A 2017 Gallup report discovered that 43 percent of American employees work remotely at least occasionally, of which about 3 in 10 do so more than 80 percent of the time. These numbers increased from 2012, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Here’s the other side of this remote workplace surge: You get an email from a work-at-home employee who is looking forward to sharing his or her thoughts about a future project. You look at the message and ask yourself, “Who is this person, and what is this project I’m hearing about for the first time?”
The distance felt by companies managing remote employees often is more than miles. The talent at these organizations are at risk of not communicating or even knowing one another. Managers may not be aware of what their employees are doing, departments fail to work together effectively, and remote employees can feel isolated and uninspired.
But remote operations don’t have to be this way. The challenges are there, but with proactive planning and technology-enabled employee communication and management, those far-flung workers can move from an afterthought to an incredible asset.
Obviously, a big challenge with remote employees is that if you have a question or simply want an opinion from a co-worker, you can’t look over your cubicle wall or walk down the hall to engage in a conversation. Even the small talk that fosters workplace friendships can be absent when employees are spread out all over the country.
Moreover, putting a face to a name is tricky if you don’t see that person every day. Without that simple connection, it’s easy for employees—particularly managers—to forget there’s a real person with a real role behind an email address. And once that disconnect occurs, some remote employees might be left out of the loop and unintentionally denied opportunities. Technology-enabled communication and management can bring these employees back into a more active role, but a company’s goal should be to never lose sight of them in the first place.
Remote employees can boost a company’s bottom line by delivering added productivity and reducing costs. Those benefits might not be immediately obvious because remote employees aren’t in the office (or, for completely remote organizations, in an office). This is where trust in your hiring process provides a huge boost. If you know the people you hire for the right roles can work in a remote environment, managing them becomes much simpler. Keeping these employees engaged bridges the distance between you and them and them and each other. By embracing a remote structure, employees aren’t overlooked, and their motivation to produce quality work is as strong as if they were sitting in the cubicle next to you.
Trying to manage remote employees without clear objectives can result in a hodgepodge of processes and policies, not to mention the scenario outlined throughout this post—sparse communication or understanding of co-workers. Establishing solid logistics goes a long way toward overcoming the obstacles many companies encounter with their remote workforce. How will employees communicate with each other if there’s a problem? Who will you contact to solve that problem? How often will you meet with your team? Cameras on or off? These seem like basic questions for basic processes, but organizations that haven’t thought these things through may fail to take full advantage of the skills their remote employees have to offer.
The evolution of technology has enabled employees to work remotely, so unsurprisingly, it also can assist in communicating with and managing them. Two technologies stand out in taking remote employee management to the next level:
Good headsets: Investing in a strong communication and video conferencing solution (such as Slack or Zoom) is obviously essential, but on the hardware side, the headsets employees use to talk through their devices can be just as critical. A high-quality headset, as opposed to $4 headphones you find at Walmart, can be the difference between an employee engaged in live online discussion and one who can barely hear and contribute to the conversation.
Org chart: An interactive organizational chart bridges the gap between knowing your employees and wondering who that person is on the other side of the country. The best org charts include employee names, photos, job titles, roles, skills, and other vital information key to fully understanding who are engaging with. Furthermore, such a tool helps new employees learn more about their co-workers from day one, which can boost productivity by reducing the time needed to find out who’s who.
Technology-enabled employee communication and management also help with team-building, which doesn’t have to be absent just because you all aren’t in the same office. Online seminars, live weekly meetings, and even video happy hours bring employees together and engage them in ways that sometimes aren’t even possible in a non-remote setting.
One simple way for execs and HR specialists to truly understand working remotely is to try it themselves for a week. By challenging yourself to experience the remote dynamic, you’ll gain a better idea of what your employees face—and what steps you can take to make their jobs more productive.
Which technology-enabled employee communication and management strategies does your organization use for remote workers?