There are countless reasons often cited to consider remote work options, such as real estate savings, increased productivity and more engaged employees.
Unfortunately, all too often I see organizations utilizing remote workers without the proper processes, which leads to issues with leadership, productivity and overall employee satisfaction and retention. Here some of the greatest mistakes organizations make when dealing with remote teams:
Mistake No. 1: Not applying 'glo-cal' approach to remote teams
A lot of companies create a standard work-from-home policy for the entire organization. But, this can often backfire because some organizations that do this are blind to the fact they need a "glocal" – global and local – approach.
Globally, for example, you might consider implementing specific standards, such as, “When working from home, we expect you are in a quiet space and have someone else taking care of children and pets.
For local teams, I've found customization is essential. For example, some teams might be able to work from home all the time. For others, it might be a situation where at least one person needs to be in the office, so everybody picks a different day to work on-site. Another option could be setting the standard your local teams can work remotely, but everyone needs to be in the office on a particular day for an all-hands meeting.
Mistake No. 2: Underestimating technology needs for engagement and efficiency
Even after you’ve done the proper glocal analysis and have decided who can work remotely, many organizations forget to assess all the technology components required to help people be efficient. This is why it's important to create technology standards regarding internet bandwidth, whether or not your team members need a virtual private network (or VPN) and security-related protocols.
I've observed most businesses with remote workers also benefit from video tools and other collaboration technology. You might think of video as a tool to share whatever document you are looking at, which of course, is essential. But when people can see one another's faces and gestures, they will behave more like a team and are much more likely to stay engaged in the meeting. Just sharing screens on virtual conferences is not enough. Be sure you have cloud-based collaboration technology that supports the team in taking the next steps on their work from anywhere, including updating that document that was discussed on the video conference.
Mistake No. 3: Assuming leaders know how to lead remote teams
Even the best leaders need additional training managing remote workers. For instance, one of the most commons mistakes I've seen managers of remote teams make is expecting their employees to reply within minutes of them receiving an instant message or email. In my experience, this can make some employees feel as if you don’t trust them. Equally important, it can stop them from being productive. When someone is interrupted in the middle of a task, it takes almost 25 minutes to get back to the same level of productivity they had before.
Another missing component for leaders of remote teams is how to reward, recognize and engage. If some of your team members are working from home once a week, this shouldn’t be a big deal. However, if they work remotely most of the time, it's important to find ways to still include them in team activities. For example, do you hold a “bring-your-lunch-to-the-video-conference” birthday party for team members? If a speaker is on-site, do you make their teachings available via conferencing tools to your remote employees so they can still benefit?
Lastly, hold 1-to-1 time with your remote workers. When you work on-site with someone, you might see them, ask how they are doing and still receive vital feedback. When team members are virtual, this likely happens less often. The great thing I've seen is that when leaders learn how to lead remote people better, they are better leaders in the office as well.
Mistake No. 4: Not taking the time to decide who should work remotely
You might instruct people to work remotely all or some of the time because you learned working from home can improve engagement, or maybe you’re simply running out of space on-site. There are many factors in whether someone can or should work from home, such as: Is their role suitable for remote work? Do they have the appropriate collaboration tools? Do they have the appropriate space and child care? Are they so new they need more time to get to know everyone? Is their personal style better suited for being in the same room as their team members?
Be sure to identify which roles can work from home, ask those individuals if they want to, and confirm they have the proper space, bandwidth and childcare before you assign them to a remote role.
Mistake No. 5: Not giving people the option to work remotely
While not every role can work remotely, in today’s world, I've found many people expect the opportunity to work from home. Many employees like the convenience of choosing their workspace; it saves them a long commute, the ability to exercise or run errands during lunch or to be home to accept a package or be present for home repairs. For some, the office can be a distraction, and they can focus better when they are at home in their own personalized office space. Not sure what your workers want? Ask them. Have a conversation and build a process that makes it ideal for all.
Utilizing remote workers can provide some businesses with cost savings, increased efficiency and a more engaged workforce, but only if done right. If not done well, I've observed many organizations see decreased efficiency, higher turnover rates and major trust issues, which can erode team performance even on days when they are in the office. This is why it's critical to create a strategy and tactics around your remote workforce so you can truly start experiencing its benefits.