updates provided, tasks assigned, dependencies checked and completed steps recorded without delay at any time and from any location with internet access.
5. Ensure benefits and perks are consistent for all
Benefits for onsite employees – like free refreshments and snacks, catered lunches, use of the onsite gym, ergonomic furniture and at-desk massages – all help to build engagement and productivity. That’s why it’s important to put consistent investment into all employees.
You could consider some of the following for remote staff:
- A payment towards home office furniture and/or power and internet costs
- Regular snack or food deliveries
- Local gym membership
- Equal access to reward schemes, like Boost
Since remote employees may not have the cost of commuting, you could also offer onsite employees public transport cards. It’s all about showing you care, no matter where they happen to work from.
6. Make everyone feel part of the team
When you work at the same location as in-house employees, it’s easy to spend more time interacting with them. If you’re more aware of their needs than your remote team members’, you could end up favouring in-house workers without even realising it.
To keep remote employees fully engaged it’s important to avoid seeing them as freelancers. You need to be equally available and proactively monitor their needs. If you’re celebrating someone’s birthday or a team achievement, be sure to include your remote team members. You can send them a cup cake or two, if there’s a cake onsite, and set up a video meeting.
It’s also a good idea to bring your entire team together from time to time, if you can. This helps to encourage links between onsite and remote employees. You can even invite remote workers to choose an onsite buddy. It means they can informally stay in the loop and be part of the day-to-day workplace conversations.
Part of your plan to ensure equality between onsite and remote workers is to offer Boost employee benefits, because they work for everyone. Find out more.