I’m going to let you in on a secret: I wrote this blog post stationed at the island in my kitchen, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants. And, if your company has remote workers like me, they’re probably spending at least part of their day the same way. The bad news: Their sweatpants may or may not be clean. The good news: Those workers still are productive and engaged.
Gallup finds that remote workers log an average four more hours per week than onsite employees, and are four percent more engaged than their HQ counterparts – which is a good thing, as our markets become more globalized, increasing companies’ need to be “on” all the time. Support for remote employees also helps an organization earn a reputation as empathetic; our latest research, the Workplace Empathy Monitor, finds that flexible work hours and flexible work location are among the top benefits a company can offer to show empathy.
Thanks to technology and increasingly specialized talent demands, the American full-time remote workforce is more than three million strong, or about 2.5 percent of the overall U.S. working population, according to estimates. The number of employees who work from home part-time is 67 percent, according to the Families and Work Institute – a 50 percent increase from 2008.
In other words, remote working trends will continue on the upswing. While employers may want to embrace it in a bigger way, they may not quite know how. As a former remote manager and a current remote employee, here are five first-hand strategies for succeeding with remote workers:
- Exchange an old type of face time for a new one. Historically, the only way for employees to prove their productivity and value was for them to “see and be seen” – in the office, at their desk, looking busy, pushing paper, every day. Today, the paper largely has been replaced by email, but you get the idea. The “see and be seen” culture is a dinosaur and obviously does nothing to engage remote employees. Instead, use technology to your advantage and conduct meetings and one-on-one check-ins with video conferencing. Even daily 10 minute briefings are more engaging and productive when they’re face to face. In fact our Workplace Empathy Monitor found that face to face is considered the most empathetic form of communication.
- Create an online hub and/or loop for general communication. The worst thing for remote employees to hear is, “Oh, you weren’t here so you didn’t know about …” Keep the big announcements in a single, consistent spot online; email can take care of the rest. No matter where we are, all Businessolver employees know where to find important company announcements and information. And even though I’m hundreds of miles from headquarters in Des Moines, I know what’s for lunch around the office today.
- Set up a virtual watercooler. Everyone likes to take a mental break from the work day to chat about Game of Thrones or giggle at viral videos. Remote employees are no different, so let us get in on the fun. My husband’s company has a separate chat room for this – employees check in randomly throughout the day to exchange virtual LOLs. My husband, who also works remotely, says it’s one of his favorite things about his company’s culture. (How to maintain a successful marriage when both spouses work from home is a separate blog post.)
- Manage energy, not time. I picked up this amazing gem from Fast Company, which basically boils down to this: Time is finite; energy is not. Energy can be continuously replenished by taking those quick mental breaks (see No. 3) or exercise. This is especially important for remote employees, where the lines between work and home are forever blurred – and since Gallup says we’re working longer than everyone else at the office.
- Manage output, not hours. Another reason the “see and be seen” culture is garbage is that we all know an employee who is Oscar-worthy at constantly looking engaged and productive in the office… but spends all day on Facebook. Clear employee goals and expectations – followed up by even clearer measurement of what’s been accomplished – is critical to success with remote employees. They should be able to say with certainty, “I know exactly what I need to do and by when. And I know exactly what the consequences are if I don’t deliver.”
Sheila Rutt, chief human resource officer at Diebold, says this in championing remote work: “The proof will ultimately be in our results. It’s a virtual world with a 24/7 global workday – work is what we do, not where we are.” I couldn’t agree more. Even if “where we are” is at a kitchen island in sweatpants.