While it’s now commonplace that employees are working from home, that was not the case before January 2020. The Society for Human Resources (SHRM) reports that “pre-pandemic only roughly 2 percent of the U.S. workforce was working remotely; by May 2020, that number had risen to close to 70 percent.”
As companies have adopted fully remote models, as well as hybrid options, it’s required shifts in technology, collaboration, team management and employee engagement methods. While many employees welcome this new model, there are challenges as well.
According to the 2021 State of Remote Work report, the biggest struggles workers report about working remotely include:
- Not being able to unplug (27%)
- Difficulties with collaboration and communication (16%)
- Loneliness (16%)
- Distractions at home (15%)
- Staying motivated (12%)
- Being in a different time zone than teammates (7%)
- Other (7%)
Despite the challenges, the report findings indicate that 97.6% of remote workers “would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.” It’s apparent that the desires of a mobile workforce have arrived.
Knowing that remote and mobile work are here to stay in some form, employers need to find the best approach for their employees. Whether you have just a few remote team members, or everyone in your organization is dispersed, you can keep employees happy with a proactive approach.
1) Ask for employee input.
Take time to gather feedback and ask employees how it’s going for your remote employees. According to a report from Glint, the following topics are key indicators of employee engagement and productivity in a remote setting:
- I feel well supported by my company at this time.
- I have what I need to be productive while working remotely.
- I know what I should be focusing on right now.
- My company is doing a good job helping employees feel connected to one another.
- I can get the support I need from my manager right now.
As you connect formally or informally with employees, use these suggested topics as a place to ask questions and see how remote work is going for your team members. Find out how employees are doing and what they need to feel more supported.
2) Provide top-notch tech tools.
Top-notch technology that they can use to collaborate and communicate with colleagues is essential for remote workers. Today’s reliable systems and tools provide options for employees to connect, which is key to their happiness at work. Make it as easy as possible for your mobile workforce to access documents, chat and collaborate – regardless of where they are working.
The employee engagement experts at Glint conducted pulse surveys with leaders and employees during the pandemic to get a sense of what impact remote work was having on engagement. In their analysis of over 2.5 million pieces of feedback, they found “that communication and infrastructure and tools were the most common topics mentioned in employees’ comments.
3) Take time to team build.
It’s important to plan occasional in-person gatherings to help your team get to know one another and harness the energy of in-person collaboration. For example, TCP’s marketing team plans quarterly gatherings. These events last 1-2 days and are just as much about camaraderie as they are about collaboration.
If you don’t have the option to gather in-person, make the most of web meeting platforms. Sure, you may use Zoom or Microsoft Teams to get your work done, but you can also use the platforms for social events to celebrate work anniversaries, host book clubs, or even play virtual ice breaker games.
4) Provide “rules of engagement.”
Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published an article addressing how to address the top concerns with remote work. One of managers’ top concerns was that remote employees “won’t work as hard or efficiently (though research indicates otherwise, at least for some types of jobs).”
Those fears are understandable, but preventable so long as you put parameters in place. First, it’s essential to start from a place of trust and appreciation for the flexibility that remote work allows. Many workers are now working in “sprints,” meaning they may work 3-4 hours at a time, take a break for a couple hours to run errands, tend to family or take care of other business, then work for 3-4 more hours later in the day.
Don’t assume your employees are going to slack off until you see signs that they are. Determine the level of flexibility you’re comfortable with and communicate that to your team. Also, establish a norm for check-ins. HBR reports that some managers find daily check-ins useful. Those can take the form of one-on-one phone calls, or group check-ins via a web meeting for more interactive teams. Ideally, these check-ins will be a chance for employees to get the support they need and for managers to confirm that the work is getting done.
5) Put standards in place.
Remote work will only be as successful as the standards your organization sets. If one team leader allows people to work remotely at any hour, while others require specific office hours, there can be confusion and even workplace claims about inequitable standards regarding work assignments. It’s essential that your leadership team define standards and set expectations for remote work across your organization.
But it’s not just up to leaders to make remote work a positive experience for all. HBR shares an example from IBM:
“In the early days of the pandemic, IBM employees created a ‘work-from-home pledge’ that specified company norms such as how to communicate and treat each other while working remotely. This grassroots initiative was ultimately supported by IBM’s CEO, which provided a strong signal to the rest of the organization about accepted remote-work norms.”
For employees and employers alike, there is added complexity with remote and hybrid workplaces. It’s up to you to decide what’s right for your organization. It’s about balance and ensuring members of your remote or mobile workforce are prepared and supported in ways that will help you move your business forward.
Want more insights about how to implement remote or hybrid work? Check out this article by TCP’s CEO, Eric Thurston.
For more information about the technology you need to be successful, check out our eBook, Mobile Solutions Are Essential to Today's Workforce.