Working remotely has definite appeal. I happily shoved my uncomfortable suits and painful high heels to the back of my closet for a more casual, work-at-home uniform. Childcare requirements and various professional and personal commitments make designing my own workday a necessity. I also enjoy work without the micromanaged trappings of a traditional office setting.
“Gee, Jodie, how long have you been on that coffee break?” Snarl. Hiss. Glare.
Yet, the freedom to work whenever and wherever could cause problems. Unresolved issues can erode the surface until a gigantic pothole breaks open. All I can do is try to swerve until my boss fixes the gaps. If she never does, my remote career could be left with blown out tires.
So, what can leadership do to prevent nasty potholes or repair the ones already pockmarking the road? Develop and maintain a strong, dedicated, and energetic remote staff using these few tactics.
Establish clear expectations.
Without daily face-to-face encounters, your employees can’t know your moods or read the trends you’re following. One minute you think morning productivity is really important, the next you’re encouraging everyone to attend happy hour networking events. Although the pivot may be justified, it can give employees whiplash.
Leadership inconsistency leads to frustration, employee dissatisfaction, and diminished performance. Avoid these with a preemptive strike of clear expectations. Develop common employment standards such as midday check-in conversations or weekly meetings that include the entire staff. Then, define individual job responsibilities with each employee according to position objectives.
Include broad expectations such as company goals, long-range ambitions, best practices, and communications methods. Spell out individual expectations on job competencies and assigned tasks. Agree on all scheduled engagements, project deadlines, and individual job responsibilities in advance. Lay out leadership and employee availability boundaries and communication responsiveness during an employee’s onboarding.
For example, Clemson Road Creative has a standard responsiveness matrix. If an immediate response is needed, employees should call one another. If a 24-hour delay is acceptable, then email is used. If somewhere between now and 24-hours from now we’d like an answer, we use Slack or text messaging. We encourage Skype or Google Hangouts for conflict resolution. Contact standards and response protocol should be clearly defined.
Meet those expectations.
Consistency leads to trust. Flexibility is the main appeal of working remotely and developing individual work schedules. But, do not give everything untethered flexibility. Any scheduled activity must be consistently met at the agreed upon time. If the team has a weekly meeting at an established time, that time should be upheld.
Establish, train, and practice communication methods and procedures. There’s nothing worse than waiting in a teleconference that no one else has joined because you’ve accessed the wrong link.
Personal obligations should not interfere with project deadlines. Setting realistic expectations includes reviewing your personal schedule for availability to complete the work. Procrastinating work until closer to the deadline could result in a personal emergency interrupting delivery.
Maintain standards and boundaries and deliver on promises. Your team will follow suit.
Wait. How can leadership be visible to a remote workforce? Constant contact delivered through dependable connections establishes visibility. So, explore communication tools. Supplement email with new messaging applications designed to make contact with your team a breeze. A weekly team meeting via teleconference builds team unity and focus while combating isolation.
Consider how responsive you need to be with your team. Then, establish and deliver that standard. High responsiveness, from both leadership and staff, will prevent frustration and project delays. The simple, timely response of “Got it,” to an email tells me I was heard and my issue will be addressed. This is much better than wondering if my email was lost in cyberspace. Or worse, is being ignored by the recipient.
Design a practical workday.
Does Employee Bob wish to work from 9PM – 12AM EST every night? Good for Bob, but will he work with clients? If so, Bob must be available when his clients work. Encourage employees to design a practical workday with common sense parameters. Most of us still need to work when the client works and be available when the client needs us.
If the client leaves his office at 5 p.m. on Monday and we turn in work at 8 p.m. that evening, that work actually arrived at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. The client won’t get it until the next day. Standards like “close of business” and “end of day” are relative in a remote environment. Be sure you and your client have the same definition of those terms.
Set a path for advancement.
Skill sets grow, needs evolve, and employee ambitions may change. Design a path for advancement or you run the risk of losing the talent you have cultivated. Consider giving each of your remote employees a “reach” project or something outside of their regular work that can expand their skill set and build their resume.
Oftentimes, while traditional employees are tapped for promotions and pay raises, remote employees feel overlooked. Due to simple visibility, traditional employees more often make the promotion shortlist. Do not forget your remote employees and the benefits they provide your company. The mistake may be unintentional but could prove costly.
The remote workforce is worth the adjustments.
More and more companies are using remote employees, but the potential potholes will not smooth themselves out. Leaders must respond to the evolving needs of their employees, whether twenty feet down the hall or two thousands miles away.