Practical Ecommerce

To Build a Remote Workforce, Think Differently

Remote employees can supercharge a company. Remote workers are often happier, more loyal, and more productive than their office-bound counterparts. But a business needs to manage remote employees differently and think about things like location and time in a new way.

Much has been said and written about the benefits of hiring remote employees. In fact, I will mention it again below, but the key takeaway, the key to success, is changing how your company thinks about work and employees.

Remote workers can be a competitive advantage for your business, if you're willing to think differently.

Remote workers can be a competitive advantage for your business, if you’re willing to think differently.

Think Differently about Location

The real estate mantra “location, location, location” is often applied to the retail industry. Two identical brick-and-mortar stores just a few miles apart can perform very differently solely because of location. Location matters for traditional retail channels because shoppers have to find and visit the store during its operating hours.

In contrast, one of an online store’s greatest strengths is its lack of location.

Online shoppers can purchase from anywhere, whenever it is convenient. Not having a physical location helps a small or mid-sized online retailer compete with massive retail chains.

What is true for ecommerce sales, may also be true for workforces.

Your business’s professional employees — folks in marketing, accounting, web development, or similar roles — should be allowed to work from anywhere.

The employee gets to be near the people and places he loves, and your company has an appreciative employee almost immune to office politics and water cooler distractions.

Focus on what your remote workers are accomplishing rather than worrying about where they are.

Think Differently about Time, Communication

The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management practice that encourages workers to divide tasks into 25-minute intervals. In each interval, a worker focuses on a single thing.

The technique falls into a category of time management and productivity approaches sometimes called “time boxing.” These solutions depend on a few ideas, including the beliefs that people are more productive when they can focus on just one task or project at a time without distraction, and that after some period of time (between 25 minutes and about 50 minutes), workers need a short mental break to stay sharp.

Many remote workers use time boxing techniques to be productive, but these efficient approaches are difficult to use in an office environment.

The problem is that in offices people communicate synchronously — i.e., at the same time — meaning they talk or make phone calls.

For example, when Bruce in marketing wants to know what products Lisa in purchasing wants for next week’s sale, Bruce marches downstairs to Lisa’s cube and interrupts her. Bruce might be working efficiently, but Lisa is not. She has to stop what she is doing to deal with Bruce.

For remote teams, foster a culture of timelessness and asynchronous communication — not at the same time.

Use email or messaging services like Slack to communicate, knowing full well it might be a few minutes or hours before you get a response. Asynchronous communications will require you to plan better, write down more, and use a project management tool, but those are good things in any environment.

Think Differently about Meetings

Remote employees are still humans who benefit from knowing co-workers personally. Meetings can help make these connections.

Schedule a weekly meeting for each team of workers, say the marketing department or the human resources department.

Hold the meeting face-to-face online, and even employees who happen to be in the same physical location should join online to keep everyone on equal footing.

Devote a portion of the meeting to bonding and enjoying your time together. Say “thank you” to workers for everything they do, acknowledge things that are important to the people in your meeting.

When it is time to talk about work, focus on the future. What are the things your team is going to try to accomplish in the next week? What problems could you face? But always focus on what is going to happen, not what went wrong last week.

If you need to coach an employee about something, do it in a private, one-on-one meeting.

At corporate offices, meetings are something to be feared and dreaded. But, for remote employees make meetings something to look forward to.

Many Benefits to Hiring Remote Workers

If your business is ready to reap the benefits of employing remote workers, you will need to think differently. Fortunately, there is a lot to gain.

In an earlier article, “5 Reasons to Hire Remote Workers,” I pointed out that remote employees are often more productive and relatively more skilled than workers who report to a specific job location. These assertions are supported by many studies over many years.

Global Workplace Analytics, an organization that helps businesses understand alternative workplace strategies, surveyed “4,000 studies, reports, and articles” and concluded the following.

  • Remote workers were happier. Thirty-six percent of employees would rather work remotely than receive a pay raise.
  • Remote workers were less likely to quit. Ninety-five percent of employers found that allowing remote work improved employee retention.
  • Remote workers are less likely to skip work. Many remote workers will still work from home even if they are feeling poorly, while 78 percent of employees who call in sick from a physical workplace aren’t really sick, but needed the time to take care of something at home.
Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Dr. Karen Lojeski July 31, 2017 Reply

    Remote work is certainly a blessing to many who want more freedom and a place to work that helps maintain desired lifestyles and family obligations. As you point out, many remote workers are also more effective because of the many benefits remote work brings.

    However, an unintended consequence of technology-enabled communication is something I’ve studied, written about and offer solutions to and it’s called Virtual Distance. Virtual Distance is defined as a measure of what’s lost when the human being is translated through the machine and shows up as a “sense” of detachment from others – whether they sit right next to each other or across vast geographic or time zone distances. Most people are unaware of the specifics but they know that something disappears in terms of relations with others when we face a screen instead of a real human being most of the day.

    No matter whether people are physically close or far away, when high levels of Virtual Distance are present – measured through Virtual Distance Analytics, our data, made up of more than 40,000 data points from over 1000 global teams in Fortune 500 companies, are clear: Virtual distance has a significant impact on many key performance indicators such as project success, financial outcomes, innovation and employee engagement.

    But there’s good news – when Virtual Distance is measured and managed over time, trust increases, people feel more satisfied with work and they tend to help each other more, which benefits everyone.

    So if you’re company is thinking about how to work most effectively – remember – it’s not about the technology, it’s about the people. No matter where or how they work, there’s a scientific, award-winning way to get the real scoop – Virtual Distance Analytics and a vast set of solutions to reduce Virtual Distance that will help steer you in the right direction – despite location and other “usual suspects”.

  2. Anna August 7, 2017 Reply

    Great article Armando :) we decided to build a remote team for our small business. As the comapny is growing we had to find solution how to communicate and cover time zones. With some great tools on the market it is really easy and straight forward to communicate and collaborate. We are using moneypenny – for time tracking and invoicing https://moneypenny.me/ with Slack integration and Trello for detailed task and project tracking https://trello.com/

  3. Prasanta Shee August 8, 2017 Reply

    Remote working and flexibility helps businesses in savings on travel costs, increasing efficiencies in business processes, increasing productivity etc. Tools like R-HUB web conferencing servers, WebEx, GoMeetNow, gotomeeting etc. are used for the same.