Although in 2021 we’re expecting to see life returning to ‘normal’, at least to some extent, the likelihood is that normal will never be quite the same again. Over the past year, many organizations were forced to transition to remote working, and it’s not clear whether a full-scale return to office life will be seen as achievable or even desirable.
Over the past 12 months, many employees who’ve been working from home have been pleased to be freed from the daily slog of commuting and enjoyed the increased flexibility that working from home can offer. Budget-conscious businesses have started to consider how much they could save on office rental and associated costs. According to many reports, when employees work from home, productivity can increase, while absenteeism, with all its related costs, goes down.
However, it’s not all positive. Employees are sometimes in a less-than-ideal working environment where they’re distracted by other responsibilities. Leaders have to work harder to maintain to keep individuals motivated and project budgets on track.
So, what can you do to get the best results from your remote workforce, and engage with them so that they have the best experience from this new way of working? Let’s look at 7 ways you can lead your team successfully into the new reality.
Get off to the right start
If you have newly recruited team members, your challenge is to get them off to the right start. They need to feel they’re part of an existing team, so how you welcome and integrate them will be critical. One of the benefits of a structured onboarding process is that new employees feel that they’re being given the information they need to get started.
However, that’s not the end of their integration. They’ll need clear direction, additional coaching, and plenty of feedback from you, so you’ll need to schedule your time to ensure you are providing what they need. In addition, providing a more experienced ‘buddy’ to help them understand the culture and systems can help them get off to a good start. Just ensure that the ‘buddy’ is recognized for their extra efforts.
Care about work/life balance
One of the downsides that people report when working from home is the inability to switch off from work – that feeling that there’s always more to be done. Employees may feel uneasy if they’ve taken some ‘downtime’ when they’ve been unproductive.
However, as a leader, it’s important to take into consideration that even in the office, there are periods when employees seem to disengage with their work for a while. One way to mitigate this need for ‘presenteeism’ is to use a mobile timesheet tool, which allows people to plan their time, and let you know when they are/aren’t available.
Planning and communicating when they want their free time (including vacations) can give a renewed sense of empowerment and control. Also, using an app for remote employee timesheets can save managers time and costs by providing real-time data, and accurate budget information.
Develop a sense of community
Another potential disadvantage of remote teams is the overall loss of a sense of community when people aren’t in daily contact with each other. As a leader, one of your goals should be to foster strong social bonds, not only within your team but across your business.
Regular video calls should be part of your daily schedules, with updates about the whole company. Encouraging collaboration between your team members, as well as colleagues from other areas of the business, will prevent a ‘silo mentality’ from developing.
Set clear goals
Another tool to ensure your team maintains a healthy work/life balance is to ensure that each one has clear business goals to achieve, measurable, and with clear timelines.
Regular check-ins to monitor progress will help to keep things on track, especially with less-experienced team members. With those who have a track record of performance, there’s a great opportunity to show your trust by offering support should they need it, then letting them get on with delivering.
Provide opportunities for career growth
Just because people are working remotely, it doesn’t mean they want to become locked into a boring routine, so ensure you build some variety and challenge into their goals. Likewise, ambitious people will be looking for career progression, so consider how you can provide opportunities for them to develop their skills.
Empowering your best people with projects that stretch them is a great way to maintain their interest and engagement. Likewise, if you were based in the office, cross-training in another department could be seen as a valuable developmental opportunity. Look for ways in which this, and other ways to challenge a potential high-flyer, could become part of your planning.
Add some fun
From time to time, in the office, chances are everyone found time to lighten up and have some fun. While it’s not so easy to achieve remotely, use your imagination to surprise and delight your team. Celebrate success, recognize team performance and outstanding contributions by individuals.
Spending a few minutes on a game, or announcing the results of online competition, won’t detract from the team’s performance, but it may set a happy and energized tone for the rest of the day.
Who enjoys checking their email and responding to endless threads? It’s just so slow and boring. If you have the resources to invest in a collaboration tool such as joincube, your team can share the files they need for their projects and use instant messaging for effortless communication. As a leader, you’ll be able to organize project groups and track progress without needing to open and read every email you’re copied on.
In short, the transition to remote working provides a wealth of unique opportunities for a leader to deliver the results the business needs, via the work of their team. Developing the skill-set required to keep people engaged may require a fresh approach but the benefits will be appreciated by your team and show in the improvement in your business results.