Working from home is a trend that started long before March. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7% of civilian workers in the U.S. — about 9.8 million people — had access to telework in 2019. By early April, however, an estimated 31% of workers had switched to working from home.
While some have found the change disruptive, many businesses are realising the benefits of a distributed remote team. No longer is it necessary for workers to be together and closely supervised. Advances in technology, such as videoconferencing and chat tools, have eliminated the need to gather in person. Tools like Slack, Google Chat and Zoom have made it easier than ever to communicate remotely.
The advantages for business are obvious: Besides a workforce that doesn’t have a stressful commute, you have fewer or lower costs related to leasing office space and paying for utilities and equipment. While some meeting space may be necessary at times, flexible workplace options are often much less costly.
Additionally, in a competitive landscape, telecommuting is considered a key perk by many workers. Many talented and committed employees are looking for a better work-life balance. And you may be able to reach a broader talent pool since you can hire nationally or even internationally.
But there are a number of factors for organisations to consider before becoming remote. Drawing on my experience running a fully remote company, here are four tips for developing a thriving remote workforce.
1. Choose employees who will work well in a remote work environment
Theoretically, anyone can work remotely with a good internet connection, but I’ve found that it takes the right employee to thrive in a remote setting. Employees who work best remotely possess a “figure it out” factor. Self-starters are key in any business environment, but they are particularly valuable when working remotely. These are usually people who are more seasoned in their field or have worked in remote environments before. In addition, organisational skills and the ability to separate their work from their home life is crucial, particularly with children being homeschooled and other adults who may be at home.
It takes focus and experience to achieve and exceed goals. If you feel that you have to micromanage an employee or track their hours, they are probably not a good fit. Measure employees based on output, not how much time they are spending online.
2. Find ways to develop personal connections
Having a remote workforce means fewer in-person meetings and one-on-one conversations, but that doesn’t mean there are not viable ways to develop close-knit connections. My company hosts employee-only retreats every 18 months and employee/family retreats to Disney World every three years. The families make personal connections, kids become friends and the connections can go a long way toward developing the company culture. You don’t need Mickey Mouse to do this, but with the money you save by having a remote workforce, you can likely afford to invest in retreats to bring everyone together in a cohesive way once or twice a year.
In addition, leadership teams should meet quarterly to go over plans and conduct collaborative discussions about challenges and opportunities. Outside of in-person meetings, conducting calls via videoconference is a good way to reinsert the human component.
3. Offer flexibility in work schedules
Right now, many support systems have been stripped away, leaving some employees with the dual roles of working and providing child care. At the same time, many businesses need employees to be focused now more than ever. Offering flexible work hours can be a benefit to employees. For example, is it possible to schedule meetings earlier in the morning or in the evening? Even with clients, understanding that everyone is in the same boat can help deepen relationships. And with a remote workforce, you can have employees distributed across multiple time zones, which can create a more consistently productive team throughout the day and opportunities for staggered schedules without sacrificing output.
4. Consider going fully remote
Hybrid approaches can be challenging, so it’s often best to keep entire departments on the same work plan. Originally, we started with half of our workforce remote and half in the office. We found that two separate cultures emerged as a result, and those working remotely were left out of in-person meetings. We eventually decided to become 100% remote, which made for much closer relationships among employees. If you can’t go 100% remote, at least try to keep entire departments on the same work arrangement.
The decision to go remote is a major one for any organisation, but with the right planning and tools, it can create a great, diverse work culture with employees who can thrive and overcome any challenge.