While the pandemic has forced the hands of many reluctant employers, workers have been pushing for flexibility and remote working allowances for years. Family life, long, expensive commutes and external commitments are at the top of the list for most who would like a little flexibility in their lives.
We don’t think it’s that much to ask in a world where technology often means that desk jobs are doable from anywhere with an internet connection; as long as employees are hitting quotas, are happy and engaged, what’s not to like?
For employers, some reticence may come from a lack of experience and fear of change- both of which are completely understandable.
For anyone still on the fence or who is unsure of how to manage their team now that they are partially or fully remote, we’ve rounded up our top tips and tricks (based on years of experience and detailed research) below. You’ll also find details of our new Managing Remote Workers training course, available from February 2022.
Is Remote Working Productive?
In short? YES.
The research shows that yes, remote workers are just as productive, if not more so, than those who complete their work in a shared office environment. Factors include fewer distractions from employees, higher energy levels and a better sense of work-life balance.
Pre-Covid research of note:
- Forbes reported that American Express teleworkers handled 26% more calls and produced 43% more business than office-based workers.
- Stanford University carried out a large-scale project looking at 16,000 remote-working call centre employees over 9 months and reported a 13% increase in their performance.
- ConnectSolutions reported amazing results from their Remote Collaborative Worker Survey in 2015. They found that 77% of remote workers reported greater productivity; 30% of which accomplished more in less time and 24% achieved more in the same amount of time. 23% said they would willingly work longer hours to complete tasks and 52% were less likely to take time off, even if they were ill.
Covid-Era research of note:
- Mercer’s Flexible Working Survey, carried out through July and August 2020 with responses from 793 US employees, found that “More than 90% of employers say that productivity has stayed the same or improved with employees working remotely, and 82% say they will implement flexible working at a greater scale post-pandemic.”
- PWC repeated their ‘US Remote Work Survey’ in 2020 and 2021, the latter showing that 83% of employers felt the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% reporting the same in the previous year.
- Global Workplace Analytics report that some huge companies are seeing boosted productivity from remote workers: “Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive.”
Even our very own Co-Founder and CEO, Luke Todd, who has had the experience of managing remote workers since he was 25 years old (we won’t announce his current age to the world…!) had his misgivings about remote work at first, but has found that with the right management techniques and a little effort, company productivity and culture can be upheld:
“Lockdown really challenged my core belief that teams need to be physically together to build an effective business culture and a shared set of values. My team had expressed a preference for home-working pre-covid but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how it could work. Covid forced me to try, and now I am convinced that it can absolutely work- as long as you put the effort in.”– Luke Todd, Co-founder & CEO at MadeYou for ‘How Have Things Changed Since the Pandemic?’
Remote Work vs Hybrid: What is the Difference?
Enabling employees to work from home doesn’t mean an abrupt end to office life.
PWC’s survey showed that only 13% of executives are prepared to let go of the office for good and 87% of employees agree that the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships.
The research shows that many employers and employees alike are hoping that ‘normality’ will mean a mixture of remote and office-based work, otherwise known as hybrid working.
Hybrid working can mean splitting the week between remote and in-office days (e.g. 3 days at home, 2 days in the office- largely shown to be the most popular hybrid working solution for employees) or it can mean collaboration between office-based workers and those working remotely.
With the technology readily available to most businesses now, running a hybrid meeting should be a breeze. In-office employees can gather in a meeting room and remote workers can join the conversation via online conferencing tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
To make sure things run smoothly, it’s important to take a few extra steps before sitting down for your hybrid meeting…
- Send the invitation to the meeting well ahead of time and with a clear outline of the purpose and intended outcome.
- Before the meeting, supply all participants with a detailed agenda and consider time-stamping each point (long meetings can be draining in-person, your remote employees are likely to be even more fatigued).
- Supply links to any documentaion/research/information to avoid losing time as people search for what you’re referencing
- Choose a space with strong Wi-Fi and check that all equipment is working ahead of time.
Top tip: When it comes to remote meetings, always express the level of involvement you expect from all attendees- including if it’s video or just audio. Watch people’s body language but try not to be put off by what may appear to be distractions as long as they are participating at the level you need (they may just be referencing information on another screen/taking notes).
What to Consider Before Switching to Remote or Hybrid Working
Any decent manager will firstly consider what their employees want. Not all employees will want to work remotely but you may find that the majority do. Willingness has a significant impact on employee engagement, with Gallup Research suggesting that workers who go remote by choice show 60-80% more engagement in the work they do. If you find a split in your teams, hybrid working may well be the way forward.
You’ll need a specific ‘working from home’ policy, the necessary equipment and software should be supplied, and home assessments should be carried out to ensure that office equipment is set up ergonomically to avoid injury.
You’ll next need to consider how to approach timekeeping, goal-setting, how to assign tasks and track progress, as well as how to continue with your teams CPD and ensure their mental health remains a priority- there’s lots to think about!
Our new Managing Remote Workers course will equip you with all the information you need to ensure a successful transition to remote or hybrid working but some handy hints and tips for you to use straight away are below.
Successfully Managing Remote Workers
You and your employees will need to adapt to a new way of working. It may be that some broad rules can apply to all, but the likelihood is that your knowledge of the individuals on your team will need to come into play with some flexibility for their personality, living situation, performance levels, workflow and preferences.
Below are some considerations to keep in mind when drawing up your new approach:
Some managers may choose to utilise time-tracking software or ask their employees to stick to a traditional, rigid workday. However, it may be better to embrace this new way of working and accept that judging your team based on how many hours they spend at their desks may not be the best approach…
To manage workers remotely, you need to shift your thinking and become more results-driven. Are your team hitting their targets? Are they producing great work and working well together despite the physical distance? In this new world, it doesn’t matter when, where or how much time they spend in their chair as long as they are producing good quality work. Let that sink in.
Everyone on your team needs to know exactly what they should be working on and what outputs they are expected to deliver. We can no longer rely on over-arching job descriptions and being physically present to ensure that the job is being done.
Annual plans may have been a useful tool in the physical office environment, but they are less useful when managing remotely. Your team needs to know what they should be working on right now.
Instructions should be clear, specific and detail the manner in which the work should be done. Invite questions from the outset and answer them in full (rush through the initial project set-up at your peril). Ideally, you will know your team well and have an understanding of how best to communicate with them individually- some may be better off with written outlines while others might appreciate a phone call to chat it through.
Make sure not every call, message, email or meeting is focussed entirely on work. You would have chatted about that TV series you’re all obsessed with, that football game the other night or even each other’s romantic lives while making coffee in the office kitchen- personal conversations are still ok!
Maybe schedule a daily team coffee morning or simply make sure to check in on a personal level with your team once a week- but certainly never be scared to allow your team to ‘waste time’ talking about personal matters. It’s important for their continued collaboration and personal happiness and should be encouraged as long as it doesn’t impact negatively on the all-important results.
Setting Clear Goals
To be results-driven, you first need to know what results you want and need. If you don’t have a clear vision of ideal output in your mind, then you won’t know if you’re happy with your employee’s progress or not. You can’t steer your team towards an unknown goal so, with each project you spearhead, make sure you have clear markers of success in mind and that you communicate those clearly to your team.
It’s easier to have confidence that your team are cracking on when you can see their progress easily and clearly- this also avoids any under-communicating (which may result in missed deadlines or poor quality of work) or over-communicating (which may result in tasks actually taking longer to be completed, demotivation and a sense of micro-management).
Visual progress tracking also means you can catch any deviation from the game-plan in good time to deliver helpful feedback at the right moment and implement any necessary course adjustments.
The switch to remote working can feel all-consuming, but it’s vital not to overlook the training and development of your team. Continue to invest in their personal development and reap the benefits. Make sure you understand their goals, ambitions, wants and needs- benchmark these against your own wish list for their progression and then get stuck into a training plan for them (or allow them to arrange their own CPD with your wishes in mind).
Google and YouTube are great search engines for self-development videos and learning documents. Encourage your remote workers to carry out some searches to learn new things- you can even build this into their working week.
Continue with regular 1-2-1s but make them more frequent, quite informal, and focus on listening. Teams that feel invested in and supported will work that little bit harder for their managers. We promise.
This is all the more important for remote workers as you’re not able to say a simple ‘well done’ in the break room. Small gestures like a team shout out over Slack to highlight an employee’s personal ‘win’ or even a small gift sent to their door by way of a thank you will go such a long way.
As a manager, you’ll hopefully understand the importance of constructive, clear, future-paced feedback. This can be a challenging part of the job for some managers, even when face to face with their team- the added challenge when working remotely is that the small social cues that might have told you ‘Now is not the time…’ are not as easy to pick up on from behind a laptop screen.
Our advice is to proactively reach out to your team on a regular basis. Whether that be a scheduled individual video call or just a random phone call to each of your team members at some point during the week- the idea is to keep in touch well enough that you can pick up on their state of mind. Ask them what they’re working on, what’s gone well that week and what they’re struggling with while jumping at the opportunity to offer advice, lay on some praise or just offer an ear.
Top tip: When it comes to handling a conflict or confusion about something, get everyone who’s affected by the set-back on a video call, pronto. Have an open, professional discussion about the impact of the issue and mediate effectively to preserve and improve working relationships. Avoid the blame game at all times but encourage your team to feel confident in taking ownership of their mistakes- we’re all human.
Tools and Channels for Remote Working and Management
In this brave new world, you will need to embrace technology- but it’s not as scary as it may seem. The boom in remote and hybrid working has led to many innovative, cost-effective and easy to use solutions appearing on the market. Here’s a round-up of the tools we consider to be essentials:
For File Storage and Accessibility
- Google Drive
- Microsoft SharePoint
For Communication and Organisation
- Gmail or Outlook for emailing, shared calendars and scheduling
- Slack, Teams or WhatsApp for internal messaging (perfect for quick team updates or personal messages)
- Zoom or Microsoft Teams for video calling (perfect for 1-2-1s or team meetings)
For Project Management and Time Tracking
- Toggl or Time Doctor for time tracking
- Trello, AirTable, Asana, Monday or Jira for project management
If you send a detailed update via email, schedule a video call afterwards to make sure it was clear and to field any questions. Whenever you are communicating a team/group update, check understanding with all those affected by dropping them a quick individual message afterwards.
So, if you’ve read this and sensed some room for improvement in your own remote-management toolkit then maybe, just maybe, our new Managing Remote Workers course is for you. Invest in yourself and your team and set yourself up for success.