Unlocking the Potential of Remote Employees

Unlocking the Potential of Remote Employees

By Nadine Green

When Michelle Peluso, IBM’s chief marketing officer, ordered her work-at-home employees to stop working from home in the spring of 2017, headlines sounded the death knell for the virtual workplace. After all, IBM had embraced remote work since the 1980s and by 2009 had 40 percent of its global workforce working at home. If a company that had embraced and led the work-at-home movement was now turning its back on the remote workforce, more companies were likely to follow.

While some companies such as IBM and Yahoo have retracted work-at-home options as they faced significant business challenges, other companies continue to embrace the concept of working at home. Among the companies that offer the highest number of remote job opportunities are Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, Hilton, Dell and Humana.1

Research has shown that working from home can deliver greater productivity than working in an office. One study found that work-at-home employees were more likely to start work on time (after all, they didn’t have to deal with a commute), took fewer breaks, had fewer days off sick, and were able to concentrate more. In addition to improved productivity, work-at-home employees reported higher job satisfaction and were 50 percent less likely to leave their employer than those who worked in the office.2

I am a proponent of working remotely. I believe you signal trust in your employees when you allow them to work from home, and you give them a chance to attain some work-life balance. When you let go of the traditional, in-the-office notion of a team, you also give yourself the opportunity to build a stronger team. Because VTLO operates with remote teams, we can select the best talent regardless of location. Our team members can work together whether they’re sitting in Arizona, Florida, New Jersey or South Africa.

While I firmly believe in the benefits of remote teams, I’m not blind to the following challenges for both employees and employer:

  • Working from home is not for everyone. It requires discipline to avoid distractions of household chores and family – and also to know when to turn work off. Some people experience a sense of isolation and become disconnected from the organization.
  • It takes effort to hold workers accountable for what they are doing; yet that can be a challenge in an office environment, too.
  • Although technology has made it easier, there are nuances that can be missed without daily face-to-face communication, which makes it tougher to build relationships. It’s hard to replace Mondays around the water cooler. Even with the right tools, collaboration among remote colleagues requires effort.

Don’t let the challenges scare you from building a remote team. They are simply factors that you need to keep in mind and proactively address. In fact, let me tap into my experience as a team leader of remote employees and offer five tips to improve your chance of success:

  • Assign everybody to a team. Ensure that everyone is part of a team so that they need to connect with colleagues in some way. In our business, we assign account teams, which meet on a regular basis and connect with each other for project work.
  • Establish clear and detailed deliverables. I’m not encouraging micro-managing people, but it is important to provide detailed descriptions of tasks with an idea of what the final results should be. Then, you can give the team the freedom to execute without having to provide ongoing instructions.
  • Use multiple communication channels. Your team members need ways to reach each other, whether using their phones or computers. Ensure that they have several channels available and understand which to use for meetings, collaboration and urgent needs.
  • Schedule regular meetings. Employees’ calendars should include regular team meetings and one-on-one sessions with you. These virtual meetings should be held via video when possible to recreate the office feeling that remote teams may miss. I also strongly encourage at least one in-person team meeting during the year with time to socialize.
  • Recognize people’s efforts and achievements. Employee recognition is critical to motivate team members. To recognize members of your remote team, call out particular achievements during video meetings, send a congratulatory email, or mail a small gift card as thanks. And remember to acknowledge how people get the job done – what better way to reinforce desired remote worker behaviors?

I’ve been touting the benefits of working at home because it’s an approach that we use to great effect at VTLO. By following the tips outlined above, we have established a motivated, productive and collaborative remote workforce. If you’re considering building a team with remote employees, let us show you how to make it a success.

Sources:

  1. “The Top 100 Companies Offering Remote Jobs.” Forbes.com. Jan 31, 2017.
  2. “Does Working From Home Work?” Forbes.com. Sep 19, 2012.

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