Every year, organisations spend a lot of time and resources doing up offices, making sure the coffee machine is always full, employees have many food options, beer is easily accessible on Fridays, and everyone has everything they need to be extremely productive and very, very happy.
Secretly, I always had a doubt that most of this is just to have employees hang around the office longer. This could be true because if organisations were actually listening to the statistics—there is part of the workforce that is eating healthier by 42 percent, sleeping better by 45 percent, exercising more by 32 percent, shows more positive attitude by 44 percent, and a whopping 53 percent reports reduced stress. It is the remote employee.
And it is not just the employee who gains from remote working. They also report statistics that work significantly in favour of return on investment for the employer. According to the same report, “77 percent report greater productivity while working off site with 30 percent accomplishing more in less time and 24 percent accomplishing more in the same amount of time. 23 percent are even willing to work longer hours than they normally would on site to accomplish more while 52 percent are less likely to take time off when working remotely—even when sick.”
However, employees, even the ones who work from the office, are a mixed bag. Some are deeply conditioned to be accountable, some are not. Forming strong bonds with teams, which often helps in teamwork, is another challenge. Most importantly, remote employee, being deeply engaged in the bigger purpose and values of the organisation, is another risk organisations may not be keen to take. But if the doubts are understandable, so is the return on investment from remote workers.
For this, we first need to understand the defining traits of a good employee. While these traits are equally important for office workers, they become more crucial when you have fewer opportunities to check status or follow up in person. According to Zapier, an app development company with three founders and over 20 remote employees across the world, remote workers must have –
How can hiring managers and HR make sure that the only difference between remote and office workers is the location, not values, not the appreciation they receive, and definitely not accountability?
The onboarding process with remote employees cannot be a three month long one, as it often is with office workers. Hiring managers and HR need to prepare better when onboarding remote employees. Have them come in for a three to five day induction. Let them meet the team, finish necessary paperwork and get to understand what the organisation does, its values, rules and regulations, vacation time, payment terms, claims submissions, and other finance and HR processes.
If in-person induction is not possible, don’t take the email route. Just replicate the process on videoconference.
Organisations should not only clarify that remote employees must be part of these meetings just like office workers would, they should also provide the right technologies to remote employees to facilitate this. Paying for the employees’ high-speed internet connection and a videoconference tool goes a long way.
While appraisal is an easy given that most organisations have fixed appraisal cycles, appreciation is a whole other ballgame. It is easy to appreciate office employees with a pat on the back, a quick “good job”. Remote employees and most of their work is out of sight for most part, with celebratory Fridays drinks playing a smaller role in engaging and appreciating them compared to office workers. In such cases, organisations or hiring managers should over-communicate with a team email or verbal appreciation. Remote employees must feel valued too, just like the rest of your employees.
From new client wins to client losses, business performance and team changes, an organisations must make an effort to keep the remote employees updated about developments within the organisation. In fact, organisations must invest in enterprise social media tools like Yammer, Tibbr, or Socialtext if they have a sufficiently distributed team, in offices or offsite. This helps them communicate important news with everyone in the same manner and everyone stays in the loop on developments outside of work and deliverables.
Clearly, it is about time organisations invested in their technology instead of coffee machines to allow more employees to work, collaborate, exchange feedback, and brainstorm remotely. It is one of the biggest win-win propositions in the current discourse on workplace structures.
For more on hiring, onboarding, retaining, and communicating with your remote workforce, read on –