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A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers

https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers

hbr.org

A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers
Executive Summary With the Covid-19 epidemic, many employees - and their managers - are finding themselves working out of the office and separated from each other for the first time. Fortunately, there are specific, research-based steps that managers can take without great effort to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees, even when there is little time to prepare.

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Working Remotely

There is ongoing turbulence in the workplace due to the uncertainties provided by the new virus, resulting in a whole lot of people working from home. Normally the work-from-home policies are established in advance, and employees are trained for the same, but current circumstances are not allowing for any transition time.

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Common Challenges of Remote Work

Even high-performing employees can face a decline in job performance and engagement when working remotely. This can be due to:

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision, which leads to a two-way communication gap and even mistrust.
  • There is a delay in the procurement of information as remote workers aren’t able to sense the atmosphere and real-time events at the workplace, leading to a lack of ‘mutual knowledge’.
  • A sense of isolation among remote workers, leading to a feeling of less belongingness within the organization.
  • Distractions at home due to unplanned work-from-home transition, with employees balancing childcare and many other responsibilities along with work.

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Improving Engagement And Productivity

A few specific, research-backed steps that can be taken to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees:

  • Establishing Structured Daily check-ins, by establishing a daily call or touchpoint.
  • Providing several different communication technology options, using virtual communication tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc., and making use of video conferencing.
  • Establishing clear rules of engagement for communicating with the coworkers or the managers, according to the levels of urgency.
  • Providing opportunities for remote social interaction by talking about non-work activities, thereby reducing the feeling of isolation among remote workers.
  • Offering encouragement and emotional support by listening to the workers, acknowledging their stress, and keeping their needs and issues in focus.

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The challenges of hybrid teams

The challenges of hybrid teams

Most companies embracing remote work also have dedicated headquarters. But remote-ish teams have even more communication and collaboration challenges than fully remote teams.

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Remote-friendly vs remote-first

The single biggest mistake companies can make is to opt to be remote-friendly instead of remote-first. Companies often accept the idea that remote is the future of work without creating an inclusive culture to ensure it works for everyone.

  • Remote-friendly environment: Employees are allowed to work remotely, but work is not optimized for it. There is a disconnect between office and remote employees and team meetings exclusively occur in a co-located time zone. Water cooler chat is a space for key decisions and presence is correlated with meaningful work. Communication is synchronous-first. Managers must work in the office.
  • Remote-first companies: Employees are empowered to adopt remote work. Real-time meetings are kept to a minimum and recorded. Decisions are made online and performance is measured by output, not by hours worked. Communication is asynchronous-first. Managers are encouraged to work from home.

Connecting a remote-ish team

Hybrid companies function best when the entire company is optimized for remote work. Successful hybrid teams set up processes to help their remote workers thrive alongside their office teammates.

Leadership must acknowledge the various challenges remote workers face and create solutions. Create a remote work policy that keeps remote workers and contractors from feeling like second class team members. Remote workers should feel fully connected and not missing a thing.

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Early times

Before the Industrial revolution, everyone worked out of their home and sold their goods from there. With the Industrial Revolution came the need for automation and factories, and employ...

From factories to cubicles to WiFi

Just after WW2, there was a rise in corporate headquarters and larger office spaces and cubicles. During this time, the 8-hour workday was established.

Then came the advancements in computers and technology that lead to remote workers of today. The internet and public WiFi allowed employees to do everything they would in their cubicle, but outside the office. They can also work all hours of the day.

Remote work is common

4.3 million people currently work from home in the United States at least half of the time, and this figure has grown by 150% in the last 13 years.  

Remote workers tend to have higher engagement rates and higher productivity levels. Once they switch to remote work, they rarely want to become office bound again.

22% of Americans work from home

.... while nearly 50% are involved with remote or virtual team work.

This continuing shift calls for a new range of behaviors and skills.

Communication challenges for remote teams

  • Body language. Even when we share the same space, the tone of a text or of an email is left wide open to interpretation and can generate anxiety.
  • The delay between our messages can often postpone or hide emotional reactions to our comments. Lacking an immediate response, we can become distracted, second-guess ourselves, or even grow frustrated with our teams.

3 types of distance in remote teams

  • Physical (place and time)
  • Operational (team size, bandwidth and skill levels)
  • Affinity (values, trust, and interdependency).

The best way for managers to drive team performance is by focusing on reducing affinity distance.