While a few months ago businesses scrambled to move staff to home office environments, many of us are now starting to look ahead at what’s next. Several states and provinces have passed the peak infection rate and are looking towards declining COVID-19 numbers and a gradual return to normal. But if we assume that “normal” means working 9-5 while enduring a lengthy commute to work, is “normal” really “optimal”? We know working from home at least part of the time and can enhance a staff member’s work life balance while alleviating the need for employers to pay for additional workspace and infrastructure. \
But many managers worry about how to train new staff or how to keep current staff fully engaged. These are certainly valid concerns but when managed effectively, working from home can be a win-win for both employer and staff member. Based on my experience over the past 10 years staffing hundreds of customer service agents, data entry clerks, sales reps, and licensed mortgage brokers virtually working in home offices across North America, there are some key tips and tricks to keeping remote staff members happy and productive.
• Offer a virtual “water cooler” environment – It’s important that your staff feel connected and supported while working from home. Remote training platforms and communication tools are a must for facilitating skill development, performance management, and, equally important, social interaction. We use an internal chat platform to give staff members across the continent the opportunity to make social connections with one another and seek support when needed. The chat platform gives people the opportunity to share jokes, stories, family photos, or ideas with their co-workers. We don’t micromanage the chat platform or create rigid rules for engagement, and the trust we place in our staff members is reflected in their professionalism.
• Keep different learning styles in mind – Deploy a comprehensive training platform that addresses diverse, individualized learning styles. Some people are visual learners, others learn by doing, and others learn through repetition. Understanding how individuals learn best from the start and delivering customized training is highly effective.
• Get creative in offering incentives — Offering incentives to drive performance and staff behavior is not new to most managers, especially in a sales or KPI-driven work environment. However, we’ve found that when working with a large number of remote staff members, some mid-performers tend to disengage from incentive programs, feeling like they’ll never lead, or never win the big prize. To ensure that everyone is engaged, not just the super star performers, we offer raffles, with easily attainable ways to earn ballots. We then use a remote raffle platform to draw names for small cash prizes randomly and real-time. Staff members love it and the online raffle is often the highlight of the week!
• Use video – Because 80% of communication is non-verbal, it’s important to build trust between co-workers, employees, and managers through video connections. If you’re a CEO or executive with hundreds or thousands of employees, strive to communicate as much via video as you do via email or even phone. When in-person team meetings or huddles aren’t practical, video is a great way to stay connected.
• Provide flexible schedules – One of the biggest advantages of work-at-home environments is the flexibility for staff members to self-manage. Consider whether you really need everyone on your team available between the hours of 9 and 5 every day. As an alternative and where feasible think about whether tasks and assignments can be completed any time of day. As long as staff members abide by set deadlines and are delivering on their productivity commitments, many businesses find that loosening their restrictions can promote greater job satisfaction and create a more productive environment.
• Look for opportunities to engage – Acknowledging birthdays, telling people they did a good job on a particular project, praising team work and collaboration, or simply saying “good morning” are small but important ways you can engage your remote team members.
• Address performance issues early — Ensure that remote staff understand expectations from the start and address problems early. When performance issues crop up, provide additional guidance and partner them with a remote mentor who’s more tenured.
• Grow your leadership team – Don’t think that remote workers don’t need management. One of the worst mistakes you can make when staffing remotely is letting team members get lost and feel like a number. As your leadership team grows, make sure your management team understands and abides by your corporate culture.
In summary, when managing remote teams, it’s important to respect staff members as adults. Trying to micromanage or “parent” them will never drive success. By placing trust in your remote team members, that sense of trust will be reciprocated and the business impact will show. Structuring an effective engagement and communication system for remote workers means businesses can create and maintain a post-pandemic work environment that may look a lot different and be a lot more productive than the “old normal.”