The debate about the benefits of remote work still hasn’t died down after Marissa Meyer decided to rein in remote workers. The debate is still alive and well because there are many benefits associated with remote work and it’s an effective way to spread jobs from metro areas to places with high unemployment rates.
Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from remote work. The companies who let employees work remotely also benefit:
First, companies get access to a bigger talent pool. When employers are looking for a new addition, using remote workers means your candidates aren’t limited to a certain geographical location – you can hire the best, regardless of location.
Second, it’s more cost effective because salary expectations in certain places are skyrocketing. By bringing remote workers onto your team, you can tap into other, less inflated, labor markets.
Third, people get more stuff done. Workers who are able to work remotely are more productive, report less absenteeism, and are, generally, happier. These factors help make people more productive and that also helps you save money.
Yet, despite the benefits for companies, many companies refuse to hire remote workers. No doubt, part of the problem is that many managers and leaders don’t know how to deal with remote workers.
When you have employees on site, you can keep a close eye on them and watch how they move and behave. The power of observation makes you feel like you have more control and that’s hard to give up. Being a remote boss requires a certain skill set and a different perspective.
First, being a virtual boss means you need to be comfortable with technology and know how to use it in a way that not only enables communication, but builds relationships. “Bias yourself toward electronic conversation and away from messaging in virtual relationships,” writes Michael Watkins for HBR. “Pick up the phone more than you would if you were located nearby.”
We’re all busy and our frantic pace can easily compound the isolation that comes with remote work. A great way to decide whether a situation requires a phone call or an email is to receive regular feedback from your team that gauges their mood, identifies challenges they face, and tries to focus in on opportunities they have been able to identify. Monitoring feedback in this way will help you, as a leader, focus on crucial conversations that need to happen.
Another technological challenge involves resisting the urge to communicate too frequently with your team. “It is often assumed that teleworkers need a lot of communication and contact with the organization in order to diminish their sense of distance and to develop a sense of belonging,” notes Kathryn Fonner. “But we found that the more teleworkers communicated with others, the more stressed they felt due to interruptions, and this was negatively associated with their identification with the organization.”
She recommends setting a schedule where remote workers can meet up with their team leaders – either in person or over the web – to discuss projects; having a regular schedule avoids the stress caused by too much communication.
It’s not only a special skill set needed by your leadership team, but also a different mindset. The focus needs to be on autonomy, trusting the decisions made by your team, improving communication skills, and, most importantly, hiring people who can be accountable for their own results.
“These are issues of management getting comfortable with being accountable for their team’s results and learning that leading people is much less about checking their work or presence management than it is developing an environment in which teams want to do — and are rewarded both directly and intrinsically for — the very best work they’re capable of,” writes Amber Naslund.
“These are issues of understanding the dynamics of human networks, and how both physical proximity and autonomy and empowerment motivate people to connect with each other, communicate, and collaborate as technology reduces friction but fosters distance.”
If you want to know if your company is right for remote work and if you are ready to take advantage of its benefits, you need to ask yourself if you have the right employees, the right leadership, and the right mindset.
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