I was traveling on a flight when I met Sue, a project manager at an IT company. As we got talking and sharing our experiences, she mentioned her challenges with managing the remote workers in her team. “I don’t want to be micromanaging my remote team members but how do I know if they are actually doing what’s being asked of them”, she said.
I agree that is a genuine concern of a manager but then where is the balance between transparency and trust.
For several days, I couldn’t get these perspectives of a remote worker and a manager out of my mind. Organizations set the work from home policy with all the good intentions. Then, where do they go wrong that they fail to reap its maximum benefits and create resentment along the way.
No one got the outcome that they wanted. On the contrary, it did more harm than good.
What we need to understand is that like everything else remote working is not perfect and it comes with its own challenges. I would like to highlight a very interesting statistic here.
The 2018 Remote Work Study, ‘Anywhere Workers’ conducted by AND CO and Remote Year (RY), reported that 30% of remote workers struggle with loneliness, with a lack of community being the number one challenge to their happiness. A third of remote workers have trouble shutting down at the end of the workday, and this has an impact on their productivity. And 20% struggle with time zone differences, which can complicate or slow timelines.
This means that we need to rise to the challenge and look for solutions.
At JustLogin, we know how challenging personal life can be, so we’d introduced Work from Home policy to let our employees deal with contractors coming to their place, a leaking water pipe, a babysitter issue, grief about their dead goldfish and not wanting their colleagues to see their red eyes, car engine issues, attend to their AC cleaner, prepare for their kids exams, recover from loose bowels or wait for their Amazon shopping to arrive etc.
But, we had strategically developed the culture, mindset, and policy in a way that it addresses these issues and get the best out of our remote employees.
Let me share the five key strategies we use to manage the challenges of remote working.
1. Set Clear Expectations with Employees
Setting clear expectations for remote workers is important in not only maintaining a steady workflow but also in ensuring more productive and engaged employees that seek meaning in their work. Whether it is a blanket 9 am to 5 pm work requirement or letting employees set their own schedules, the availability expectations should be outlined right from the beginning.
In our company, the general rule of thumb regarding work from home policy is remote employees must be contactable when colleagues or clients call, you must be able to answer or call back within 1 hour. Slack should be answered within a reasonable time (within the day) and emails should be replied within a reasonable time (within the day).
We clearly specify how the remote employee’s productivity will be measured. Work goals are communicated in measurable and quantifiable terms. We measure the work outcomes instead of just tracking the number of hours clocked.
2. Outline a Detailed “Work from Home” Policy
We have outlined a detailed ‘Work from Home’ policy that clearly defines what it means. For example, it is mentioned that the Work from Home Policy is NOT to catch up on your Netflix YouTube or Korean Drama; prepare for your wedding; drive a grab or deliver; clean your house, sleep, recover from illness ( we have sick leave for this) or take your child to the clinic (we have childcare leave for this)
This helps to clarify doubts and avoid confusion among employees when can they take work from home, what can they do or not do when working from home.
3. Invest in Reliable Technology Tools
We ensure that our remote employees have a good wifi setup, video conferencing and instant messaging tools, camera, headphones and a good place to set up video calls. This is the key because if remote workers lack a good technology and communication setup and are not able to download files, struggle to hear on conference calls or are not marked on meeting invites, then remote working fails.
4. Keep Up Team Culture
When employees work in an office, constant engagement between the co-workers occurs naturally. Due to the physically isolated nature of remote working, it is a bit natural for remote employees to develop a silo mindset and experience feelings of loneliness.
Therefore, we use tools like Slack, Skype for Business and Google Chat to keep all our team members including those working remotely in the loop.
After we rolled out remote working for our existing employees, we provided additional training and support to help them manage their time, productivity and ability to meet expectations. All this ensures that our culture is compliant and productive for remote working.
5. Monitoring and Trust
We don’t expect our managers excessively check on their remote workers and cause resentment. At the same time, we don’t want the remote worker to feel left out and less visible, or show productivity by over-working and doing more hours than their in-house counterparts.
Therefore, we constantly remind managers to give the remote workers breaking space and trust but at the same time hold them accountable for their work delivery. We basically tell the employees that ‘their tasks should not fall behind just because you are working from home’.
Remote working is not a passing trend but it has become a way of life. I would encourage organizations to align their workplace policies, practices, and tools to create a cordial environment for remote workers to be productive, efficient and happier; only then we can maximize the potential of remote working.
As the modern workplaces continue to grow and evolve, remote working becomes the norm. Don’t fall into the trap of “out of sight, out of mind”. Organizations need to align their workplace policies and practices to create a cordial environment for remote workers to be productive, efficient and happier.