The global pandemic has thrust many workplaces and industries into remote work situations overnight—leaving people scrambling to figure out how to operate.
The Big Idea—Many companies and experts have already been working remotely for years or even decades. Don’t try to figure this out on your own, best practices for remote work already exist and today we will explore the research and hear from experts.
Today’s post will incorporate information from a prior article, but will include updated information and tips.
More and more employees want the ability to work remotely
Did you know that a recent global study, cited in a story by CNBC in 2018, showed that 70% of the worldwide workforce works remotely at least once per week?
In the last ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead ten different teams. But almost three years ago, I got my first job leading an entirely remote team.
I’m definitely still learning, but today I hope to share some tips from research, and from people doing this a lot longer than I have—that can save you time, and kick-start better results for you.
No one has done more research on American workers than the Gallup Organization. For their 2017 report on The State of the American Workplace, they collected data from 31 million respondents.
One of their top seven recommendations to leaders and companies is to increase opportunities for employees to work remotely.
The report is more than 200 pages, but I highly recommend that you read the first 9 pages of the executive summary, and the recommendations section. Link provided at bottom.
The research is clear—more and more people want the ability to work remotely, and it plays a huge role in whether they will take or leave a job. If your organization doesn’t offer this, you are likely losing out on the most talented applicants who want this benefit.
Even offering a couple of days a week can make a huge difference for people.
Even if the current pandemic forced you to allow telecommuting, you may want to consider continuing this practice after the public health crisis subsides.
The benefits of remote work—what the research shows
Working remotely can benefit the employee, the organization, and the environment in the following ways:
- Eliminates commute time
- Increases employee satisfaction
- Improves employee work-life balance
- Increases employee retention and loyalty to organization
- Can allow more flexibility for employees to work when their energy and focus is best (flexible schedules are a huge driver of retention and satisfaction)
- Increases employee health and well-being (Studies have shown that employees who work from home exercise more, eat healthier, and recover from illness faster)
- Allows employees to help with some family needs
- Lowers cost for office space
- Reduces traffic
- Reduces pollution (see current news articles on Los Angeles and China’s smog)
- Reduces employee absenteeism
- Larger applicant pool, for people who live further away
- Attracts most talented employees
- May increase employee productivity
One study by Airtasker 2019 showed that employees work an average of 1.4 days more per month when working from home, which amounts to 3 additional weeks per year. Link to study at bottom.
Clearly, enhanced productivity will not happen automatically. The team leader must create the right conditions and establish clear parameters for this to take place.
Read the next section to learn how.
Take Action Now
Hassan Osman is a Senior Project Manager for Cisco Systems (#58 on the Fortune Ranking) who studied virtual teams during his time at Harvard. He works remotely, manages remote teams, and constantly writes and blogs about this subject.
His short books provide zero fluff, research-backed advice for managing remote teams. Many of his suggestions are incorporated here.
- Hire people who can manage themselves well. Remote work is not the solution for everything. Ask new potential hires how they would manage a remote work arrangement. This might include home office set up, family arrangements, and time management habits. Whenever possible, look for people who have already demonstrated the ability to produce results while working remotely.
- Make sure people have the equipment they need. There is nothing more frustrating than not having what you need to work. In fact, according to the Gallup Organization, having the right equipment is one of the most predictive factors for job satisfaction and healthy organizations. This past week, I watched people clamber for laptops, extra monitors, and webcasting or document sharing programs. If you lead a team that is suddenly working remotely, make sure people have everything they need before you work on the other strategies.
- Communicate in a highly precise way. Most research suggests that about 75% of communication is non-verbal. Therefore, when working with a remote team you must become exceptional in your communication. You must be especially careful with email. Emails should be short, concise, and have a clear call to action. Fact—No one reads long emails anymore. And if there is any chance it could be misinterpreted, make a phone or Zoom call instead!
- Define the results you want. A key to managing remote teams is to be extremely clear with what result you are asking them to produce. Clear deliverables, job expectations, and duty statements are even more vital for teams working remotely.
- Set clear deadlines. This can save you a ton of headache. Leave nothing to guesswork and make it crystal clear. If the employee doesn’t know the deadline, it’s stressful for them too because they can’t plan their time effectively.
- Over-communicate. Yes, I wrote this again in case you didn’t catch the full impact the first time. Communication in a remote leadership role is an essential skill that cannot be overemphasized. General Stanley McChrystal—who pioneered many remote work practices during the Iraq war—recommends that leaders communicate much more during times of crisis. During COVID19, you should be communicating often with your team almost daily so that you can get regular updates from the front lines and so you can give your team the most current information. Right now people are confused and afraid and most of them have a lot of questions. Make sure you make yourself available to answer their questions. Recognition and praise are also hugely important with remote teams, so make a consistent habit of this.
- Increase your efforts to be reliable and reasonable. People work best with leaders and team members they like and trust. Without the ability to build relational currency with actual face time, you will have to work harder to ensure that your team perceives you as reliable and reasonable. You must also emphasize how important it will be for team members to be reliable with one another. Trust will erode quickly without this culture. Studies show that many employees are actually afraid of their bosses. This being the case, you must take active and consistent steps to diminish fear.
- Keep personal connections alive. Remote work always runs the risk of becoming dry and transactional. This means you (as the leader) must make extra efforts to stay connected to people on a human level—and to help your team members connect with one another. The most common downside cited for remote work is isolation and loneliness, so make sure you get creative and facilitate connections. Partial telework schedules can help with this. Make sure to share personal information (family, vacations, hobbies) about yourself, and encourage your team to follow your example. You can set up mentoring, buddy systems, or virtual work groups. Way back in the 1950’s, social psychologists at MIT discovered something they termed the Propinquity Effect(Latin for “nearness”) which proposed that people are likely to form closer relationships with people based on physical or psychological proximity. Without maintaining some kind of nearness to your team, your team may actually like you less, which means they will also trust you less. This will diminish your overall leadership ability.
- Make one-on-one time for your team. This principle is well established (see the Google Project Oxygen study). Science says the best managers spend individual time with people. This still applies in remote working conditions—and is even more vital.
- Hold web-based meetings or phone conferences. As a recovering meeting slave, I now believe most meetings are unnecessary. The golden rules are that they should be infrequent and have a clear purpose. But they are still very important. If possible, have a video meeting, it can help to create a more human connection than just using the phone. Necessity is the mother of invention. Many people I know who said they couldn’t figure out video meetings have suddenly discovered how to make it work within a few days!
- Hold some in-person meetings. Obviously, this may not be possible with the current social distancing guidelines. But make a point to meet with the team in person a few times a year if possible. And be highly intentional about social engagements if people make the effort to travel. If that is the only time people see their colleagues all year, make sure you schedule time to socialize before, during, and after the meeting.
Have a great weekend!
- Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2017 https://www.gallup.com/workplace/238085/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx
- Hassan Osman website https://www.thecouchmanager.com/aboutme/
- Influencing Virtual Teams—Hassan Osman
- 70% of global workers work remotely https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/70-percent-of-people-globally-work-remotely-at-least-once-a-week-iwg-study.html
- Leading Virtual Teams—Harvard Business Review 2016
- 2-year Stanford Study on remote work, TEDx Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiUyyZPIHyY
- Employees are more productive when they work from home– https://www.airtasker.com/blog/the-benefits-of-working-from-home/