While remote work is still relatively new for some, I’ve been working from a home office off and on for almost 20 years, and it’s allowed me to be uniquely prepared for the new reality that COVID-19 has brought to the workforce. I have been fortunate to work for a few companies, including PeopleScout, that were very comfortable with a virtual work environment – in some cases, almost everyone in the organization was working remotely. I also worked for several years in places where the culture was the opposite, and it would have been impossible for me to advance in my career if I was unable to physically come into the office each day.
That experience really solidified what I already knew – I thrive in a remote work environment. The experience I’ve had working remotely for most of my career has been an absolute blessing. It’s allowed me to spend extra time with my kids, work flexible hours and form relationships with colleagues whom I would not have met if I were only working in an office.
At PeopleScout, nearly half our teams were regularly working remotely before COVID-19 social distancing protocols were put in place, and our experience managing these remote teams helped in the transition as that number increased.
In this article, I’ll share how to determine whether a role should remain remote as economies reopen, highlight some best practices for engaging and managing a team of remote workers and outline the reasons why remote work is here to stay.
Who Should Remain Remote?
During COVID-19, many roles that were not traditionally remote successfully transitioned to working virtually. However, as many regions begin to slowly reopen their economies, your organization might be faced with the decision to either extend or relax virtual work policies. As you determine whether a role should reintegrate into the office or remain remote, here are some helpful questions to consider:
Does your team need to be together?
If your team works best with a lot of hands-on collaboration – like brainstorming sessions, whiteboarding and other in-person activities – staying remote might be challenging. But, if you find that it isn’t truly necessary for team members to meet face-to-face each day, keeping your virtual strategy in place might be the safer option for the time being. In that case, consider collaboration tools and team video calls to offset the face time you’d be missing if everyone were back in the office.
Are you prepared for remote work in the long-term?
If your organization finds that the majority of its employees can continue working from home, be sure you have all the tools in place to successfully communicate and complete tasks. In addition, you’ll also want to restructure your onboarding process to account for remote new hires. Although virtual workers can work flexible hours, make sure they understand if there are any specific hours they are required to be “online.” Also, ensure everyone is aware of any time zone differences that could affect communication.
How will roles be most successful?
While the transition to remote work may have been smooth for knowledge workers who primarily work from a computer, certain roles – such as client-facing or other positions where working in person is traditionally a necessity – might not have been able to shift to remote work as easily. For these positions, consider offering other benefits, perks and flexible work options where full-time virtual work isn’t a viable option.
As we start returning to the office in phases, keep in mind that remote work doesn’t have to be all or nothing
There’s a spectrum when it comes to flexible work options, including:
- Part-time telecommuting
- Weekly/monthly work-from-home days
- Sponsored co-working spaces outside of the office
What Does A Successful Remote Team Look Like?
Whether an employee is newly hired for a remote role or in an existing position that has transitioned to remote due to COVID-19, utilizing the right technology is critical. For instance, tools like Slack, Asana and Zoom can simplify employee collaboration and serve as a substitute for face-to-face interactions in a virtual environment.
In addition to utilizing these communication tools, here are some additional tips for staying connected with remote workers:
- Set up regular phone calls. Schedule weekly check-ins with each of your team members to see how they are doing and to stay aligned on project updates.
- Embrace informality. When teams are working apart from large distance, informal communication (in addition to necessary formal conversations, like meetings and conference calls) can help foster strong connections between team members. As such, consider sending team members a quick text or instant message to check in and remind them that you’re available if they need anything.
- Celebrate successes. In an environment where it can be easy to feel secluded, remember to personally thank team members for all they do to contribute to the goals of the organization.
- Try new ways of connecting. It’s important that your virtual team doesn’t feel left out from events that may be occurring in the main office. For example, each year my team holds a virtual holiday party where we all get together for an hour or so to bring our community together and reflect on the year’s successes.
- Capitalize on face-to-face interactions. Although travel is currently limited, when I visit a PeopleScout office or a town where a team member lives, I always make a point to try to schedule a lunch or coffee break to catch up with colleagues in-person.
- Communicate purposefully. Be intentional when reaching out to people. Especially while we are all facing uncertainty, stress and anxiety regarding COVID-19, be sure to remember to check in and make sure your team members are doing okay. We’re all facing this incredible challenge together, and your team members should feel that their manager truly cares.
Another important engagement strategy is fostering company culture, which can be difficult to do successfully when not everyone is together in an office each day. At PeopleScout, we have our DNA culture principles that make us who we are. To ensure my team feels connected to these culture principles, I make a point to celebrate each of their individual characteristics.
One of the beautiful things about having a virtual team is that it allows for a diverse workforce full of people with different backgrounds, talents, experiences and points of view. Each person brings something unique to the team, which continues to add value to our clients in ways that a small local team may not be able to.
Remote Work Is Here To Stay
Virtual work has established itself as a workplace norm, and with the challenges brought upon by the outbreak of COVID-19, it doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon.
It’s What Employees Want
According to SHRM, just over a quarter of organizations already offer full-time telecommuting. So, setting up a strong remote work system before the rest of the competition can help you stand out in candidates’ eyes.
What’s more, virtual work has benefits for both employees and employers. Employees primarily want remote work options to save money, be able to work anywhere and have more time with family. Many employees also say they’re more productive at home, and this increased productivity carries over into the organization. In addition, remote work can have a positive influence on the mental health of employees, leading to a stronger company culture and overall employee experience.
Working Together Toward Remote Work Success
As you establish a plan for remote work in your organization – especially during these uncertain times – it’s important to lead your teams with an abundance of understanding and grace. Continuing a successful work-from-home strategy is going to be challenging for all – for some, more than others.
Ultimately, it’s important to understand that life is going to happen; doorbells may ring, dogs may bark or kids may yell down the hallway while you’re on video calls. However, it is through consistent communication and purposeful engagement that you and your team will be able to navigate this new normal together.