The 21st century has enabled some extremely different ways of operating in our personal and professional lives; be it the way you manage your finances, organising a lift from the airport, staying in contact with your loved ones or how you work on the go. As we move past 2020 and beyond, more and more organisations are catching onto the fact that they can extract the value of an employee just as effectively regardless of their geographic location. This is, of course, dependent on their role in the organisation and its operations, but there is a clear observable trend going in this direction. If we look at data from the US Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of remote employees contributing to their organisation has increased 159% between the years 2005 and 2017.
This data shows that in a one-year period between 2016 and 2017, flexible working arrangements increased 7.9%, and in the past give years it’s grown by 44%. As it stands, in the US alone there are 4.7 million remote employees; 3.4% of the total population.
If we look at recent data from FlexJobs, 74% of respondents to their survey replied that working remotely has become the new normal when it comes to employment, and the results have been impressive. In terms of productivity, there’s research out there stating that 85% of businesses said their results had increased, in spite of the fact that their employees weren’t forced to sit in their brick-and-mortar headquarters. The same applies to staff morale, with 90% of respondents stating that their flexible work schedule had made them happier and more focussed, and in terms of fiscal concerns, 77% of the respondents said that remote work would allow them to lower operational costs in the organisation.
Matt Thomas, president of WorkSmart Systems says that enabling remote work in his organisation has “allowed a more variable schedule contrasting the traditional nine to five provided an increase in employees’ productivity and help with retention and recruiting.” So, as we can see, there’s some benefits out there for organisations that aren’t afraid to experiment, trust their employees and empower them to work remotely. It’s not all good news, however. If you don’t haven’t given that employee a number, a number that represents their set of accountabilities, targets to meet and a certain expectation of the base-line effort they need to put in for the day, it can turn into an awkward situation. In light of this, let’s take a look at some of the strategies you can implement in your organisation to ensure that your remote workers remain in-line with the vision and goals of the organisation. If you can strike the right balance, it’s transformative, but if you get it wrong, it can be disastrous. Let’s take a look at my top five tips on how to extract the most value from remote employees.
Give Them A Number
First up and most importantly, you need to ensure that your staff members have a crystal clear idea of what you require from them when they’re working remotely. In my organisation, we’ve got an organisational chart that’s plastered on the walls, listing each of the roles and subsequent responsibilities for that job. Wherever possible, have a sit down with the staff member and make two lists: the manager should set out their expectations, and the remote worker should list what they believe is a realistic work expectation. From here, you should meet in the middle with an established list of what can be done in a day, a week and a month. The benefits of having outlined this are that you’ve provided that member of staff with a set of expectations that will keep them focused, and mitigate any chance of becoming too complacent in their role. Dania Shaheen, vice president of strategy and people operations at Kazoo says that “effectively managing remote and flex-time employees starts with managers and employees on the same page for expectations and goals,” adding that “to create a better work environment, organisations must ensure all employees are engaged and feel valued by leadership and management.”
Give Them the Best Tools at Your Disposal
Next up, I think it’s important to talk about empowering those staff members with the best possible equipment and training that you’re willing to provide. Now that they’ve got that clear list of expectations, your organisation should be willing to make an investment in that employee and provide them with physical equipment (computer, stable internet connection etc) but also be prepared to invest in a frequent sharpening of their skills. In my organisation, I’ll regularly ask my staff members to take part in training sessions, watch some youtube videos and I’m constantly passing on interesting articles related to their skills and training. Michelle Labbe, vice president of people at an all-remote organisation, Toptal says that “the biggest best practice is to have effective communications technology available and ready,” adding that “once you have the right technology in place, communication runs smoothly. Between Slack and Zoom, employees can constantly be in touch, for messaging or video calls.”
“A successful remote company is a very collaborative, over-communicative culture and if someone is not, that’s a red flag,” she says. I think this is an important point to cover, and it should be cleared up in the first stage of the process, where the employer is setting out their list of expectations; you need to make clear the level of communication that you’re expecting from them in exchange for their wages. To wrap up this point, the organisation should remain committed to providing that employee with the best possible equipment and training to further their knowledge and increase their skill set. Richard Branson once said that it’s vital to train your employees so well that they’re able to leave and take up a superior job, but treat them so well that they won’t want to; that’s what we’re talking about there.
Keep Your System Updated To Work For Everyone
Now that we’ve covered two of the fundamental concerns regarding the remote employee, it’s time to look inward and see what the organisation itself can improve to ensure they have the most streamlined interactions while working with your systems. Cloud-based operating systems are commonplace nowadays, and they’ve never been more effective and affordable. These cloud-based networks mean that your employees can log into your system wherever they are, and begin to log their tasks and get their day underway. If you’re interested in getting the best out of your employees, you should be aware that you’ll need to invest - even a small amount - into the optimising of your cloud-based system to ensure that it’s as user-friendly as possible. Trust me, I know how easy it can be to get complacent in this sense, and soon become flooded in unorganised folders that you’re too scared or lazy to organise, but this is, unfortunately, a necessary action to take to ensure everyone is working with your site- rather than against it.
Lynee Luque, vice president and head of people at Envoy said that “we don’t wait for it to become a problem. It’s important to constantly check-in with our distributed employees and iterate on our tools, systems, and processes based on feedback. We do this through roundtable discussions, weekly pulse checks, and an engagement survey every six months.”
This was echoed by the director of technology at Sennheiser, Torben Christiansen, who said that “organisations need to ensure employees can seamlessly connect wherever they are, to focus on the work and not equipment. Headsets and portable conference speakers play an important role, as well as cloud-based software so employees can access the tools they need anywhere, anytime.”
I’m going to continue to dive into this thread of content in the coming days and weeks, so please check out our blog for updates.
For now, thanks for your time, and I’ll see you in the next piece.