Remote working has been growing in popularity for many years. It’s easy to understand why; it’s extremely popular with staff (some surveys have suggested that as many as 51% of on-site workers would like the opportunity to work remotely) and it can have a wide range benefits and advantages for employers, including reducing costs and increasing productivity.
Interestingly, however, whilst it has caused many problems, the COVID-19 pandemic has managed to accelerate business adoption of remote working as a normal working arrangement. Of course, under the conditions of lockdown, employees were told that they should work from home if they could do so. Government statistics here suggest that around half of the UK population worked from home at some point during the lockdown.
More recent government advice has been advocating for employees to work from home where possible, and whilst policies change very rapidly, we can expect to see working remotely being part of the ‘new normal’ under this pandemic. However, there is evidence to suggest that this trend will continue even once normality can resume.
What this means is that businesses will need to get used to the idea that remote working has been normalised and will be far more common in the future – not just as a way to combat COVID-19, but as a practical part of life. It is important, then, for organisations to get a better understanding of how to manage remote workers and how to get as much out of them as possible.
Possibly the most important lesson ever about remote working
During the Working from Home Show, we gave a keynote presentation about possibly the most important lesson ever about remote working and we want to share that with you. We draw on real-world experiences that contain absolutely vital lessons about managing remote workers.
Before we can understand how businesses can effectively manage remote workers, it is essential to first recognise some of the challenges that remote working can create for businesses. Yes, despite its popularity and benefits, some issues can make remote working more difficult to manage from a business perspective.
Too many video calls?
Firstly, it’s worth acknowledging that we are still learning about the effects of large-scale remote working. A good example of this is the fact that it seems that many people working remotely appear to be spending too much time videoconferencing. Employees are spending significant portions of their days in video call software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It has been seen as a replacement for meetings and general talk in offices, but spending excess time on video calls can interfere with productivity.
It is also likely that videoconferencing is side-lining some employees and this potentially slowing down work, as louder, more talkative staff tend to dominate video calls, sometimes drowning out other voices.
Ambiguous electronic communication
Another challenge comes in the form of electronic communication. Where face-to-face communication was once the norm, we are spending our days communicating electronically where there is more opportunity for misunderstandings.
A lack of social cues can often make meaning ambiguous, especially in asynchronous forms of communication such as emails. This can lead to a huge reduction in social learning – learning from witnessing or overhearing colleagues in the office.
Loneliness and technical issues
Perhaps some of the other challenges regarding remote working are more obvious; 46% of remote workers admit to experiencing loneliness and it is also common for people who work from home to find themselves easily distracted. There can also be more technical issues regarding remote working, especially concerning whether workers are easily able to get access to the information they need to do their job.
What are the benefits of remote working?
If this is seeming to put remote working in a bad light, it might only be because we need to understand the negatives in order to find solutions. It is also vital to stress the reason why it is genuinely essential to find these solutions because remote working is not only here to stay, it can actually be hugely beneficial to companies across many industries.
More relaxed employees
Firstly, remote working can give employees a huge boost from a personal perspective. Being able to work at home often means that they will be around family members or may be free to get things done more easily – that can actually lead to a reduction in stress levels in their personal life. And of course, feeling relaxed at homes makes it more likely to feel relaxed at work too. 58% of staff say that they are happier working from home.
And that comes full circle when we consider that happier and less stressed employees are likely to have higher morale and be more engaged at work.
Ditching the commute
As a side note, it’s worth pointing out that being able to work from home stops the need for commuting. When you consider that the average commute is nearly two hours per day. Across the year, then, working from home actually saves employees around 20 full 24-hour days across the year. This time can be used for personal development, being productive at home, or even getting the better night sleep you deserve.
There is also the suggestion that staff are in this for the long haul – 73% of workers say that they would like to be able to work from home permanently.
How can managers support remote workers?
Given that remote has challenges as well as benefits, it is up to managers of remote staff to find ways to minimise the former and maximise the latter.
Managers need to focus on communication as their main priority as it through communication that so many issues are dealt with. This starts first with regular updates and one-to-ones between manager and the member of team. These should be structured sessions giving both parties the chance to talk and discuss their opinions and ideas.
Of course, remote social interaction between members of staff should also be encouraged, and companies should make use of a range of options in terms of communication including messenger apps and video calls.
It is also important for managers to remember that their overall goal is to help workers succeed. This can mean helping them to get the tools and software that they require to do their job more efficiently and effectively.
Staff face many different types of pressure and uncertainty through their remote working day, so managers must be placed to help them with these. The idea here is that managers need to make things as easy as possible for staff to do their work – this gives them more time and confidence to deal with these pressures.
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6 top tips for managers
It becomes important to consider how best to influence staff working remotely. Here we take a look at some top tips for managers who are having to manage remote workers – remember that this may be something completely new for a manager.
- Focus on synchronous communication – we have already mentioned that email is a form of asynchronous communication – this is because it is not an ongoing conversation – however, there are forms of technology that do allow for synchronous communication such as messenger software and video calls. These provide something similar to the kind of natural human communication that occurs in the office.
- Engage with the team – managers need to engage regularly with their team and not assume that they can be left to their own devices – as we have discussed, remote working can get lonely. It is up to manager to arrange times to chat with their team members.
- Don’t forget about career paths – the old saying goes: out of sight, out of mind. This is relevant to remote working as it seems to be the case that remote staff are overlooked for the work that they do – the irony being that 51% of staff feel that they are actually more productive working remotely. This can make them less likely to be promoted. If staff feel like there is nowhere for them to progress in the company, they can lose motivate. It is up to managers, then, to ensure that staff feel that they have a career path in the business.
- Make meetings essential – sometimes managers have to go out of their way to ensure that a member of staff attends meetings. While we have discussed the perils of excessive videoconferencing, it is nonetheless extremely important that staff attend meetings, not only to keep up with the team socially but also to aid work.
- Trust your team – it is vital that you should the team that you work. Of course, this is easily said but, in practice, it can become trickier. Because managers aren’t able to see employees working, there can a tendency to think negatively about what they are doing without supervision. The air of suspicion plays on the minds of staff too – it can lead to them actually overpromising on what is possible and in what time frame. This leads to further problems as managers feel let down. Ultimately, managers need to have faith that their team is working correctly and not look to micromanage or push for unreasonable deadlines.
- Use emojis and gifs – it might seem unprofessional, but actually using more emojis and gifs in internal conversations can help to make the meaning clearer. It is unfortunately the case that electronic communication can be ambiguous and specific meaning can get lost. Emojis, GIFs and other ways of applying meaning to written words can be extremely useful.
Helping staff achieve business goals
While remote working, it is important for staff to remain goal-orientated. Everyone needs to be working together to push for the success of the company as a whole. Managers must help their team understand the objectives that they are working towards and help them do it.
Increasing recognition is one of the most important ways that this can be more easily achieved. Staff like to see that their hard work is being noticed and recognised – but this is something that often gets forgotten with remote staff. Yet it is more crucial than ever before, so look at putting systems in place not only recognising hard work but also encouraging creativity and innovation.
Motivation is another important issue and companies should be doing everything they can to keep their team motivated. When motivation drops, we see a decline in the engagement of employees and a fall in productivity.
Debunking remote working myths
There are a number of myths that are unfortunately prevalent regarding remote working. It’s worth taking a look at some so that you have the opportunity to examine your own ideas about remote working, as well as understanding ideas that are commonly had about remote work.
- Myth: remote workers deliver less work – companies expect a significant drop in performance from remote staff when actually most workers feel that they either do as much work remotely, or are actually more productive. A bigger concern that you may need to address is the fact that workers are aware that they need to impress when working remotely, so may spend too much time doing things, or rush through tasks to get more done.
- Myth: staff are less available – many businesses are concerned with staff away from the office they will be more difficult to get hold of. Once again, the reality appears to be the opposite: staff are far more likely to be available constantly. This can ultimately have negative consequences as it could lead to burnout.
- Myth: staff won’t work a full day – this calls back to the perception that if managers can’t physically see a member of staff, they are more likely to assume something negative about them. There is a fear in organisations that having staff work without the supervision of managers will lead to them working shorter days and having longer lunch breaks. And again, the opposite is borne out by the facts: 27% of staff say that they work longer days when working remotely, while many work into the evenings and weekends to get tasks completed.
Remote working has both challenges and benefits. To get the most out of your remote staff it is important to have leaders who understand how to manage the team effectively – and this can be very different from leading a team in the office. At iManage Performance, we specialise in helping business leaders and managers understand how to more effectively lead their remote staff for benefits in staff morale, engagement, performance and productivity.
Get in contact with us today if you would like to learn more about what we can do for you and your team.