Today’s world is growing increasingly remote, which means that if your office can’t handle a remote worker, it may already be out of date. And with the rise and spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), individuals and companies around the world are rapidly beginning to question the way they conduct their business — especially during an outbreak. And this doesn’t just pertain to large businesses. Even small companies of just a few people need to be set up for success or risk major disruptions in productivity.
- More people are working remotely. According to an Economist Intelligence Unit study, only 28% of those surveyed hadn’t worked remotely in the previous 12 months — meaning 72% had.
- The technology is here. Video conferencing, Slack integration, remote diagnostics, file transfers—most of the tools you are already using are cloud based, meaning you can do them from anywhere. There’s no reason to hesitate anymore.
- More people are going to want to work remotely. Even if some of the population hasn’t worked remotely yet, the work-at-home crowd continues to build momentum, increasing some 140% since 2005. And by 2025, about 75% of the global workforce will be millennials—a group that will come to expect more remote working opportunities in the future. While issues like the Coronavirus may be accelerating the remote working trend, it’s a trend that we believe is here to stay.
Why does this matter? With increased expectations of remote work availability, modern digital offices have to be able to facilitate today’s employee needs — especially as they pertain to health. Many companies that never believed their office required remote working options are now second guessing this belief. And not only because of the spread of disease, but to allow workers flexibility and the ability to compete for top talent.
Even if you don’t currently have a structure in place, here are some tips to help you build a remote team for the first time:
Step One: Build a Common Culture
The technology is easier than you think — especially with companies like LogMeIn who offer a full range of remote tools. It’s the company culture that can sometimes get in your way.
That means that your human resources team needs to be on board with a remote working policy that makes sense for remote workers as well as your company. Here’s what you’ll need to think about to build a culture that includes remote working:
- Develop a policy for working from home. This should be a written policy to which any employee can refer. For example, you should have a policy for working from home on non-sick days for employees that request it. The key is to put something in writing, even if you still wish to maintain a flexible arrangement with most employees.
- Create a basic flow for meetings with remote workers. If you have remote workers that never come in to the office, you’ll need to check in with them every so often. You may want to put in the structure—backed up by regular reminders with your project management software of choice—to make sure these employees never feel out of the loop.
- Set goals for each remote meeting. Remote working won’t always be done via meetings, but you’ll accomplish a lot more with remote work if you can keep meetings concise. Take the “controlled burn” approach from NASA: each meeting should have a precise aim and a limited duration. And after the controlled burn, you should be able to let workers manage much of their own work for a while.
Step Two: Integrate the Technology for Better Remote Work
Many employers complain that remote work doesn’t have the same in-person connection of the office. That’s true. But with the right technology in place, you can simulate that feeling as much as possible.
The question isn’t whether the technology is here. It’s about what you should expect from your remote working technology. Here are a few features to consider as you weigh the options:
- Easy logging in. The first step in the structure is to incorporate someone’s home computer with their work computer, especially for those who work part-time in a physical office. Can they log in with a simple browser entry and get to work as if they were at the office?
- Workflow integration. If you already use a service like Slack, you’ll want to make sure that the technology you’re working with seamlessly integrates. Otherwise, you face the potential of back-and-forth emails as you try to figure out where every remote worker’s progress is regarding their latest project.
Step Three: Create Teamwork Even in the Absence of a Physical Team
It’s tempting to view a remote working operation as exclusively digital. But no matter how we work together, we’re all still flesh and blood. We want to feel like a part of something. When that’s accomplished, telecommuters can report lower stress levels.
But the benefits of telecommuting don’t outweigh the potential downsides if you don’t create a sense of teamwork or basic productivity. That means you’ll have to go beyond building a common culture and focus on what it takes to make people feel like a team.
The first step is creating a culture of reaching out. One study demonstrated that employees who had a chance to socialize for even as little as 15 minutes tended to have higher productivity than those who didn’t. In a remote work situation, that can be as simple as a phone call or a quick face-to-face chat.
The second step is to incorporate your team into major decisions. There’s not going to be much of a “team” if people don’t feel like they get a say. That means including them as you write your remote working policy, for example, or holding meetings about the best way to handle some projects going forward.
The third step is to create some things that employees can have in common and share with each other. That doesn’t have to be an employee newsletter. It can be something as simple as an email you share with a distributed team or a common set of guidelines to which they can all refer.
Changing Technology Means Changing Habits
So while updated technology is critical, you can’t introduce new technology without also helping employees change their current work habits. Pave the way for remote work by building a common culture and creating a policy for remote meetings and communication, integrating technologies commonly used, and creating teamwork in the absence of a physical team.