Engaging and Retaining a Remote Workforce
GRIFFIN VOLTMANN, Certification Program Manager, QualityPro
For decades, American workplace culture has been built around an in-person office with good communication where employees can work closely and effectively together. As the paradigm begins to shift, and our understanding of "a workplace" begins to expand, it’s essential that we identify what factors of in-person office management still apply to situations that may not necessarily include a physical office and to identify new factors that implementing a remote workplace can reveal.
Collaboration and Accountability
Your customers need to know you’re there, but coworkers also need to feel their colleagues are present and productive, even if they can’t see them. Consider a system like Teams’ Tasks and Planner where individual task benchmarks and deadlines can be discussed and set by members of a team, and team members can be held accountable for the work. Maintaining open lines of communication between all levels of a team is crucial both for getting the work done and for maintaining morale. Pick a system for everyone across the company to use, and commit to it.
Your office culture used to be passively present through office decorations and what happened in the office. You need to be intentional about getting office culture present in your remote employees’ lives. Consider having recurring check ins and open discussions about your company’s core values and how that is demonstrated in your work and culture either during meetings or through employee surveys to determine what has been working for your team and what might need to change.
Engaging While Remote
As our surroundings change, it’s natural that the distractions around us change as well. In order to maximize productivity, consider how to best keep an employee engaged and attentive to what they’re doing. And in the case of hourly employees, this accountability of being on or off the clock is critical.
Virtual meetings present both an opportunity and a challenge. On the one hand, the convenience of being able to have meetings without scheduling around everyone’s in-office availability makes virtual the only feasible option. On the other hand, you may find that every meeting is project related and cross-department collaboration is cut off. In addition, if every meeting is about a specific project, there is never any "water cooler" talk. Encourage your teams to build company culture and team building elements into meetings. It may also be worth allowing some time to chat either before or after a virtual meeting is scheduled. This simply involves opening up the meeting early or keeping it open after the meeting is done so that people can chat. In cases where employees who used to work closely together in-person are now working remotely, there is great value in giving them an opportunity to reconnect even if the conversation isn’t directly work-related.
Counterintuitively, one of the best ways to maintain a focused remote workforce is to encourage working in-person when possible. One of the things we lose as we move remote is the opportunities for our team members to operate as a collaborative team where random ideas come up that develop into efficiencies or new programs. Or simply being around our coworkers and feeling like they are "family." In-person can be anything from videos on while mics are muted to company events where everyone travels to be together.
For fully remote teams where it isn’t feasible to have all staff on-site at once, consider having individual teams establish working days where either they work in-person at the office or open a virtual meeting as a team and work that way, coming off mute as needed to just chat. Encourage the sense that, while everyone is working separately, team members are still working "together," and are available for collaboration and questions. Outside of these video work sessions, make sure folks can collaborate via group chats like Teams or Slack.
If possible, having all staff in-office one or two days per week and having big in-person meetings on those days can be beneficial. The data indicates that different tasks are suited to different environments—repetitive, programmatic (potentially "boring") tasks tend to get done faster in a structured office setting free of distractions, whereas employees tend to be less distracted in a home office setting if the tasks are challenging or more creative.
Finally, try to bring everyone together for a fun event at least once a year. Most companies do this as the end of the year approaches in order to celebrate the wins from the year. If your company has branches that are distant, budget for them to have social gatherings and participate, in-person, in charity events. These events are where memories are made and your culture can thrive.
The nature of work means our approaches must be highly individualized. What works for one office might not work for yours. What matters is putting the time in to identify what your needs are at the individual level, department level, and for the whole company, and working with them to meet those needs. It’s not enough to hold them accountable to getting the job done, you must also hold yourself accountable to making sure that you are providing the best situation under which that work is possible. If you’ve found a way to work remotely that works for your business but doesn’t match up to what we’ve presented here, let us know. We get better as an industry when we collaborate and keep looking forward.