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July 15, 2020
Brad Jamison

How to build a great team and culture for remote work

Remote work has been popular for a while. In 2017, a Gallup poll showed that about 43% of employed Americans had spent at least some time working remotely, and over 5% were working from home full-time. Furthermore, another study discovered that the average employee would willingly take an 8% pay cut for the option to work remotely. Remote work culture must be considered and possibly prioritized as we move towards a new norm.

It's no surprise that employees would be excited about the prospect of working from the comfort of their own homes. The perks of remote work are plentiful: increased flexibility, better work-life balance, no office-related stress, etc. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to look at remote work options as much more than a luxury. For many in the workforce, it has become a necessity mandated by either the government or the circumstances of their own health and their family's health.

If your company is among the thousands of organizations dealing with the effects of COVID-19, then you likely need to build a fully remote team, perhaps for the first time. What factors should you consider to ensure that your team remains productive, interconnected, and healthy? The following information will discuss three major processes to keep in mind.

Technical training and equipment for remote work

As you begin making the transition to remote work, you'll need to ensure that your employees have both the training and the equipment needed to make this change a success.

In many cases, your employees may already have the necessary equipment to perform their duties remotely. For example, many employees can successfully work within data entry positions, administrative jobs, and other specialized roles via their PCs and/or laptops. Video conferencing equipment often comes pre-built into computers; if not, a headset and camera are relatively inexpensive items.

In addition, companies may choose to offer newly remote employees a small stipend to purchase accessories and even furniture that will make them comfortable in their "home office." For example, do your remote workers have desks and chairs that contribute to good ergonomics? Do they have office supplies and equipment like printers, whiteboards, and organizing bins that are necessary for peak productivity?

Another fitting consideration may be employee training. Workers that are accustomed to performing tasks in-office may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using the Cloud to share files, connecting with co-workers via a video conference, or taking advantage of a software API oriented towards remote work capabilities. If this is the case, you need to provide a crash course for all of your newly remote employees as a bare minimum, and some ongoing coaching for those that are struggling to adapt. Designing and composing a clear instruction manual for your core pieces of software can also be a great aid in this endeavor.

Develop clear and consistent policies

Some employers, when faced with the prospect of a transition to remote work, worry about the implications associated with such a dramatic shift in policy. For instance, they may wonder if employee productivity will plummet. How will the company perform QA audits going forward? How will the change impact professional relationships?

The key to resolving all of these potential issues is the development of clear and consistent policies around the transition. These policies should cover all possible details of the new remote work culture, including:

  • Communication. Which tools will managers use as primary communication mediums with their employees? What tools will employees use to communicate with one another (Slack, Zoom, email, etc.)? What will the guidelines be as far as operational hours, message size and content, and response times? For instance, some team managers have set "black-out times" for themselves, and communicated to their team that they are unavailable for those set hours throughout the week. By doing so, they make a clear distinction between work time and personal time and train their employees to communicate with them only during business hours (unless there are extenuating circumstances, of course).
  • Performance metrics. Will customer service reviews, quotas, or other metrics change at all? How will managers implement any changes to provide fair and equal treatment for their newly remote team members? The key here is a detailed and reasonable assessment of the new working conditions that your team must face. Just as one example, an accounting firm that previously used in-office software should not necessarily expect the same level of production from newly remote employees unless they have the same program available in their home office.
  • Feedback. How frequently will managers provide feedback to their team members (and perhaps have team members give feedback to them)? How long will these feedback sessions last? What conferencing tools will be leveraged to accomplish this? Many managers have found that weekly or bi-weekly feedback sessions have significantly improved productivity and morale. Following an outline or script to prepare for such meetings will drastically increase the communication and connecting between workers. The occasional surprise visit on Zoom for some personal commendation can also make a huge difference in employee engagement levels.

Of course, these and other factors are largely dependent on the nature of your business, your resources, your management team, and your workforce. Nevertheless, you must develop and implement such policies ahead of time in order to avoid misunderstandings and lost profits in the future.

Measure Performance with an Eye to the Future

Granted, many companies are implementing new remote work policies as a purely reactionary measure against the spread of COVID-19, and the global health crisis that has emerged as a result. However, many organizations may find that there is a silver lining from this situation concerning future growth. In some cases, this may prove to be the needed motivation for companies to make sweeping changes to their "work from home" policy (or lack thereof).

For example, research indicates that remote workers may actually be more productive than their in-office counterparts. One study found that remote employees get 77% more work done (in less time!) than workers that must commute to their job. Of course, the only way to verify the accuracy of these reports within the context of your own company is to measure the performance of your remote workforce in depth.

By capturing key data points (such as average productivity, hours worked, operational costs, average employee downtime, and so forth), once the current crisis has passed, you will be in a much better position to make good decisions for the future. You'll know which aspects of remote work really work for your business, which ones don't, and which ones have untapped potential to further explore.

Deploying a newly remote team can be stressful, and comes with its share of difficulties. However, it is a way to keep your workers safe and happy, and may even result in amazing unanticipated benefits.

At Zestful, we are committed to helping remote workers do their part to #flattenthecurve. To that end, we are offering our employee perk and recognition solutions to newly remote teams free of charge for 60 days. Check us out here. Let's work together to beat COVID-19, and learn how to make our remote teams more effective in the process.

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