Remote working has changed the logistical landscape of the modern business world. COVID-19 forced employees out of the workplace environment to work from home which meant the end of long commutes and clocking in and out of the office. This wouldn’t have been possible without access to appropriate technologies and infrastructure. Research shows that this sudden change in work practices, which many felt would be a short term fix, has created huge expectations for remote working to become a permanent feature in future operations.
However as many managers and business owners will contest, managing remote teams brings a unique set of challenges. And if companies want to operate successfully within a remote working model they will need to adapt new policies and procedures to make it work.
The real challenges of managing virtual teams
For a long time business owners and managers were opposed to the concept of remote working. It came from a perception that employees might shirk their responsibilities away from watchful managers while others felt that the quality of work would suffer without face-to-face collaboration with colleagues.
However COVID-19 forced companies to quickly introduce and adapt operations to allow staff to remain home and continue working. This sudden change in workplace policy raised a number of challenges for managers. Would their IT systems support remote working? What was the best way to communicate in real-time with staff in different locations? Could they expect the same levels of productivity and output?
There were also personnel issues to address. Not everyone is suited to working remotely and feelings of isolation and disconnect are not uncommon. How would they recognise and address that? Some people perform better in the workplace surrounded by colleagues as they bounce ideas off each other and provide support and advice. The buzz of the office environment also helps to maintain morale and sustain the company culture.
The sudden change in work practices also meant that employees faced a number of practical problems. Many struggled with consistency and meeting work commitments with their family and children also compelled to stay at home. Technology and connectivity issues also made working from home difficult for some and without a dedicated workspace, separating family and work life became problematic.
But even though they were ill-prepared for this new way of working, it was a do or die scenario for organisations. Those who were flexible and open to change met the opportunity. They redesigned procedures and processes and found solutions that would allow staff to work from home while at the same time managing to maintain quality standards. Companies adapted and met the challenge and made it work to their advantage.
Benefits of remote working
Having gotten over the initial difficulties imposed by COVID-19 lockdown and staff being forced to work from home, organisations soon recognised the benefits that remote working was bringing to their company. Some larger companies like Twitter, made the decision early on that employees would be allowed to remain working from home on a permanent basis.
But it’s not just the big multinationals that can gain from a remote working policy, the positive impacts can be reaslised by companies of all sizes.
- Flexibility for staff has been a major point of discussion for organisations for some time now. Studies have shown that flexibility is a key factor in employee satisfaction ratings. Research carried out by Lorraine Murphy Coaching & Training found that the top 3 factors in deciding whether an organisation was a “great place to work” were “Value Employees”, “Positive Culture” and “Flexibility”, surprisingly ahead of remuneration and benefits. Zero commute times, more family time and freedom are very attractive to today’s employees.
- Productivity – Numerous studies have shown that remote or teleworkers are more productive over their office counterparts. Employees also find that when tackling complex and difficult tasks they perform better away from the office.
- Engagement – Remote workers are more engaged than office workers. Listening to staff and providing opportunities for more flexibility fosters an engaged workforce. Staff feel respected and valued and in turn are more willing to go the extra mile for the organisation.
- Staff attraction and retention – Just as employees value flexibility at work, jobseekers are also looking for organisations who offer flexibility and remote working opportunities. According to research carried out by NUI Galway & Western Development Commission 83% of Irish employees would like to continue with some form of remote working after the Covid-19 crisis. Offering flexibility and an employee-centred culture helps to reduce staff recruitment costs which can be upwards of €10,000 per replacement.
It’s not surprising that more and more organisations are introducing (where appropriate) some form of remote working policy, whether it’s on full or part-time model. The COVID-19 lockdown provided a litmus test and companies are now learning and developing best practice models to move forward.
How to make it work for your company
In order for remote working to be an effective business model it needs to be lead from the top down. While we now have the technology and infrastructure to implement change, the success of managing virtual teams is built on commitment at senior levels to proactively manage the transition. Remote working is not the future, it’s here now. So in order to stay ahead of the curve organisations need to develop and execute a clear strategy in order to deliver benefits for all stakeholders.
Your remote working strategy should address each of the following elements:
- Communication – Email simply isn’t enough. Communication is the backbone of every organisation and now more than ever you need to double down on your communication strategies. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! And remember it’s a two-way process.
- Collaboration – The key to bringing out the best in your team right now is collaborative agreement on expectations. You must communicate these goals clearly and consistently. Revisit them often and keep them clear and simple!
- Time Management – focus on the output not the input. People’s working hours may need to be flexible due to access to technology, working space etc. So now more than ever it is important to focus on outputs rather than time input.
- Technology – Managers and tech executives are re-evaluating the use of technology and tools to support remote working to ensure high levels of productivity and engagement are maintained. In order to prepare for and embrace the ‘new normal’ companies must look to invest in technology to optimise the shift to remote and flexible working.
- Stay Visible – Lead by example. Successful remote working teams are led by successful remote working leaders. Show and encourage collaborative and transparent discussions and decision making. Engage often and stay visible.
- Set clear remote working guidelines – The global pandemic of Covid-19 propelled both employers and employees into the unknown world of remote working. Now 5 months in, this is looking like a ‘new normal’ in the business landscape, so time must be invested into planning clear remote working guidelines and strategies for staff to follow.
- Check in regularly – email or zoom calls are not enough, make sure everyone has all the information they need and use various communication touch points to support and communicate the message.
- Schedule huddle check-ins on a daily basis – make sure all cameras are turned on and engage with your team just like you would if you were in the office together.
- Managers and leaders should inform their teams as to set times they are available to take calls if there are any queries or need for clarification.
- Use tools and technology to share documents safely and securely so everyone has access to what they need.
- Share diaries so your team know when you are free and can keep up to date avoid working in silos
- Set up virtual coffee breaks – many people struggle with the isolation and miss colleague engagement – it is not all work and no play.
- Let people know what your working environment looks like so they are aware of any challenges you may be facing – don’t hide it.
Tips for remote workers
- Set up a specific ‘work space’ – try to ensure this is the only place you work in so when you are in that space you are working but you can also walk away from it. This is not easy for everyone but no matter where that space is in your house, designate it to work.
- Allocate specific times to work and be disciplined. It’s very easy to continue working past your decidated finish time in order to complete a task but this will lead to burnout. So set working hours for yourself with scheduled breaks and stick to them. This will help you separate home and work life.
- Focus on the output not the input – instead of clock watching set key tasks and actions which can be measured so you can manage your output and schedule.
- Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! If you have questions or need more input use the communication tools or huddles effectively.
Despite initial opposition to the concept, the practicalities of remote working became the norm for many organisations in recent time. Companies had little choice but to adapt their operations for many months and in doing so became a testament to the benefits that remote working offers.
Since the transition employees have made it clear, they want flexibility from employers and remote working is set to become a big part of the future of businesses.
So now is the time for leaders to embrace it. Effective remote working begins at the top of the organisation. You lead by example, so as leaders you must ensure you are engaging and communicating with your teams effectively both on and off-site. By embracing remote working strategies now you will keep your business ahead of the curve in the future. Remote working is the new norm, get ready for it.
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss remote working strategies for your organisation or best practice for implementation please contact us today. Email [email protected] or call today +353 87 2549434.