As the war for talent rages across the land with no end in sight and as competition in the market continues to bubble over at a fervent pace, many business leaders are finding that they must cast an ever widening net to succeed in securing the right people. Data from the updated Global Workforce Analytics study in June of 2017 on telecommuting found that people spend approximately 50-60% of their time away from their desks anyway and the many task are more conducive to solitude than collaboration.
Instead of continuing to fish in a small, local talent pool and struggling to compete with the litany of competitors which creates a talent vacuum that leads to companies having to increase their incentives to ludicrous levels to attract and retain the talent they require, some organizations have made the intentional decision to evolve their recruiting practices in order to stay one step ahead. By expanding their pool, in many cases globally, companies are able to grow their talent pools exponentially and with technology making remote work completely feasible in many jobs these organizations are able to accomplish this without having to worry about relocation expenses, office space, and the other logistical headaches that come with geographic colocation of a workforce.
It May be Time to Question Your Beliefs and Assumptions About Work
Even in 2017, there are many leaders who resist the remote work model. This resistance oftentimes stems from deep beliefs and assumptions about people and work which include but are certainly not limited to the idea that employees will slack off if they are not under constant supervision in an office or that managing remote employees is totally different than managing those that are collocated and that the benefits do not outweigh the costs.
The reality is, managing remote team can be a bit different than those that are collocated but, so long as it’s done thoughtfully, managers can learn to adapt their behaviors in ways that drive fantastic performance results from these teams. Not only to companies stand to win but employees are better able to manage the multiple demands of their lives with greater ease so that they can bring their best selves to all aspects of their lives.
But how do you make it work?
There are certainly a few key things that business leaders must think about in order to set the stage for success with a remote workforce. While this in not an all-inclusive list, I hope that it gets you, dear reader, challenging some of the assumptions you may hold about remote work so that you too can begin to reap the benefits that an expanded talent pool has to offer.
I have assembled some best practices bucketed into four categories- Recruiting/Hiring, Team Management, Project/Task Management and Workflow.
- Hire people who are comfortable working in a non-social workplace: Let’s face it, some folks just don’t have it in them to work in physical solitude for long periods of time. They just aren’t able to thrive without more face-to-face interaction.
- Hire people who have experience successfully working remotely before- remote work environments are not for everyone: One way to hedge your hiring bets is by identifying candidates who have successfully shown that they can thrive in a remote work environment.
- Set clear expectations: I’ve found that taking the time to conduct a structured new leader assimilation can help a new leader set very clear expectations so that they can get a team aligned quickly. The need for clear expectations is as critical for a remote team as it is for a collocated team.
- Develop a cadence of onsite workdays or visits if possible: Providing scheduled opportunities for remote employees to come together to develop stronger bonds amongst team members can really pay dividends. There is a certain dynamic, especially for intact teams, where in-person time can really gel the team.
- Ensure clear processes and standards are in place to provide guidance and structure: If you are of the belief that the majority of employees genuinely want to do their jobs well like I do then codifying the standards with clear processes helps remote employees feel set up for success.
- Make people feel part of a team: Regardless of where people sit to do their jobs, most do want to at least feel that they are a part of a team that they can trust and that they can depend on. Creating space to recognize each other, to share with each other and to learn about each other can help keep people feeling connected.
- Reward performance: In order to ensure that work is getting done it is important to quantify what success looks like. When people are performing those behaviors should be rewarded.
- Assume positive intent: When strain and stress enter the work situation and people are communicating through technology, sometimes the true intent of behaviors or discussions can be misinterpreted. Assuming good intent with remote employees can really help avoid a lot of the drama and tension that can arise out of miscommunication.
- Project management is important: In order to help ensure that work is being accomplished at expected levels, the establishment of clear expectations with regard to performance must be developed and tracked. This helps to create shared expectations of accountability.
- Track work data to make sure no one is being overworked: On the flip side, not keeping visibility on individuals workload can create a situation where some people are being massively overtasked.
- Make sure people take time off: When people work remotely, they can sometimes fall prey to the assumption that they must go above and beyond in order to prove that they are, in fact, being productive. Gone to an extreme, people can burn themselves out. Make sure that remote employees are taking the necessary time to take care of themselves.
- Overlap work hours across time zones: To me, this is one of the biggest benefits organizations have when it comes to a remote workforce. In my company, we are able to capitalize on staff in different time zones in order to pass along work throughout the day and night to ensure that we are efficient and that we are able to remain responsive to the needs of our clients.
- Provide multiple methods for communicating: Depending on the task at hand and the personal preferences of your employees, providing a variety of ways to facilitate work is a smart idea. Technological advances have helped to reduce the “distance” between people significantly and it shows no signs of stopping. Video conference, phone, email, instant message, Slack, etc. all help people stay productive and connected regardless of their physical location.
- Keep things as transparent as possible: Since people won’t have a water cooler where they can exchange information informally, look for ways to ensure that employees can access information easily. In my company, we accomplish this by sharing all company information with everyone (with the exception of employment information). This way, employees can access anything they want when they want it and stay informed.
- Find ways to “meet at the water cooler”: This is where some creativity comes in but finding opportunities to happen by each other in non-structured ways allows opportunities for information to be passed along in informal ways. As a leader, you have a responsibility to foster this informal communication and the best way I’ve found to make that happen is by asking really powerful questions.
- Find ways to collaborate on documents: Technology is making it easier and easier for remote teams to collaborate on documents in real-time which is facilitating collaborative work processes with disparate teams.
In a world where technology is advancing at an ever-increasing pace and where the competition for top talent gets more and more fierce, expanding your fishing hole may be one way to ensure that you are well positioned in the market. As the old saying goes, “There are a lot of fish in the sea.” Unfortunately, if you are unwilling to cast a wide net you’re likely to miss out on some real trophies.