Working from home: 4 keys to successful remote work
Published on March 4, 2020
Remote work continues to grow in popularity. Consistent work from home has grown 159% since 2005. Today, between 80–90% of US employees want to work remotely, at least part-time according to Global Workplace Analytics.
About half (50%) of jobs in the US workforce are suited for at least partial remote work. And to some extent, 40% of employees already work from home.
But despite the documented benefits of remote work, many companies continue to push back. Remote teams can result in culture clashes, and teammates who work from home can experience decreased morale. Distance has the potential to remove that camaraderie that results from “water cooler” chats.
Nevertheless, Global Workplace Analytics found that in the last five years, 40% more US employers offer flexible workplace options.
The trend of increasing work from home options indicates that managers are increasingly likely to manage a remote team, and employees will encounter more options for remote work. And this article is for those who want to meet these changes head-on.
To leverage the benefits of the changing work landscape, employees and managers should establish the following qualities:
Align on expectations
Recognize the change in responsibilities
By emphasizing those three qualities in their management strategy, businesses and employees can benefit from a work from home option. Let's explore each in turn.
Align on expectations
While not fundamentally different from in-house staff, supporting remote workers requires leaders to manage proactively. You don't have the same face-to-face contact.
So from the outset, managers should clearly communicate goals and expectations.
Remote employees should begin with the same organizational knowledge as their in-house counterparts. Managers should train out-of-house employees the same as local teams. This ensures every employee begins with the same organizational knowledge.
Company policies, structure, and brand identities foster a system of shared values, which provides direction for remote teammates’ work.
You should also be explicit about the deliverables a remote worker must produce. To be successful, remote employees must understand what they should focus on each day, week, and month. Leaders can promote examples of completed projects, share calendars, and establish metrics.
By tracking metrics at the beginning of each project, you'll ensure that employees who work from home remain informed and productive.
Set key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess a remote employee’s performance. (There are even assessment tools to help.) These benchmarks not only communicate a clear standard, but also help employees who work from home remain on track. Make sure your KPIs are role-specific, like these 5 sales KPIs.
Many project management tools such as Asana exist to manage tasks between teams.
With Asana, managers can assign projects and tasks to remote employees. Workers can access assignments and view priorities, which helps ensure the correct work is delivered on time.
You need to not only meet or speak with remote employees to outline expectations of remote work, but also provide resources such as training, project management tools, and KPIs to support their success.
The most obvious challenge with adding remote workers to the team is the idea that communication becomes more difficult. And the only clear solution to this is effort.
To reduce tension between in-house and remote workers, managers should facilitate communication between their in-house and remote staff.
From day one, it's important to ensure remote employees have access to primary channels of communication. This includes formal channels such as emails, as well as any chat platforms such as Slack.
Managers can also foster engagement by including remote employees in as many meetings and brainstorms as possible. This reduces the effects of a lack of proximity, which remains the primary predictor of collaboration.
When appropriate, managers should ask specific questions and encourage the new remote teammate to share personal details, which creates opportunities for out of house and in-house teammates to forge deep connections.
Advances in video conferencing technologies make fostering an inclusive work culture easier. Video platforms like Skype, BlueJeans, or Livestorm encourage connection between in-house and remote workers through face-to-face engagements.
With BlueJeans, remote employees can instantly join, host or manage a meeting from their location. Managers can leverage this technology to invite remote employees to meetings, but also in-office events virtually.
Video tools support honest communication as teammates are able to see each other, helping them to get to know one another.
With open lines of communication, managers foster collaboration between in-house and remote employees to support a more productive work culture.
Build a culture of trust
Frequently, remote workers are portrayed as lazy and isolated. One survey found that employers expected remote workers to spend more time on personal tasks during the workday than remote employees reported having spent.
In other words, perception is worse than reality:
According to the survey, the majority of employers (70%) thought that remote workers were sometimes taking care of personal tasks during work hours. 25% estimated the time spent to be about two hours a day.
And while that survey indicates (by employees' own admission) that remote workers do spend some time on personal tasks, it's likely no greater than the amount they'd lose in commuting, taking long lunches outside the office, and other fairly common pursuits.
What truly matters is the person's output and contribution to company growth. Whether they stop by the water cooler or play a game of solitaire to refresh shouldn't make a difference.
In short, a good worker is a good worker - whether they're in the office or not. It's more important that their output is consistent and they're meeting KPIs.
Still, remote employees are more likely to report feeling that in-house colleagues do not treat them equally. A Harvard Business Review poll found that employees who work from home more often worry that in-house employees make negative comments behind their backs, make decisions without their consultation, campaign against them, and do not advocate for their priorities.
Make a conscious effort to recognize remote workers for the value they bring to the company. If the rest of the business can see this clearly, remote teams have a better chance of success.
Recognize the change in responsibilities
Ultimately, it's a manager’s responsibility to communicate the unique challenges of working from home to employees. Managers should communicate that to be successful remotely, employees must be self-motivated and expert time managers.
Employees must understand the added difficulty of managing one’s own time without direct oversight. Following a schedule and managing a to-do list can be more challenging for remote employees who don't have teammates around them.
Beyond the lack of direct supervision, it's important for employees to recognize the way that working from home can look to others. Given the misperceptions that remote workers are less productive, in-house employees may be skeptical about out-of-house colleagues.
Internet access and communication tools may not entirely mitigate the feeling of isolation. Remote workers miss opportunities for impromptu conversations. This may increase focus but limits personal interaction.
By communicating the realities of remote work, managers help employees make an informed decision about their working from home options.
Create the conditions for successful working from home
If your workplace is currently hostile to remote workers, it probably can't be that way for long. Too many talented workers now expect this as a condition for taking a new job.
So, you're going to have to up your game.
By using chat and video communication tools, managers can create an inclusive culture. Employees will not only feel more connected to one another, but also collaborate more often to improve business processes.
For their part, employees should understand both the benefits and challenges of working from home. They need to make themselves an active and present part of the team dynamic, even when physically not in the room.
With the right strategy, employees, managers, and the company as a whole will benefit from work from home.