Whether they’re at a nearby café or on another continent, remote work employees can feel light-years apart. We spoke with two Canadian HR experts managing employees from South Africa to San Francisco to learn their best practices for keeping everyone on the same page.
By Jillian S Wood
Working remotely isn’t just a millennial fad or phenomenon reserved for tech startups. It’s a global trend.
Several recent studies have found that rates of telecommuting are steadily on the rise, as are positive attitudes towards it. If you don’t already have an off-site team, now is definitely the time to start thinking about it.
That’s because remote work is good news for everyone. It’s not just about employers saving overhead costs on rent (though that’s one bonus) or employees spending all day in their pjs (that’s a bonus, too).
The truth is, allowing your employees to work from home, coworking spaces, or from a yacht, if that’s their style, has been shown to make them feel more valued, happier, and overwhelmingly more productive.
Remote work employees report feeling more valued, happier, and overwhelmingly more productive.
When teams and individuals have flexibility in when and where they work, they can reduce stress and distractions, save on fuel or transit costs, and skip long commutes to spend more time with their families.
Meanwhile, employers can save costs on rent, office supplies, and utilities, while hiring the very best talent regardless of geography. They’ll also notice employees taking fewer breaks and sick days.
With all these benefits, you’d think physical office space would be banished. Not so. Telecommuting does still have significant challenges.
Just ask Robert Kelly, whose young children famously burst into his home office in the middle of a very serious and very live BBC broadcast. The video has garnered upwards of 23 million views–many from people who understand that working from home isn’t always the #workperk it’s made out to be.
Meme-worthy interruptions aside, teams that aren’t physically near one another have significant hurdles to overcome. These include staying aligned, developing strong bonds, communicating clearly, and building a cohesive company culture.
Technology can ease the burden. However, there’s more needed for a successful remote work strategy than fancy video conferencing software.
We talked to two Canadian business leaders working with off-site employees to learn about the tools and strategies they use to keep long distance worklationships alive. Read on for their best practices for managing remote employees.
Best practices for managing remote work employees
1. Bake it into your culture
The key to having a successful remote employee strategy involves creating a culture in which all employees recognize the challenges and advantages of remote work.
That means establishing best practices for remote work as soon as new employees join your company, says Ali Popp, Talent Programs Manager at Influitive. Though their home base is in Toronto, Influitive has 13 remote employees spread across Canada and the United States, and two satellite offices in Boston and San Francisco.
She recommends incorporating remote work training into your employee onboarding process for both remote and in-office employees. This training should not only cover the tools and processes for working with remote colleagues, but also outline your company’s beliefs about the benefits of remote work.
The key to a successful remote employee strategy is creating a culture where all employees recognize the challenges and advantages of remote work.
If on-site employees don’t understand the value of remote work, or how to handle the challenges of collaborating with remote coworkers, both groups and their work can suffer, she says. “Just because you come in and your colleague doesn’t, it doesn’t mean you’re working harder than them. It’s about acknowledging different working styles and outlining their benefits for everyone.”
The bonus? This will signal that your organization respects and trusts employees to do what they need to do. A 2013 Workplace Survey by Gensler found that employees who could choose where they worked were more satisfied with their jobs, performed better, and considered their company as more innovative than competitors.
2. Lead by example
It can be easy to lose track of remote workers’ progress, challenges, or everyday needs. But ‘out of sight, out of mind’ doesn’t cut it. “You have to consistently make [remote workers] a priority,” says Ali.
Leaders must be extra-attuned to the needs of remote employees, and demonstrate this to the entire company. Ask leaders to consistently call on remote employees to speak-up during meetings, and provide them with the tools and technology to run things as smoothly as possible. A quiet space, screens, and great sound equipment are a must. Once the precedent is set, the rest of the company should follow suit.
With remote workers, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ doesn’t cut it.
There should also be a plan in place if the meeting structure changes. “If you planned a break-out session during a large team meeting, have you considered how remote employees will participate?” says Ali.
Creating a checklist everyone can reference can help prevent remote employees from feeling like an afterthought.
3. Err on the side of over-communication
For Naomi Grey, Head of Operations at Toronto web design agency Phuse, communicating with remote employees is a daily mission. Phuse’s employees span South Africa to British Columbia. As a tight-knit design team, they need to communicate clearly and frequently to work at their best.
“Being a remote office lets us have a team that consists of the absolute best people we can find,” explains Naomi. Her top tip for telework employers: “It’s super important that you err on the side of too much communication rather than too little. We like to say over-communicate and communicate with purpose.”
“We like to say over-communicate and communicate with purpose.”-Naomi Grey, Head of Operations at Phuse
“Because most of your communication will be non-verbal, remembering to gauge the tone of your messages (be they in Slack, email or another tool) is vital to making sure that what you want to say is communicated in the best way possible,” she adds. “Emoji can be helpful, as is just reading over what you’ve written before hitting send!”
4. Get creative with replicating office perks
Remote workers tend to miss out on the small perks of being in-office, like birthday cakes and other fun activities. Since perks contribute to employee morale, think about how you can replicate these benefits for remote workers.
For example, if office employees get a catered lunch, let remote employees expense a lunch of equal value of their choice.
It’s not just physical perks that matter. Remote employees can sometimes miss out on impromptu water cooler chatter. “Those side conversations they have with coworkers can help them bond and do their job better,” says Ali.
She suggests finding as many ways as possible to keep them in the loop. Take charge of crafting detailed meeting notes for anything they miss, leading short daily sync-ups, or launching a weekly internal newsletter with both professional and fun office news, like events, milestones, and celebrations.
Tools that enhance the remote experience
Finally, to have a successful remote strategy, you’ll need more than just a few conference lines.
Face-to-face communication and real-time collaboration tools are needed to make remote and in-office employees more efficient and productive. “Having the right tools enables people to commit to the remote experience,” says Ali.
“Having the right tools enables people to commit to the remote experience.”-Ali Popp, Talent Programs Manager at Influitive.
Here some of the most popular tools experts recommend you invest in:
• Excellent video conferencing software with screen sharing capabilities
• Laptops outfitted with webcams, or separate webcams for desktops
• Great wifi or hard-wired internet to prevent lagging and dropped calls
• Large screens and cameras in bigger meeting rooms so everyone can be seen
• Headphones/microphones to improve sound quality
• An internal chat or community, like Slack, Flowdock, etc.
• Shared drives and cloud storage to work on documents to prevent version issues
• A web-based system for making time-off requests and employee updates easy, from coast to coast
Creating the best remote employee experience requires continual testing and employee feedback. Ali and Naomi recommend testing new systems out on your most engaged remote employees and asking for continuous feedback on how you can make their work as great as can be.
With Collage HR’s all-in-one online solution, remote work managers can create custom location-based time off policies, share calendars company-wide, and securely store records in one easy-to-access place.
Collage is used by great Canadian companies and their remote employees in countries all over the world. Find out how our HR solution can help your business grow at collage.co.