Most office-based businesses have now settled into remote working and established a new routine for themselves and their employees. The relevant platforms can be accessed from home, investments have been made in hardware and software, and a broad structure is in place. The question is, how long will this continue? Keeping up motivation and productivity of your remote teams for the long haul is a different challenge than the initial transition into it.
Whilst it’s certainly a distinct way of working for the majority of companies, some have been doing this for some time already. Tech companies and consultancies historically have a strong track record of both using a freelance model and off-site teams to supplement their in-office employees.
So, with the advice changing and new guidelines coming out about when and how we might return to the office, it’s a good idea to think long-term on this remote management as we could be doing it for some time.
With this in mind, we talked to some business leaders in our network from across the tech and consulting space to collate 5 core areas of focus to ensure effective ongoing remote management.
1. Measuring motivation levels and productivity
“We’ll only really be able to tell how productivity has been affected by remote working when the pipeline of work returns to normal” – Managing Director, Professional Services Firm
This is one of the core challenges of a remote workforce and harder to track outside the office. It can also be difficult to distinguish between whether the quality of work has been affected or if it’s that the pipeline of projects and sales has dropped across the board.
Despite us all being connected virtually, the lack of real face time can mean a drop in team cohesiveness. When this is coupled with stress and distractions in the remote office, productivity can be impacted. Here are some core ways to manage this:
Set expectations and communicate clear targets. This can be done on a weekly or daily basis where appropriate, but knowing what the clear aim is rather than ongoing tasks will help break work down and get more actionable results.
If the workload has dropped, redefine to team members what it means to be productive by focusing more on proactive inputs rather than reactive outputs.
Send regular anonymous surveys to capture where additional support might be needed.
Schedule one-to-one catch-ups allowing an open floor to vent frustrations. And make it clear that it’s ok to be open about these things – the more people feel they can talk, the more trust is created and morale is boosted.
Have small team meetings for business updates or social chats. Consider an open Teams/ Slack channel that people can pop into throughout the day, much like a breakout or kitchen area.
Continue to assess and adjust how you measure motivation and productivity and ask for feedback.
2. Ensuring continuous communication
“We’ve got better and better at over communication and making sure everyone is up to speed” – Head of Growth, Technology Start-up
You can no longer walk by someone’s desk or gauge the mood from across the room so it can be difficult to judge what enough communication looks like. It’s clear that the benefits of communication are high and should be emphasised to ensure people feel connected, to encourage idea sharing and to monitor progress.
Agree on a central platform or multiple channels and what each one will be used to communicate. Monitor this to ensure the channels are being used effectively.
Check that synchronous and asynchronous communication has been delivered and understood
Ensure all relevant parties are exposed to the necessary communication and not inadvertently left out. This can be through email trails or sending notes after a meeting.
Provide a clear value proposition for how remote project delivery can be impactful for clients or customers.
Recognise video call fatigue and spread out non-essential internal meetings.
“We make sure to have weekly updates and regular one-to-one chats” – HR Advisor, Investment Firm
If people know why you are having the meetings and making the calls rather than simply checking in without context, then you can find the optimum amount that works for your team and maximise the output.
3. On-boarding contractors or permanent staff
“Complete remote onboarding is possible but the ideal scenario is for them to meet the team at some point to feel part of the culture” – Head of Growth, Technology Start-up
We’re seeing that most business don’t want long-term remote working after this period so any new hires on-boarded remotely now is done with the view that they’ll meet the team in person later on. It can be a demanding process for new hires, existing employees and managers to on-board remotely so here are some tips to consider beforehand:
Ensure the relevant IT can be set up and assess whether they need extra tech sent in advance.
Consider what you want to achieve in the induction or briefing and recognise what cannot be translated from face-to-face to remote inductions.
Have a clear structure and assign responsibility for tasks
Have a clear point of contact for the new hire or contractor
Set clear targets on tasks and check outputs regularly
Be open to feedback from your new hire about how you could improve
“We will be more confident in training employees and delivering work that is 100% remote” – Managing Director, Professional Services Firm
4. Re-assessing the office
“We will be led by our clients and whether they want us to return to site” – Commercial Manager, Strategy Consultancy
Returning to an office environment will be a consideration for all businesses and largely led by the demands faced by each particular industry. The main options being reviewed at the moment include:
a. Getting back to the office full-time as soon as possible
b. Considering never returning to permanent office facilities
c. Options of a combined approach of remote working options with a shared workspace and hotdesking
There are various degrees in all of the above, but the sudden experiment of full-time remote working has proven the model can work and gives both employees and employers some options for what can be the new way of working.
Here are some points to think about for how to manage a workforce when you phase back in to normality:
Gather feedback from the team on what type of space they might find useful for the future, and what they would feel comfortable with now.
Consider how you can make the office a safe space to return to. Take steps to ensure this is set up in advance to avoid a rush so employees can both be safe and feel safe.
If you’re not tied into rental agreements and you want to abandon the office, think about what this means for your company culture and whether you can make any remote replacements to maintain this.
Consider the main uses for the office moving forward and whether they need to be done in an office or simply a common space.
“It will be a gradual approach and we will be led by health and safety” – CEO, Strategy consultancy
Ultimately, it’s not worth rushing, take a gradual approach and don’t force the commute.
5. Changes to policies
When a decision has been made about company policies, including working from home, make sure to communicate it to the team and share the reasoning. Things like holidays and pay reviews may be adjusted, but give clarity on timeframes for when this will be reconsidered.
Communicate whether there will be greater flexibility to the previous working from home policies moving forward
Highlight what tasks are important to your business when it comes to working remotely or in the office and what you expect to be done from where
Communicate changes to holiday policies or benefit packages and when they might be reinstated
Provide clarity on bonus payments and pay
Companies will approach this very differently according to what fits their ways of working but it’s always beneficial to be proactive around this information.
“We will still need to balance remote working with an office space but we will definitely work more remotely” – Managing Director, Professional Services Firm
“Part of it is about re-educating our clients to showcase that we can deliver meaningful output remotely” –Director, Strategy Consultancy
The way we work with our teams has changed dramatically in a short space of time. It’s worth taking the time to consider how your business is managing a remote workforce, what proactive steps are you taking to gather feedback, how are you communicating to individuals and the team, and how can you continue to assess and make improvements to ensure you maintain motivations and productivity remotely.
If you would like to talk about managing your workforce remotely then get in touch and we would be happy to help!