Remote working has been increasing in recent years; however, a significant number of companies were caught underprepared for the dramatic shift to remote working caused by COVID-19. While this came a shock, some businesses have been pleasantly surprised by how well they have adapted and performed.
So, what are the secrets to running a high-performing remote team for the long term?
1. Set Clear Expectations
Leaders must set crystal clear expectations for what a remote employee’s role is, what hours or working pattern they expect, what the key deliverables and deadlines are, and how the team communicates.
Be very clear on what your team culture is; for example, do employees have the flexibility to set their working patterns or do you have a culture where the team needs to drop everything to respond to your emails?
2. Help Set Boundaries
Team members who are new to working from home may need support with setting boundaries between their work and home life, especially if you have a flexible working hours culture.
When your commute is a matter of a few seconds from bed to laptop, a diligent employee may find themselves working all the time, without the natural break in the day that comes from a commute.
Encourage your team to discuss how they manage the balance between work responsibilities and home life; do they have a specific area they work in and then shut the door on later? Are they keeping a routine?
3. Encourage Open And Frequent Communication
When we work in an office, we pick up on some many non-verbal communications that tell us how a team member is doing; whether they are happy or if something seems to be bothering them. With home working, this becomes harder.
You can pick up some clues on video calls, but the best strategy is to set a culture of open communication within your team, where members feel that they can share what is on their mind without fear of reprisal for being ‘negative’.
Consider setting weekly one to ones to bridge the gap left by no longer having conversations over the water cooler or in passing with your team members.
At a team-wide level, make sure that you have a regular meeting structure. Treat these sessions as a priority, not something that often gets cancelled at the last minute and make them as participative as possible. Give a little time for team bonding before getting down to business, or have a separate forum that supports the more social aspects of team communication and keeps everything feeling ‘human’.
4. Create Accountability Systems
Remote teams need more focus on outcomes rather than the hours to achieve something. To support this shift, consider implementing a weekly reporting structure where at a set point in the week the team update each other on what they have achieved that week, what problems they are facing, what they are doing about those problems and where they need support.
5. Invest In The Right Technology
To be at their most productive, remote teams need to have the proper technology to enable them to communicate with each other and to have an online experience that is in line with that they have in an office. It’s as essential as ensuring that you have payment solutions for your customers whether they are card machines in a physical store or a payment gateway on your website.
Video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts, are very effective ways of keeping teams cohesive. While it can become tedious being on camera, without it quite often team members start multi-tasking and participate less.
In remote teams, written communication becomes more critical. For example, tools such as Slack enable you to have both formal and informal team communications in one secure environment, bridging the gap between meetings and reducing the strain on inboxes.
You’ll also need to consider tools such as virtual document signing systems and electronic filing systems.
Your customers may also be working remotely and you will need to adapt your ways of working to their needs. For example, payments experts UTP Group, now offer online applications for their business payment solutions, such as credit card machines and virtual terminals , reducing the need for in-person visits. Furthermore, this Merchant Service providers also adapted their technical support and Fraud checks support their customers remotely.
6. Recognise That Remote Working Is Not For Everyone
We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and while some employees love remote working, for others, it’s a prison sentence. Some employees struggle to be productive outside of the formality of an office environment. Others miss the social side of being around their colleagues, going out for lunches together and after-work drinks.
If you have decided to make remote working a permanent aspect of your company, make sure that you hire and retain individuals who are self-motivated action-takers and who enjoy working in a remote team. Successful remote workers tend to be more comfortable and skilled at written communication, and they can be trusted implicitly by their manager to get things done without the need for micromanagement.
Conclusion: Choose The Working Pattern That Works For Your Business
When deciding on your remote working strategy, start by thinking about what structures ultimately contribute best to solving the problem that your business exists to solve. What model offers the best support to your customers while also attracting and retaining the best people to support your customers?
Making remote working effective for the long term comes with its challenges such as building and maintaining a cohesive team, having everyone pull in the same direction and keeping a healthy culture. However, for the businesses that get it right, there are significant benefits such as access to talent anywhere in the world, reduced operational costs and happier employees.
If you set clear expectations for your remote workers, give them the right technology, communicate frequently and set the right accountability systems, you can look forward to seeing your productivity increase!