How to Take Your Remote-Work Game Up a Notch

Nearly everyone is familiar with remote work by now, thanks to the long-lasting impact of Covid-19. Still, not all companies working remotely have fully committed to it. After all, most of them shifted to work-at-home because it was thrust upon them by the pandemic, not as a strategic choice.

As a result, many companies have yet to adopt remote work best practices. They’re dragging their heels, yet they’re surprised to see managers struggling and employees doing sub-par work.

Don’t let bad habits fester. For remote work that actually works:

Allow Flexible Hours

One of the biggest perks of remote work is flexibility. Employees can schedule working hours to accommodate family time and leisure in a way that isn’t possible with a regular 9-to-5. Take that flexibility away, and one of the greatest benefits of remote work is gone.

Many companies require their remote workers to stick to the same schedule as the rest of the office. Their intentions may be pure: Theoretically, this arrangement allows remote workers to communicate more easily with their office-bound colleagues and stay on the same page.

However, this strictness can harm the productivity that remote workers can achieve by dictating their own schedules. When would you rather have your head of accounting review the annual report? When she’s overseeing her children’s midday Zoom classes, or after the kids have gone to bed?

There’s good reason to enable and even encourage flexible hours. If you still want some overlap, require remote workers to log only a few hours with the rest of the team. Further communication can be done through project management software or other programs that keep everyone in sync.

Provide Wiggle Room on Deadlines

To properly enable flexibility, don’t let strict deadlines get in the way. While you need to ensure that remote workers are completing their tasks in a timely fashion, deadlines must be reasonable.

If you know one of your remote workers prefers to work in the evening, don’t give them end-of-day deadlines. Instead, let them complete their assignments by the following morning. They can get work done when they’re able to — say, when the kids are occupied or asleep. When you open the office the next day, their deliverables will be waiting for whoever needs them next.

Don’t Go Overboard on Meetings

One way companies try to keep their remote workers integrated is by holding meetings. Videoconferencing technology makes such gatherings possible, requiring only that participants have a webcam and a stable internet connection.

Although regular meetings are a good way to keep everyone connected, be wary of inducing meeting fatigue. Holding too many meetings can do more harm than good.

Before calling a meeting, see whether you can resolve the issue via email or a Slack convo. If a meeting is required, only invite the people who absolutely need to be there. This spares those for whom the meeting would otherwise be a waste of time.

Also, take into account the ways meeting dynamics have changed with remote work. While online meetings are relatively easy to set up, in-the-moment technical difficulties can derail them — and Zoom meetings can drag on forever. Iron out the technical wrinkles, and make sure you’re using technology to increase the quality of meetings, not their quantity (or duration).

Open Up the Office

If your workplace has reopened, invite remote workers to mask up and visit the office. Remote workers shouldn’t be expected to hole up in their houses each and every workday. Doing so can make them feel isolated, negatively impacting their mental health and productivity.

Even if remote workers do have places to go, such as a public library, open up the company office space to them. Allowing remote workers to take a hybrid approach and come in for some occasional face time is refreshing. This gives remote workers a change of pace and a chance to catch up with the rest of the team.

Change Your Performance Metrics

Too many managers track their employees’ contributions by the number of hours they clock in. For highly skilled workers, this isn’t always an effective approach. What matters most is their output, and that’s what employers should track with their remote employees.

While it’s still important that employees put in an honest day’s work, don’t fuss too much about how many hours that is. If remote workers are delivering what you expect from them, then they’re doing just fine. If workers are missing their deadlines, or exceeding them with ease, talk with them individually about adjusting their workload accordingly.

Check In Thoughtfully

Checking in with remote workers is an important task for management. Remote workers can often feel out of touch, and it’s reassuring to have someone in a leadership position reach out. Make it a point to have one-on-one time with each of your remote workers each month.

When checking in, however, do so carefully. You want to make remote workers feel that you’re seeing them, not surveilling them. Dropping in frequently can be bothersome and impede their productivity. Also, be careful not to sound accusing. You should be concerned about the well-being of your employees, not asking for frequent updates as to whether or not they’re working.

Don’t Treat Your Remote Employees Like Freelancers

Aside from Covid-19 accommodations, companies often look to remote workers as a way to reduce costs. By opting for independent contractors rather than salaried employees, businesses can cut up to 30% in costs. They do this by shrugging off payroll taxes and withholding expensive benefits from these workers.

To attract and retain the best remote talent, you can’t cut corners like that. Unless you’ve made a strategic decision to increase your freelance workforce, don’t start treating your remote employees like gig workers.

Independent contractors typically move from job to job, but you want your remote employees in it for the long haul. Their commitment to your company will help ensure the success of your remote work arrangement. Show remote employees the same commitment by compensating them just like any others. The long-term benefits are worth your while.

Encourage Time Off

Just because remote workers aren’t clocking in at the office doesn’t mean they don’t deserve actual time off. It’s a common misconception that people working from home are more relaxed and therefore don’t need as much vacation time. In fact, remote workers may be at more risk of burnout, as work time and personal time too often mix.

Encourage your remote workers to take time to relax and recharge. Require them to submit an out-of-office plan, and reassign tasks to colleagues in their absence — just as an in-office employee would do. By making the time off “official” in this way, it will encourage your remote workers to truly step away from their computers. They will return from their vacation days ready to be productive again.

Remote work is difficult for an organization to get used to, but its potential is sky high. Look at how you’ve approached remote work so far and determine where you can make improvements. This will strengthen your organization as a whole and unlock the potential that remote work offers.

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