Once seen as a special privilege for senior employees, remote work and distributed teams have quickly become the norm as COVID-19 has pushed companies to adopt remote work benefits.
CNBC reports that before the recent global health crisis, only 7% of the working population in the U.S. had the flexibility to work remotely. But as the coronavirus pandemic, 42% of workers are now doing their jobs from the comfort of their homes.
This has left managers and employers alike asking a simple question: “Can companies fully function with a remote work model?”
The short answer: Yes.
In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:
For employees, the case for having the flexibility to work remote is simple: it offers the opportunity to cut back on commuting costs and better manage their working hours.
In a Stanford University study, researchers found employees who could work remotely reported increased productivity — a finding that highlights how telecommuting can benefit a company’s bottom line.
And there are a number of benefits for companies. Businesses that give even some of their employees the flexibility to work remotely face the prospect of reduced office occupancy.
In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many organizations to reconsider their office space needs — and look to flexible workspaces as a potential way to minimize workspace expenses.
Businesses can also leverage flexible work benefits to attract and retain talent. In a 2019 survey at Hana, we found that 70% of job seekers say the flexibility to work remotely is a must-have when considering a new job.
This isn’t surprising. Tools like Slack and Zoom video conferencing mean traditional in-office jobs like recruitment, sales and IT can be done effectively outside the office. COVID-19 has proven as much.
Despite the benefits, remote work policies also have a number of common challenges. The most prominent? A lack of face-to-face time, structure and access to information and teams.
These challenges can lead top talent to experience productivity declines. Addressing these issues requires a manager who understands the unique demands of remote work — and what each team member needs to be successful. This is, in part, why business school programs are increasingly emphasizing how to manage people.
Research shows that remote workers are more prone to feelings of isolation, detachment and miscommunications with colleagues. In one study, remote workers were found to, perhaps unsurprisingly, report misinterpreting communications from colleagues and managers.
This largely stemmed from a lack of “mutual knowledge” between employees who reported not knowing one another in a social setting. Without that context, a short email might seem mean spirited instead of just short.
Another challenge for remote workers is effectively sourcing information. Instead of being able to walk up to someone’s desk or office to ask a question, remote workers have to navigate Slack messages and emails to field questions, making it harder — and more time consuming — to find answers.
Despite the challenges of remote work, there are significant benefits, too. Strong managers and effective policies can make remote work benefits work in their favor by redefining their approach and using technology to their advantage.
Let's unpack that.
Between Zoom video conferencing, Slack, email and a plethora of other communication tools available to today’s businesses, effectively managing remote workers and distributed teams is easier than ever.
But tools alone are not a strategy — or substitutes for effective policies.
To mitigate the issues of the remote work model, managers should think through what their teams will need to work productively outside the office. Implementing regular check ins, team meetings and the occasional Zoom happy hour can go a long way towards helping employees structure their days and better understand their colleagues.
The biggest trick is ensuring communication between managers and colleagues and making sure each team member is aware of how their work is playing into a larger mission.
Some managers find success in holding quick team standups to go over projects and individual responsibilities. Others might benefit from individual check-ins with direct reports to go over weekly schedules and offer news about what’s happening in other parts of the organization.
Another helpful trick for organizations adopting — or adapting to — a remote work model is drafting up resources for employees and managers.
These resources should include key organizational information about team structures and company updates to make it easier for individuals to access information — or identify who they can speak with to find information. Tool such as Confluence or Box can be helpful here, allowing team members to easily access shared files and resources (more on this below).
Looking for the Sparknotes version on how to manage a remote team? Here are a few tips to consider:
But while tools aren’t strategies, they are critical to get right for remote teams. Investing in reliable communication and collaboration tools is a must if you want telecommuting to work for your company.
Video conferencing tools like Zoom and chat applications such as Slack are now the industry standard for remote work communication, they aren’t the only tools available for businesses. Email still holds its place for longer communication — and a phone (or VoIP services, if you’re so inclined) remains critically valuable for most workers.
File-sharing services such as Box and Google Drive are mainstays in today’s business environment. And that’s for a good reason: They make it simple for teams to jointly work on projects, share information and collaborate. Other tools include Microsoft Office and Google Suite, which allow colleagues to work on documents and deliverables in tandem.
Looking for tools to help with remote work? Here are a few options to consider:
COVID-19 has forced many companies to quickly adopt — or adapt to — remote work policies, accelerating a shift to decouple work from the traditional office. And this shift isn’t likely to disappear with the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2019, 70% of job seekers cited the flexibility to work remotely as a top benefit. Now, in the wake of COVID-19, employees say losing the flexibility to work remotely is one of their biggest concerns about going back to the office.
Effectively managing remote workers and distributed teams means being more proactive about checking in with employees and placing an emphasis on communication.
For today’s businesses, that means investing in the tools and technology remote workers need to thrive — like Zoom and Slack. You can learn more about the top tech tips teams need to master remote work in our recent article.
Jessa Brooklyn has a decades-long background in management, and now writes business articles as a freelancer. When she's not too busy keeping up with the latest industry trends, she is working on a book of her own.
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