Sam O’Brien of RingCentral shares his advice for building and managing a remote workforce from afar.
Remote work is no longer a concept reserved for just the lucky few. The rise of cloud technology and software as a service means that any company can expand into the realm of building a remote workforce, with very little initial investment.
According to research from 2017, 70% of employees feel that a business offering flexible working solutions is more attractive as an employer.
Additionally, 55% of employees in the UK say remote working makes them happier by reducing things like the daily commute.
At the time of writing this article, the world is being hit with a pandemic that has forced a large portion of the professional community to begin working from home.
Although this health scare presents a massive threat to our way of life, it has also shown us that remote work is a real and viable possibility for most companies.
Unfortunately, there’s more to creating your remote workforce than simply handing your employees a laptop and letting them work from home. Businesses need a careful strategy for building and managing a remote team.
The Case for the Remote Workforce
Even in an age where remote work is more popular than ever, there are some organizations that believe employers need to be there with their teams in person to manage them.
However, as we’ve seen en masse at the beginning of this year, that isn’t the case.
In the 2019 Future Workforce report from Upwork, 55% of hiring managers say remote work is likely to grow significantly in the decade ahead.
Now that we’ve seen how productive and efficient employees can be in remote environments, there’s nothing to stop us from continuing our adventure into the remote landscape.
Benefits of Remote Working for Employees and Employers
The benefits of remote working are significant, not just for employees, but for their employers too. From an employee perspective, remote working means that commute time can transform into valuable productivity time or even meaningful moments with the family.
What’s more, many team leaders allow their remote staff to adjust their schedules according to their needs. This means that employees can work when they’re most motivated.
From an employer perspective, the remote workforce delivers better results for a lower cost input. With a remote team, you don’t need to invest in as much office real estate and overheads like electricity.
There’s no need for dozens of high-tech computers and desk phones laid out end-to-end in a room. This means the cost of managing a team goes down significantly.
What’s more, far from reducing productivity, the studies show that 39% of people who work mostly from home work extra hours compared to those in the office.
Add the extra motivation staff members feel to the fact that employers can access the most talented and relevant employees for their team from around the world, and you can see how significant this workplace shift is.
According to a survey of 3,500 remote workers, 98% of them wanted to continue working remotely, at least part-time, for the rest of their careers.
Even after the pandemic of COVID-19 is over and people can begin to return to work, most are unlikely to want to be “in-office” all of the time.
Building Your Remote Workforce
Psychological studies tell us that when it’s done right, remote working can increase morale, creativity and productivity in the workplace.
However, business leaders need to make sure they have the right strategy in place to protect their companies and support their workers. In large part, the shift to a remote work environment requires a shift in mindset.
The transition can be difficult for those who are used to the old-fashioned in-office environment. However, because of COVID-19, many companies have been forced to face their fears about remote working head-on.
The key now is to think about how you can continue to optimize your remote workforce in the years to come.
5 Tips for Building a Remote Team
1. Assess Which Roles Are Suited to Remote Working
Knowledge workers and people who frequently use software are the obvious choice for the first line of remote workers. You’ll need to look at people who can work independently as long as they have the right tools.
The good news is that the tech is out there. Thanks to the cloud, contact centre agents can even work remotely through CCaaS solutions.
2. Prioritize Communication
Communication will always be at the heart of a successful business. However, the shift to remote work can cause communication to suffer.
Ensure that your employees have the right tools in place to connect with co-workers. This could include everything from instant messaging services to video conferencing.
3. Update Engagement
Think about how you can keep employees empowered and engaged. This could mean pushing out training sessions through online webinars or helping team members with new tools like virtual whiteboards.
Find out what your team members need to be their most productive by speaking to them.
4. Consider Your Security and Compliance
How are you going to keep your team as secure as possible when they’re working from home? Do you need to use a VPN or access things like multi-factor authentication to prevent data breaches?
5. Track Performance
How will you know if your remote working strategies are successful? Which metrics are you going to track? Will you be focused on the number of hours that an employee logs each day, or the number of tasks they complete?
Communicating With Your Remote Workforce
Remote teams are incredibly valuable, often delivering a productivity rating of 7.7 out of 10, compared to only 6.5 out of 10 for teams in open-plan offices.
Unfortunately, a team can only be as good as the support that it gets from management. As an employer or business leader, it’s important to maintain a community where all workers can thrive – despite their physical location.
Business leaders need to think about how they can convert the typical office environment into a virtual space where teams have everything they need.
Research tells us that teams with strong group identities or company culture are more likely to have greater levels of trust. Unfortunately, distance from the office can make it difficult for employees to feel like part of the team.
That’s why it’s so important that business leaders start their path towards the remote workforce with the right communication strategies in place.
In the remote-working landscape, if your employees are relatively independent, it can be easy to let communication fall to the wayside. Employers trust their teams to get work done, and they don’t worry about keeping in touch.
However, that’s exactly the kind of thing that leads to problems.
An “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” approach to managing remote teams is how confusion and detachment arise in the workforce.
5 Questions to Answer Before You Dive Into Remote Working
1. What Communication Tools Are Necessary?
How are you going to keep your team connected, not just with each other, but with the outside world too? Do you need a UCaaS and CCaaS solution to provide a consolidated communications platform? This could help to bridge the gap between different people in your team and allow for a more cohesive environment.
2. What Kind of Collaboration Services Are Crucial?
How are your team members going to work together on projects? Aside from using video conferencing and messaging to stay connected, do they need a place where they can sync and share files?
3. How Can You Provide Guidance and Feedback?
How will your employees know which tasks to work on each day and whether they’re moving in the right direction? Can you use project management services and workforce optimization tools to keep people on the right page?
4. Which Communication Policies Are Needed?
How are your team members going to use the different communication services they have? Will they usually interact through instant messenging, but expand to video and audio when it’s necessary? How quickly are team members expected to respond to messages?
5. How Will You Keep Team Members Informed?
Will you be sending out regular newsletters and emails to everyone in your team? Would it be better to have an internal site where employees can find only the information they need without being overwhelmed by correspondence?
Even embracing things like presence and status tools so that employees can show their colleagues when they’re available is crucial here. This will help staff to avoid overwhelming their fellow staff members with too much communication.
4 Tips for Managing Your Remote Workforce
Once you’ve got your communications strategy ironed out for your remote business, you can begin to think about how you can better manage remote teams.
All teams require a certain set of processes to help them get their best work done. So, how can you empower your employees?
1. Make Expectations Clear
Ultimately, your team members need to know what you expect from them when they’re operating remotely. Are you hoping that everyone will check in at the end of each day to let you know what they’ve done? Or do you have a program in place that will track work for you?
Let your employees know how their success is going to be measured when they’re outside of the office. This could mean asking them to track the time they spend on certain projects, or just measuring the number of tasks that get completed each week.
When expectations are clear, and your team knows exactly what kind of results you’re looking for, you’re more likely to see results.
2. Create a Virtual Watercooler
Having regular team meetings is a great way to keep your remote workforce engaged. However, it’s not enough if you want company culture to thrive. Your employees need a way to interact with each other spontaneously and build human connections.
Having a tool in place like RingCentral Glip, where team members can message each other about anything, could be a great way to encourage conversation. You might also consider adding a personal meeting to the roster every week. For instance, last thing on a Friday, your employees might come together for a quick discussion that doesn’t have to be about work.
Virtual watercooler sessions might not lead to the most productivity or innovation in your business, but they will help your employees to feel more engaged by your company.
3. Invest in Developing Your Team
Just because your employees are working remotely doesn’t mean that they don’t crave the same things as their in-office counterparts. A good leader in this environment is someone who can deliver regular training and growth opportunities to their team members.
For instance, there are dozens of online training sessions available to companies online today that can help your remote employees to develop new skills. Alternatively, if you’re gathering information from your contact centre analytics and other crucial tools, you can create your own training opportunities.
Webinars and online sessions where people can discover how to improve their skills are an excellent way to encourage professional growth.
If you’re not sure how your employees would like to develop their skills going forward, speak to them about it. A one-on-one session where you plan future targets could make a huge difference.
4. Focus on Measuring the Right Metrics
You need the right tracking tools in place to ensure that your remote working strategy is having a positive impact. When employees are in an office, it’s easy to get an insight into how much time is spent working. However, just because your employees are there, doesn’t mean that they’re their most productive.
With that in mind, it’s worth switching the way you measure performance and productivity in your company around. Instead of measuring the hours spent on a project, look at the kind of results you’re getting. It doesn’t matter if work gets done faster, as long as it’s done to the standards that you expect from your remote team.
Embracing the Remote Workforce
The trend for remote work is here to stay.
Companies have seen for themselves how effective remote workers can be, and they’re unlikely to go back to the drawing board now. If you haven’t taken the time to develop a remote working strategy yet, now is the perfect time.
Think about your future, the tools your employees will need, and the kind of things you can do to build a more engaged company culture.