With workers moving out of the office and into remote locations, businesses are switching gears. The transition to work outside the office is a challenge for everyone. It doesn’t have to be painful, though. Here are five ways to make the changeover work well.
There are lots of tech tools available to handle the needs of a remote workforce. Video conferencing software has exploded in popularity this year as a result of COVID-19 sending workers to different locations. Several companies offer video conferencing software, so you can choose what works best. It’s helpful for meetings, as colleagues can see each other and pick up on nonverbal communication that takes place during in-person meetings. Some video conferencing software also allows coworkers to share screen data, a time-saver for team members whether they are in or out of the office.
Time tracking software is a must for anyone who’s not punching a clock in a central hub. If location is important, such as on a specific job site, look into time tracking software that includes a GPS. You will improve efficiency by knowing where employees are working and who they’re working with.
Project management software provides a central place for employees to chat, share project resources and progress and keep in touch with clients. Channels can be created among specific groups of team members, or between clients and project managers. Project management software is another tool that’s helpful whether staff is working in-person or remotely.
Employees who don’t work together in person will benefit from a regular meeting. Meetings are an important way to collaborate, and when staff is working from various locations, they become even more important. Workers lose touch with each other when they are away, and the small but important face-to-face conversations that happen in an office aren’t taking place. Plan a regular meeting, whether daily, weekly or at another interval that works for your business. Conference calls or video meetings work well for remote staff.
Meetings are the best way to introduce any staff members who join the company. Remote employees need the opportunity to meet their new colleagues, at least virtually, as will employees who are just joining the workforce. Colleagues will feel most comfortable getting in touch with new coworkers when they have previously seen or spoken with them. In the same vein, hires going through the training process will need to establish relationships, and a meeting is a good venue for introductions all the way around.
Regular meetings don’t have to take long to be productive. Even if there’s not much on the agenda that day, the chance for colleagues to talk as a group is itself a boost, as it will help remote employees to feel more connected and part of the team.
Employees away from a central office might, at times, be struggling with a project or have questions they would more readily ask if they were with their colleagues in person. They may hesitate to pick up the phone or send a direct message, fearing that they’re interrupting employees they cannot see. Regular, ongoing communication is the key to preventing small snags from holding up progress. Make it a point to check in with remote workers individually. Employees who hesitate to bring up questions or problems in a group meeting will have the opportunity to speak one-on-one about any concerns they harbor. Also, if you demonstrate your openness to frequent communication, remote staff will feel more comfortable picking up the phone to call the office when needed.
Communication of a sensitive nature should take place by phone or video conference. Personnel issues or conflicts are best handled outside of written means like email or text. Be mindful, though, that an employee working from home may not have the time or space needed for a private conversation. Distractions or family members might be nearby. Occasionally, this type of communication may have to wait until the employee can accommodate discussing a sensitive topic.
Remote employees might not have the equipment they use in the office on a daily basis. Desktop computers, printers, fax machines and other in-house resources may be needed for them to do their job effectively at home. If items are not shared, your company may be able to move some equipment to an employee’s home office. Other items may need to be purchased. For example, a remote worker might benefit from a laptop computer in place of a desktop model. In some cases, the new equipment might be used even after a worker returns to the office.
Some companies provide a monetary allowance for remote workers to set up or furnish a home office. A dedicated workspace will be beneficial, if not downright necessary, for staff to work effectively while at home. They may need a desk, an ergonomic office chair or a phone line. The up-front costs of furnishing an employee with a home workspace will pay off in productivity and boosted morale.
One resource no one can purchase, but everyone will need, is trust between companies and employees. When staff is not visible, managers can feel as if they are out of control — they can’t see people at their desks, spending time on their assigned tasks. Likewise, remote workers can feel like they have to prove themselves. Since no one is around to see them giving time and effort to their projects, they may wonder if in-office staff thinks they are wasting time or not contributing their share of the workload. It’s easy to see how misconceptions can set in and cause wariness or distrust among colleagues.
Taking the aforementioned steps will help build trust with your employees. When remote staff feels that management cares about their needs and sees the time and effort taken to give them the best possible offsite experience, they will be assured that management wants to see them succeed.
Switching to remote work is a challenge, but it can take business in a positive direction. It’s a chance for companies to learn new ways of doing things — and in some cases, the knowledge gained will lead to permanent benefits.