For many Americans, what it means to go to work has shifted. Instead of traveling 90 minutes in stop-and-go traffic each way every weekday, many workers are taking 30 seconds to get to their jobs— and that’s including a pitstop for coffee. With the rise of digital age, technology allows for non-stop communication and continuous access to data which is now a standard. For employers, that supports recruiting flexibility and the ability to hire talent from around the country.
Remote work has grown 159% in the past ten years, and 4.7 million employees now work from home at least half the time.¹ The threat of workers turning to freelance continues to grow, with 51% of American workers expected to be freelancing in ten years.² With a growing emphasis on flexibility in the workplace, 68% of employers now allow workers to work from home.³
There’s no doubt remote work is on the rise, and it’s here to stay. On top of flexible working hours, employees who work from home show increased productivity, reduced stress, and greater work-life balance compared to those who work in an office full-time.⁴ Having remote workers benefits employers, too, with businesses saving $11,000 per half-time remote worker per year.¹
IT services and computer software businesses are among the companies leading the shift in remote working environments. 57% of the industry works from home,⁴ and it heads as one of the industries hiring the most remote workers.⁵ But remote work presents its own challenges, including a lack of employee engagement, complexities in accountability, and difficulties of accessibility and security.
For non-corporate businesses, remote employees arguably require a greater level of commitment from their managers compared to those of larger companies. To effectively engage remote employees, managers must understand and incorporate what works for both parties.
Addressing these challenges may take time, but is ultimately crucial in the success of your employees and business. Here are three challenges business owners face with remote workers— and how to overcome them.
1. Employee Engagement
The conversation about remote work is almost always immediately associated with employee engagement. While factors of employee engagement can certainly vary within the office, for remote workers especially, many feel a social disconnect between others at the company. In fact, 31% of remote workers who have worked in an office setting miss the opportunities for social interaction the most.⁶ This can include lack of engagement with peers and co-workers, teams, leadership, company culture, and executive alignment. Can you assess how many methods your remote workers have to communicate with you and each other?
You likely already have a recurring formal meeting with your employees in place, be that monthly, weekly, or even daily. Consider expanding on your meetings by increasing their cadence, adjusting meeting times, or targeting different team members. The key of formal communication is simple: transparency. Make sure to lead meetings with an agenda that includes recent decisions from you and other executives, progress and current status of projects on your team, company timelines and roadmaps, and even financial information where applicable. Be proactive about addressing issues that may be circling between workers onsite. Ensuring managers that report to you are having these conversations with their teams may also be an option. It comes down to building an employee-employer relationship of trust, regardless of whether the employee is within the four walls of your office or not.
Another crucial method of communication may not even include you in it. As a leader, allowing your remote workers to talk to each other is important. This can be as easy as setting up a Slack channel, video call, or even flying remote employees into the office annually. Conversations don’t necessarily need to be all work-related but rather can include casual conversations as well. Encouraging team members to talk to each other can strengthen company culture, boost morale, and inspire collaboration and innovation. Dialogue ranging from weekend plans to project ideas can benefit all employees, and in turn, the employer.
A remote worker’s communication with their manager, and vice versa, is essential. Both formal and informal 1-on-1 discussions with your employees, scheduled or not, can help you establish a consistent feedback loop. You can also use time together to assess current and future projects with your employee, timelines and deliverables, and your employee’s career goals and job satisfaction.
It very well may be in your best interest to prioritize increasing employee engagement across your remote teams. After all, businesses with greater employee engagement report 21% higher profitability than those without.⁷ Whether formal or informal, work-related or not, establishing methods of communication between you and your employees as well as your employees and each other is key for the functions of your business.
Remote work is often criticized over expectations of poor accountability and productivity. As a leader of remote workers, you should know this not to be the reality. However, wide skepticism still remains, and it often puts even more pressure on those who work from home to prove themselves and their work.
At the root of remote work situation is, of course, the worker. As you hire for remote positions, evaluate not only about the requirements of abilities and experience, but also soft skills regarding employee integrity. Is the employee self-motivated? Can they work independently and meet deadlines without micromanagement? Have they worked remotely before? How good are they with technology and learning new abilities? Hiring with an emphasis on company and team culture goes a long way. Using an HR technology platform with a strong hiring system automates these skill checks and can streamline the process and improve overall hiring practices. For current remote workers who may show fluctuating signs of accountability, it may be necessary to engage them in conversations that involve coaching and mentoring, or simply highlight the significance and relevance of those traits in an employee.
At the other end of the situation is the mindset of you and your managers. How exactly do you measure productivity? A heavy debate on in-office culture and work hour flexibility focuses on measuring the time employees spend at their workstations versus how much work is actually produced during that time. Employees who accomplish the same amount of quality work in less time as others should be rewarded equally, if not more, for the work they do. Be sure to enable your employees to put in full effort into their work, even if it’s at hours that differ from 9:00-5:00pm.
Measurements of success can vary, but qualitating and quantifying results is a must for remote workers. Guide your employees in setting objectives and request them to rate themselves in their progress. Technology can also offer efficient ways of measuring employee outputs, and it can serve as unbiased information when a project has been completed or moved along. It’s reported that 59% of employers would rate their remote workers’ performance as “above average,” and that’s compared to workers in-office.⁶ Can you do the same for yours? To produce the best results, be clear in establishing your expectations of work, not time working, and encourage employees to effectively work on their own terms.
3. Accessibility and Security
More challenges identified with remote work are accessibility and security concerns. When you have employees living in states on either coast, three hours of time difference can greatly impact your operations. It takes extra commitment and planning, but being proactively considerate of varying time zones and as inclusive as possible when setting schedules can help. Are you flexible when you send out meeting invitations, and willing to adjust as necessary? Is your main office’s time zone acknowledged as the default time in conversations in order to avoid widespread confusion? For the sake of a positive working dynamic, managers may also take calls while commuting or after hours. The willingness to accommodate and work together as well as respect each other’s time starts with you and your leadership team, so don’t miss out on setting an example for your employees.
And it goes both ways. Remote workers should be willing and able to be highly responsive and communicative with those in other offices, including home offices. 86% of employees, including executives, have sourced workplace failures to lack of communication.⁸ Degrees of communication matter, so set expectations for it. Request that employees update statuses based on their online availability to assist in the effective use of instant communication tools. Establish small time frames that all employees should work to fuel collaboration, innovation, and productivity within your team. Ultimately, only 13% of remote workers spend time on personal tasks during the weekday,⁶ suggesting your workers’ integrity, time management, nor location are significant issues, but rather your mutual foundation for communication.
One additional element of availability is that of online resources. In regards to security, remote work often poses a higher threat, with 25% of employees admitting to breaking security policies while working from home.⁹ While employees having access to what they need to do their jobs at all hours of the day is important, so is data protection. Preventing security threats starts with having a comprehensive remote work policy, listing processes and best practices in dealing with networks, passwords, data and confidential information, and even clean workspaces. Influence security accountability among team members, too, not only managers. Conduct regular check-ins to ensure these policies are known and followed and that questions and issues can be resolved. When the appropriate attitudes and tools are in place, remote employees can communicate just as effectively and work just as securely as others.
It’s clear that remote work is growing, with no end in sight. The first step to optimizing your remote workforce is awareness. Understanding the unique differences and needs of your employees brings you closer to building and setting an example for mutual trust and respect throughout all your employees. Your transparency, vocalized expectations, and treatment of employees makes all the difference in how your team engages with each other and holds itself accountable. Through an accommodating and motivated team, your remote employees are supported and appreciated, and that’s no doubt a substantial benefit to everyone, your in-office and remote employees alike.
Ultimately, hiring the right employees that can be most impactful while working remotely starts with having a strong hiring and onboarding process. The best way to organize and scale an efficient hiring process is to utilize an HR platform that can help do the work for you. As a company executive, your time is valuable, so taking advantage of the software available today will help you hire the best talent, no matter where they live, and grow your business.
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