Many managers fear that letting employees work from home will result in lowered productivity, family distractions, and overall slacking. However, extreme weather that limits employee mobility, like the recent polar vortex with its record-setting -53 degrees in Minneapolis and -27 degrees in Chicago, make strong remote work systems desirable. Companies that enable and even encourage off-presmises work are able to continue operations in situations like this, instead of suffering the economic losses associated with forced closures. Allowing employees to work remotely part or all of the time has additional benefits, as well.
According to the Owl Labs’ 2018 Global State of Remote Work, that included more than 3,000 employees, the number one reason employees choose to work remotely is to increase their productivity and focus. The second reason is to reduce their commute time, followed by choosing a better work-life balance. The report found that those who work remotely at least once a month were 24% more likely to feel happy and productive in their roles than those without a work-from-home option. Moreover, sensible remote work policies mean a wider range of learning styles are accommodated, so that more employees have the opportunity to be their most productive. Verbal learners, for example, were 35% more likely to work remotely in order to improve their focus and productivity, while auditory and physical learns were 22% more likely to work remotely as a way to minimize work-related stress and boost productivity.
Remote work policies also help companies retain employees in the long term. Companies that support remote work options experience 25% less employee turnover than those that do not. Flexible work policies that include at-home or remote work options give companies an edge when recruiting, allowing them to attract and retain better talent.
Finally, Owl Labs found that embracing remote work policies also led to lower overhead costs – a benefit that can be particularly important for startups navigating small budgets. When employees work from home instead of the office, companies can reduce the cost of office space and on-site technical support, as well as space specific expenses from electricity to stocking the snack room,
What kind of support and/or tools should you invest in to ensure remote workers are successful?
“Companies above all else should invest in tools and policies that drive effective communication,” suggests Rebecca Corliss, a VP at Owl Labs. “For instance, many organizations use chat tools for asynchronous communication that occurs when a large group of people are spread out across the company. Chat tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are ideal for making sure everyone is in the know at the same time.”
For meetings and more personal conversations, Corliss suggests video.
“Video is a much more personal form of communication. Communications are clearer, there’s less misunderstanding, and the facetime involved makes it easier to build relationships,” she notes. “Startup Pendo, for example, uses the Meeting Owl — a 360 degree smart conferencing camera — in every meeting, to give remote employees a chance to feel they’re in the same room with the team. It’s important to invest in technology for your remote workers, just as much as you support those sitting in the main office.”
Online screen sharing tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting are other good options for convening remote teams.
What are the biggest challenges when managing a remote team?
“If you are concerned about working with a remote team, the winter storm season can be a great opportunity to test out your new work-from-home model,” Corliss says. “The key thing you’ll need to be successful? You need to have trust.
“If you don’t trust your employees, there’s a very high risk that your remote work policies will not be successful. If your office is located in an area hit with heavy snow, sleet or frigid temperatures, give your employees the option to avoid lengthy and potentially dangerous commutes, and work from home. Tell them you trust them to be communicative with HQ — and that the work will get done no matter where they are,” Corliss suggests.
For many supervisors who are managing a remote team for the first time, it may be difficult to shed some of their previous habits that don’t apply to a remote workforce. “For example, perhaps a manager equates hard work with long hours at a desk and likes walking around to check in with employees,,” Corliss notes. “This behavior does not really translate to remote work.”
Instead, successful managers of remote teams are communicative and proactively ensure that lack of proximity doesn’t limit how they work with and develop relationships with their team. Whether that means investing in chat tools, video conferencing or management training, successful managers guarantee that the right resources are available for all employees to communicate effectively from any location.
Instead of focusing on time, think about your employee’s work product. Make sure each employee has clear objectives and metrics that they have to hit, and then be sure to track those goals. With remote work, “every employee is evaluated fairly based on results instead of the sheer amount of time spent at a desk!” Corliss concludes. Objective assessment is one more benefit to add to the list in favor of remote work options.