Going Virtual: Preparing for a Remote Work Force
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
If you're willing to embrace the remote model or you want to talk to your supervisor about making the move, this post is for you.
If you think people who "work from home" are incapable of following rules and that it's the lazy person's route, this post is also for you.
A friend recently shared this article, "If you don’t trust your employees to work remotely, you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place," by Yan Lhert, and I have to say I 100% agree with his sentiment (for roles where this is possible). Lhert argues:
In my 10+ years of experience as a software engineer at startups, I cannot trust employers to provide me with an adequate work environment, and this holds me back from doing the best possible work for them. I am an ambitious, driven individual, and I want nothing more than to provide the places I work with my best possible output. I will give whatever company I am working at 110%. Most of the places I have worked have done a great job at preventing me from doing this.
I'm pretty flexible with work environments (thanks to college dorm living, which taught me how to work through just about anything). But "getting by" and having an ideal work environment are two different things.
Now, I run my business 99% virtually, very rarely meeting face to face with clients. My other half runs his business remotely as well, hiring fantastic talent across the country. There are plenty of businesses who can make this model work from them, but are simply nervous about letting their employees go "free range."
They shouldn't be. Here's just a few reasons why:
Studies show that remote workers perform better and faster than in-house employees.
In fact, 91% of remote workers felt they were more productive when they worked from, according to a TINYpulse study.
Minimizing office space means a lower cost of rent, utilities, office supplies, etc.
Improved accessibility for those with disabilities.
People without grueling commutes arrive to work fresh and ready to work. Plus, without the commuting cost, employers may have more negotiating power when it comes to salary and benefits.
Less need for sick time and paid time off.
The appeal of work-life balance can be used to attract great candidates.
You can hire talent from across the country (or across the globe) instead of just your immediate area. This is the biggest one for me. It's great for both employers, who don't want to limit their talent pool, and people who lack access to the many job markets of mega-metropolises like New York City.
Lhert challenges employers to embrace remote workers, arguing that they shouldn't hire people if they feel like they need to be constantly subjected to micromanagement and oversight. And I agree. Let good employees do their thing.
But I don't think a lack of trust in employees is actually the most prevalent reason for resistance to employing remote workers.
Employees often can't be "trusted" to work remotely because employers haven't developed systems for remote work and/or aren't interested in doing so. You can't just disappear from the office if there are no communication systems in place to replicate the kinds of communications that happen while face-to-face.
When I work remotely on a new project, the first two days of my job are usually just setting up project management tools, creating training tools for my clients and/or folks reporting to me, and building communication structures. People who have never worked remotely for more than a day or two and employers that have never had fully or nearly-fully remote employees before are often both unaware of the need for these systems, and thus they set remote work up for failure and then blame employees for it.
So what does it really take to make it work?
Aside from commitment, dedication, and self-awareness on the employee's part? Really, not much more than what's already considered best practices for operating a business.
Good training. Onboarding is essential. Since there may never be a place for everyone to socialize, you need to establish the vision, mission, and culture of your company for all employees early on. A clear set of job roles and expectations are also needed.
I cannot emphasize enough the usefulness a single repository of resources that folks can easily access when they have basic questions. It saves everyone so much time and frustration. With that said...
Get on the cloud. There are so many reasons you should be working in a cloud environment these days. First, there are just too many ways to have your assets stored without worrying about what to do if a computer crashes to not be taking advantage.
Second, getting your stuff in the cloud means it can be accessed anywhere, which means mobility. Whether an employee is working off-site with a client or from their home office, they can get the materials they need to do their job.
Strategic project management tools. A virtual project management tool that keeps everyone up to date on project progress without taking 1200 hours to make a date change or necessitating an email for a status update is CRITICAL.
When I manage a remote team, it's not possible for me to just tap someone on the shoulder and see where they are (you really shouldn't be doing this anyway). I need something that allows everyone to update in real time as they work at their own pace. When the client asks for an update, I can easily say, "We're on schedule" and give any major updates at a glance.
I've used many different tools-- GoogleSheets, FTrack, Trello, Jira, etc. What you need to do is pick the one that makes everyone's work easier.
Effective communication pipelines. Remote workers need to know who to contact and when and via what medium. For example, they need to know if they're supposed to send the boss an email when the project is complete, send a gChat message, or just put it in a daily update. Supervisors need to create clear communication pipelines to ensure worker success.
When these four pieces are in place, there is (almost) no reason a remote employee cannot collaborate effectively.
Don't Take It From Me
If you want to learn more about how other companies have made remote workers a a part of their operation, here are some great articles and posts:
"Hiring Remote Workers Made My Entire Team More Productive" by Dan Sines of Traitify - https://www.fastcompany.com/40516680/hiring-remote-workers-made-my-entire-team-more-productive
"Remote Employees are Way More Productive than Office Dwellers" by Kari Paul - https://nypost.com/2017/03/22/remote-employees-are-way-more-productive-than-office-dwellers/
"Why Working from Home Should be Standard Practice" by Ari Surdoval - https://ideas.ted.com/why-working-from-home-should-be-standard-practice/
Need help developing training for remote workers? Want assistance preparing on-site employees to work with remote workers? Reach out today.
Nicole Papaioannou, Ph.D. is the owner of Your Instructional Designer and Co-Founder/Lead Instructional Designer of Margoe. Through her learner-centered, performance-targeted approach to instructional design, she empowers people to learn, perform, and lead.
Nicole received her Ph.D. in English at St. John's University in Queens, NY. Her scholarship focuses on student engagement and transfer of learning.
For instructional design inquiries, contact Nicole.