Out of office: How to make remote working work for you
Over the past two decades, the office has undergone a radical change. The need to commute and be at a desk by a certain time is becoming less pressing. Work can be fitted around other aspects of our lives. The office – at least its physical entity – is changing beyond recognition.
Remote working is on the rise. The Office of National Statistics believes that 50% of UK employees will be working away from the office by next year. What’s more, up to 90% of staff say they’d like to work remotely at least part-time.
With the birth of the digital workplace, working from home has now become an accepted practice for many organizations. Cloud storage, home WiFi and more sophisticated digital tools have meant that the average employee can work at home sustainably for the first time ever. The digitalization of the office and home means that an employee can connect to colleagues and have all the resources to fulfill day-to-day duties without ever leaving the house.
Building a connected digital workplace
In fact, many organizations are not only embracing the idea of remote working but driving the transformation. E-commerce company Shopify, for instance, has almost half of their workforce working from their homes or in shared workspaces. Their remote teams are able to be part of a growing tech company without having to relocate. This means that Shopify has a global workforce who are able to work with merchants all over the world, conversing in local languages and keeping to normal working hours. They are also harnessing the best talent regardless of geographical location.
“Working from home allows our support team to have improved work-life harmony,” says Shopify, “eliminate commuting and allow them to work with people from around the world. We scale our teams by ensuring employees work hours within their own time zone, what we call, ‘following the sun.’ With 600,000 merchants in 175 countries around the world, building remote support teams ensures we are giving our merchants the best experience.”
Remote working isn’t straightforward though. There is a whole set of new behaviors to learn. Office-based employees have to learn to work with colleagues they may never meet. And remote workers have had to learn to feel comfortable and part of the team without the dynamics of sitting amongst a team.
The obstacles that face remote workers
First of all, there are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to remote working. As a former freelancer whose desk alternated from one in the spare room to a table in a café, I am aware that remote working is an entirely different way of working which needs the in-house team completely onboard.
The temptation to overwork
Breaking free of the traditional office life can be quite difficult. At least, it was for me. Without having face-to-face catch ups, physical proximity and seeing colleagues every day, it was hard to show my accountability, other than through my output. I worked very hard to prove that I wasn’t taking remote working lightly. In fact, I went above and beyond what was expected. Without the official break times of the office, and the work/home barriers non-existent, I used to work late into the evening, something that wasn’t expected of me but something that I felt I had to do to prove my worth and dedication.
Remote workers need to operate with military precision. Working from home requires having more control over the day – at least it did for me. Distractions lay everywhere: a wash needed putting on, the kitchen needed to be cleaned, the postman needed me to sign for a delivery. Therefore, an hour-by-hour to-do list needed to be created every evening for the next day. And by sticking to my work life meant that my domestic life was left until the evening.
Building a connected digital workplace
One of the common complaints of remote workers is difficulties in being heard. While it can be problematic not to have the same ‘visibility’ as office-based staff, communication tools have come a long way in the past couple of years. Skype and other video conferencing tools are a lifeline for a conference and one-to-one conversations, and applications like Slack are brilliant for casual day-to-day chats with individuals or teams of people.
Making yourself known
It can be very easy to feel invisible as a remote worker. When you work far away from the office, what is the best way of making yourself known? A company intranet is one of the easiest ways – you can contribute to forum discussions, comment on posts and create blogs to introduce yourself to the workforce and let them get to know you a little better. Use the network to give opinions, answer queries and create your own identity.
Adding to the company culture
A company culture is an intangible ecosystem, which seems impenetrable from the outside. So how can you be part of it, without being physically in it? While it takes good leadership to cultivate a positive company culture, it is maintained through the many different personalities of your organization.
Harnessing digital tools to make your contribution and keeping up-to-date with conversations, discussions, and chats on the intranet and communication channels can help home workers be part of the culture.
Leaders should also communicate the company values, which can help newcomers have a good idea of the foundations of the company, and allow them to work alongside the principles which have formed the organization.
So, how can this long-distance relationship work?
Remote work can only ever be successful if everyone is committed to making it work. The major player in this relationship is a strong element of trust. Gartner has written extensively on the ten principles that help build and sustain trust in a remote team.
The success of the growing fluid workforce is to develop teams built on trust, which can be developed as follows:
You can help develop a steadfast team by being reliable yourself. This will help leaders evaluate how you will perform, meet deadlines and deliver work.
For a happy working relationship, remote workers need to be consistent. This means that there is a constancy to your work and attitude.
Similarly, it’s important to not over-promise, under-deliver and act contrarily. Do what you said you would do and mean what you say.
4. Be a team player
It’s important to remember that although they may not be sat by your side, the other people in your group are part of your team. Working with this responsibility means that there is greater accountability to group tasks and individual duties.
There is a reason for each and every person on the team. Make sure they are aware of their value and everyone understands their strengths and experience in their particular field. This allows team members to recognize individual talent, and also allow workers to capitalize on their expertise.
Building a connected digital workplace
Be open with your team. Use tools like Harvest to share work schedules, diaries and progress so all team members can see your workload at any point.
It’s important that managers keep track on individual progress and coach those under-performing in order that other team members aren’t carrying the load. Try and keep an equilibrium across the team to maintain harmony and employee satisfaction.
8. Encourage communication
Communication is key with every employee – particularly those with a geographical separation from the office. Which is why managers and senior leaders need to focus on regular and effective communication with remote workers. This can be a massive boost to employee satisfaction and help with consistency and accountability. Remote team members will be able to communicate any problems and issues they may be experiencing, and employers can use these chats to fact find and problem solve.
According to Staples “State of the Workplace” survey, though, 74 percent of workers are unsatisfied with the technology their employers give them. In fact, they go so far as to say that the tools provided result in major inefficiencies in their workflow. With so many software tools (many of which are free!) available, there is really no excuse for this. Make sure every employee has access and training for the same tools of communication. This will make sure that there is clarity over how to contact colleagues.
10. Set expectations
These are key to getting you and your worker on the same page. Make sure there’s no confusion over what is required of your employee. Make sure you set clear goals for your team. By incentivizing these targets, you can encourage better teamwork, communication, and collaboration.
Bridging the gap between in-house and remote workers
While we’ve concentrated on the work aspect of remote working, it’s also important to encourage personal connections. This can be done by allowing team members to share personal stories – from their plans for the weekend to funny family anecdotes. This is the basis for enduring relationships that add another facet to strong bonds. By building a virtual watercooler – an area on your intranet, or a channel on Slack, for example – you help build quality, robust relationships.
Create a united front: There needs a seamless relationship between onsite and remote workers. Treat everyone equally. Holding a quick meeting? Get remote workers on Skype. Looking for feedback? CC them into the message. Holding a social? Invite everyone. It’s important to get team members together regularly if and when possible. This will ease communication and encourage working relationships.
Meet in person: Of course, depending on the geographical difference, meeting up can pose a problem, but it is well worth holding an annual meet-up at least. The ability to meet face-to-face and shoot the breeze is invaluable.
Talk regularly: Set up a time every week, or twice a month, where you can talk about current work, future projects and how they are getting on. Checking in on an ongoing basis with remote team members is very important. You can use these meetings to talk about projects or even their future goals working for your company. Regular conversations with remote workers can be a massive contributor to an open, collaborative workplace culture and can often encounter a complication before it becomes a headache.
As the stats prove, working away from the office in a remote capacity is here to stay. Along with this, is the increasing willingness of organizations to promote flexible working and working hours that suit the employee more. But to maintain its success, leaders will need to adjust their management style accordingly, and find new ways of developing their teams, both in-house and remotely.