Working with Remote Employees – How to Tackle the Challenges
I gathered with a bunch of business execs from small, medium, and large companies, in a range of industries from the service sector to retail. We began discussing our true feelings about our increasingly remote-friendly workplaces. I’m not about to share any huge reveals that you haven’t already thought of or experienced yourself. As expected, many noted the advantages of attracting a broad, talented workforce, employees’ embrace of flexibility, lower costs, and reduced commutes. Naysayers articulated concerns about inefficiency, longer time to ramp up, reductions in creativity, lack of mentorship, and impact on corporate culture. I will share my learning about what organizations are doing to maximize the positive implications of remote work and alleviate the challenges.
Understand the Challenge of Remote Employees
By discussing our unique situations, we quickly appreciated that the effectiveness of remote work differs in every organization. How well remote employment works depends on a host of factors:
- The nature of the business — different sorts of businesses have different needs. An optimal solution for a software provider or graphic designer might be different from that of a commerce company or print shop, for instance.
- History of existing relationships — strong prior relationships are more easily sustained than the development of new relationships.
- Efforts of managers to bridge the geographic divides — those who believe in the benefits of collaboration may have quickly built structures and norms to foster team interaction
- Communication of expectations to young workers — organizations with young people entering the workforce may need to invest more time into setting expectations for new, remote employees
- Willingness and/or eagerness of workers to be present in the office — depending on an employee’s job, stage of life, housing circumstances, personal social connections, and length of commute, they might have different wishes to work at or away from an office.
- Business size and location — organizations located in a large city or remote community may have unique requirements due to their location
All of these factors affect managers’ and executives’ thinking about the effectiveness of remote workers and their readiness to embrace it. Yet, all agreed that collaboration and training enhance performance. Therefore, the question for all of us becomes, how do we do that? How can managers embrace the positives of flexible work schedules AND tackle the challenges of remote workers? The following techniques may help organizations to onboard new employees, keep existing employees collaborating effectively, and adequately develop talent through training and coaching.
Maximize Remote/Virtual Meetings
If virtual meetings with colleagues and clients have become the norm due to working with remote employees, set these norms to optimize their effectiveness in fostering the development of relationships:
- Ask that all video cameras be turned on. Set an expectation that everyone needs to “show up” unless they are explicitly given permission not to. Webcams can cost $30-$130+. This is a small investment compared to the benefits it can offer.
- Begin meetings by asking a relationship-building question/prompt, as you might if you were face-to-face. TrainersEXCHANGE has a super fun tool to that lets you pick from hundreds of conversation prompts, so you can choose those that are just right for your needs.
- Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of flexible schedules with the team. Within the TrainerEXCHANGE, Trainers Warehouse offers the “Hybrid Hash” conversation prompts for free. Use these to engage your group in a conversation about ways to optimize flexible work schedules.
- Close meetings by asking a remote attendee to wrap up the conversation. Having a remote participant take on this role, articulate the next steps, etc., will keep them engaged.
Meet in Person
If your team is not showing up to the office each day, develop ways for the group to get together. Engineer ways to build relationships, collaborate, and enhance their ability to problem-solve together. After all, strong relationships are a critical component of trust. In turn, trust and psychological safety correlate with improved team performance. Try these best practices when working with remote employees:
- Allocate money saved by reducing office space to fun, mandatory off-site meetings
- Determine the best times for meetings, so that all can attend
- Lure younger employees to the office with free food
- Schedule both work-centric discussions and get-to-know-you conversations
Communicate Expectations to Young Workers
Younger generations who are new to the workforce may be accustomed to digital communication and reluctant to make phone calls. Having grown up in a world where they can text a friend to meet for a meal, they may also be less practiced in meeting new people. Consider too, the different expectations of Millenials, GenX and GenZs. They’re purported to be more demanding, self-advocating, and less accepting of working their way up. Workplace norms continue to evolve, but human interactions take millennia to evolve. You many need to explain:
- Building relationships with managers is valuable for career growth and learning
- Increased “together time” fosters collaboration, new solutions, and mutual learning
- Relationships grow stronger through conversation and shared experiences
- Roles and expectations for each person on the team. Discuss interests in team members having the ability to wear multiple hats.
- Meeting a manager’s expectations may not be enough. Exceeding their expectations and exhibiting your total potential will help them appreciate value.
Start with Benefit-of-the-Doubt Assumptions when Working with Remote Employees
In our fast-paced, ever-evolving world, we can all be quick to judge.
- Assume that everyone cares about their job and wants to perform well — while you may have to deal with some performance issues, default to the assumption that every worker wishes to perform their job well.
- Understand the impact of social isolation on social skills and the ability to communicate effectively. In addition to COVID affecting our physical and mental health, this Temple University report explains its impact on our social development.
- Keep time logs. Explain that this is for the benefit of both the employer and employee. Explain you’d like to take a “snapshot” of hours worked. This will help you make sure that employees won’t burn out from working around the clock; will help managers understand staffing needs; and will identify employees that may need more projects to fill out their day.
The Remote Work Shuffle – Matching Employees and Employers
Some companies will best thrive with face-to-face employees; Others are best served by drawing from a broad, remote, talent pool, and meeting face-to-face only periodically. As managers sort out these needs, they ought to articulate them and discuss them openly.
By the same token, some employees prefer to work from home, while others crave the company of their colleagues. Employees should be on the lookout for jobs that suit their preferences rather than requesting that employers yield to their wishes.
Let’s all expect to experience a bit of a shuffle until employers and employees find their perfect matches. Both employers and employees should clearly articulate their needs and expectations when it comes to working with remote employees, right from the start, during the hiring process so that all can find suitable work arrangements.
Make Virtual Meetings Magnificent