How to convert remote workers into remote teams
Human resources, talent management, and work environment are changing dramatically in the 21st Century. Companies are handing over powerful projects to teams with streamlined processes. And while some companies feel gut-wrenching starts and stops on key projects as a result of high employee turnover rates, others are enjoying the amazing synergy between remote working team members.
What is the difference between these companies? To be fair, there are many differences. However, one of the key differences lies in how these effective companies and teams hire work-from-home employees. Instead of manning an office, these powerful teams connect remote workers from around the country and the globe.
Why remote employment is in high demand
In 2010, economist Joel Kotkin published his projection on the worldwide economy The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. A significant prediction Kotkin makes is on the world of employment and work-life balance. The employment age will extend much higher, the population will spread to more wide-open spaces (such as the so-called “fly-over states”), and most importantly, more people will work remotely from home.
As the US economy recovers from the 2008 crisis and employers fight harder to increase their margin, employees are rebelling against the grueling 40-hour work week (which often adds up to 50 or 60+ hours/week before commute). The Gig Economy is taking the country by storm where “experts predict that full-time freelancers will jump from 10%-30% of the job market in the next year.” That is, more and more employees are saving their terminal leave to resign from the company they work for in order to launch their own self-employed version of what they do for employers.
To retain talent, employers are rethinking the ways their employees work, moving away from the traditional office set up. More studies are in, demonstrating that employees who are permitted to work remotely get more accomplished in less time, as well as feel greater loyalty towards their employer while cutting the costs associated with work commutes. In other words, it is a win-win.
82% of remote workers report lower stress levels — PGi Report
Companies that manage effective remote teams
In their book How Google Works, executives Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg speak matter-of-factly about collaborating with their team members on a healthier work-life balance. A huge piece of making that happen was giving employees the opportunity to work part-time at home and part-time in the office.
Google also pioneered the substitution of digital communication tools with teams halfway around the world rather than insisting that everyone attend regular company meetings at the office. By prioritizing their employees’ personal well-being, they were able to ask more of their teams.
But Google is not the only employer taking the work-life balance more seriously. More and more companies are offering their employees the opportunity to work full-time from their home. In a recent study by Global Workplace Analytics, “Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 140% since 2005.”
Among the top employers making it a priority to hire telecommuters are Zapier and Automattic, along with a host of client management and tech-based companies.
Tips for converting remote workers into remote teams
But the challenge still remains: with a fractured workforce tuning in remotely from their computer, how to employees work together in virtual teams?
Surprisingly, many employers are finding that their teams work just as effectively while apart than they do in person. Aside from employees’ time being guarded against endless meetings in the common workplace, work-from-home jobs are introducing new, more efficient management techniques, as well as easy-to-learn productivity software.
“Last year, 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely” — New York Times
- Think milestones, not hours
One key shift in mindset that employers must make in order to effectively manage work-from-home employees is to shift away from traditional man-hours and toward completed projects. Ultimately, this has a positive effect on company goals, as well.
Companies that hire and manage remote workers have clearer objectives and more streamlined processes for reaching those goals. Project managers and supervisors hold their team members to those milestones and objectives rather than simply demanding employees clock in for certain hours of the day.
That being said, clocking in at certain times of the day may still be necessary, particularly when teams are working across different time zones, but the focus is shifted to the company’s mission, values, and objectives. And because employees are encouraged to achieve a healthier work-life balance, they are more personally invested in the company’s values.
- Utilize digital tools for effective project management
Bringing remote employees into functioning teams requires technology. There is simply no way around this fact. The good news is that employees are more motivated to learn new technology. Additionally, once the technology is mastered, waste is more easily eliminated for faster turnaround on projects.
In fact, the significant rise in the use of mobile devices has empowered more and more employees and freelancers to accomplish a great deal “on the go.” Companies that embrace productivity apps have more engaged work teams and project managers throughout the day and week.
- Utilize digital tools for robust communication
The default “go-to” solution for project managers to address miscommunication problems is to set up meetings. Studies show that while managers set up meetings to improve communication, the sheer opposite occurs. These company meetings steal precious time that keeps employees from project deadlines and attack workforce morale.
Thankfully, digital communication software allows people in different parts of the building to reach consensus in seconds without having a meeting. Need a third perspective? Simply add that person to the group chat. Slack and other digital communication tools have barely scratched the surface of what can be done to improve communication between team members.
And the greatest part of digital communication tools is that they connect people on opposite sides of the globe just as well as people working in the same office. Aside from building agendas and presentations, it seems that one of the best ways to rid the workplace of the time-sapping corporate meeting is to send everyone home and have them sign-in to their team chatroom.
- Use a project management tool
Remote working can lead to confusion of tasks to be delivered and who is working on what part of a project. The best way to solve this is the effective use of a project management tool. This is good advice if you’re working in-person also, but there’s no way you can have a remote team without using a good project management tool. The tool itself isn’t important as long as you can set tasks, assign them and collaborate together. Some popular ones include Trello, Asana, and JIRA.
- Be specific with expectations and roles
Ambiguity kills productivity. When managing a team of work-from-home employees, managers must be specific with their expectations and about which team members are responsible for what goals.
Further, team members must be specific to the expectations of their boss and other team members. Because they don’t see their boss and team members face-to-face, assuming that others are on the same page is dangerous.
Conflict and disputes can arise when communication is solely through text chats. Tone and body language can get lost in translation, don’t forget to communicate across multiple mediums. Face to face chats using video call technology such as GoToMeeting can quickly end any disputes arising from misinterpretation or miscommunication.
- Team meet-ups
Consider a team off-site. It’s not 100% necessary, but one thing successful remote teams do is use some of the money they save on office space to invest in a yearly team meet-up. Teams can work well together without ever meeting, however meeting in person can promote team bonding which always has a positive effect on team communication.
In conclusion: Why more companies aren’t using remote employees
The reason why more companies are unwilling to send their workforce home for greater productivity and a healthier work-life balance is fear of the unknown. It is a treacherous human problem wherein people are afraid to venture away from the way things have always been done.
The fact is that remote employment is the way of the future. Companies that take steps to empower their work-from-home employees now are the future leading employers.
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