Six ways to empower employees working remotely

Gina Jones

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Forget what you think you know about managing remote employees. New research suggests that rather than being kept on a tighter leash, home workers need to be empowered to self-regulate in order to succeed.

Attracting top talent is a challenge for most organisations, and while a competitive salary may get them through your door, retaining them requires a better understanding of which working conditions are most effective.

Companies that offer flexible and remote working may be getting the pick of the crop, according to a recent survey by Powwownow. When choosing a new role, 70 per cent of workers said being offered flexible working would make the job more attractive. In fact, 40 per cent would pick flexible working over a pay rise if they could only choose one, suggesting that the priority for many employees is the quality of their experience at work, above and beyond the amount they are paid.

As technology advances, increasing numbers of businesses are taking advantage of the tools available to attract talent globally and allow them to work long-distance. In a recent survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London, 34 per cent said more than half of their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. And a full 25 per cent said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020.

It seems the workplace of the future could be our own homes – or wherever we choose. So how can you ensure your organisation stays ahead of the trend and empowers employees to work remotely, while ensuring productivity remains high?

1. Keep it real-time

Communication is key to managing a successful remote team. Nothing makes remote employees more disenfranchised than feeling like they are missing out on important communications, so make sure they have the means the keep in touch with their colleagues in real-time, wherever they are.

Platforms like Skype, Slack, Trello and Google for Work will allow them to have instant access to any updates and share information with colleagues more easily. It’s worth spending some time looking at the functionality they need, and making sure all relevant personnel are trained in it. You can learn more about workplace technology for remote workers.

2. Don’t be a ‘helicopter manager’

When employees work remotely, it can make monitoring their performance more difficult. But this doesn’t mean managers should be more stringent with their supervision. As part of a research study into the effects of remote working, author Nick van der Meulen found that while conventional wisdom is to monitor remote employees more carefully, this may have an adverse effect.

“A lack of direct supervision is often not a problem,” van der Meuelen says. “Most teleworkers aren’t slackers by nature. These studies suggested that the extent of telework does not negatively affect their job performance but improves it. In fact, attempts to monitor too closely can backfire: our survey suggests that most of the performance benefit of telework is less about being out of the office than about being given more autonomy. Undermine that autonomy and you undo the advantages of telework.”

3. Engage, engage, engage

Employee engagement is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but nowhere is it more important than when managing remote workers. If you’re not seeing them every day, finding ways to make employees feel like a valuable part of the team and making sure their work is recognised is more of a challenge. It requires continual investment from the company on every level.

Taking the time to meet with them personally, where possible, and having an informal communication channel where you can discuss things outside of work can contribute to making them feel more engaged.

4. Track the mood

When employees work remotely, it can be hard to monitor morale – sentiment isn’t easy to assess over email or Skype. One way to ensure your employees remain engaged is to use a mood tracker, such as Culture Amp, TINYpulse or Officevibe, where you can survey their level of engagement online or through a mobile app.

Getting regular feedback will help you stay ahead of the curve and also reiterate to employees that their morale is important to the organisation.

5. Coach, rather than manage

Remote workers can respond differently to management than those in the office, according to the research. In fact, 56 per cent of employees in the Powwownow survey said managers should adapt their skills to manage a remote workforce. Managers need to look at the relationship less as a hierarchical one, and more as a supportive role.

“The key is to realise that remote employees don’t need nagging so much as coaching,” van der Meulen says. “For instance, managers might provide employees with additional insights into their performance or the effects of their work. An effective approach would therefore be for managers to focus on teleworkers’ long-term results, and rely on employee self-monitoring and peer support to keep shorter-term performance on shared projects or objectives on target. Similarly, if managers can create greater transparency regarding peer performance, employees can better judge the results of their own work.”

6. Create a shared work culture

Just as you would expect office workers to buy into the company values and your way of doing business, it’s important that remote workers feel the same sense of community and represent you in the same way. Keeping them informed about the status of the business, new projects (even if they are not directly working on them) and company news are all essential if you want them to feel part of it all. Where possible, bringing the remote workers and the rest of the team together in person is a good way to build relationships and integrate them into the shared work culture.

Finally, it’s important to remember that if remote working is a new and unfamiliar practice in your organisation, you may need to provide a bedding-in period for managers in particular to get used to the new skills and practices required. Just as you’d expect the remote worker to be fully versed in their area of expertise, those managing them need to completely understand the differing demands of the role.

Keen to get started? Read our Essential tech guide: Tips for working remotely and efficiently.

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