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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