Many companies are redefining what it means to work remotely, with over 68% of Australian employers allowing their employees flexible work from home arrangements. This scenario is now playing out more than before, with the current COVID-19 situation across the globe.
This flexibility has been known to provide employees with the freedom to work anywhere and plan their day based on productivity levels, often translating to optimum results with the same given hours input.
In a study by Owl Labs, full-time remote workers said they’re happy in their job, 22% more than people who never worked remotely. The reasons these respondents decided to work remotely were better work-life balance (91%), increased productivity/better focus (79%), less stress (78%), and to avoid a commute (78%).
Here are five best practices to adopt to increase employee engagement, boost their productivity, and reduce turnover:
Set clear expectations
What is expected from the employee both long term and short term? Likewise, what does the employee expect from you?
These are doubts we can clear early in the conversation, say during the interview – don’t leave it to the end.
Create best practice by setting up at least one reliable platform for communication and cross-collaboration. Useful tools we like are Skype for Business, Slack, Zoom, Meistertask, Crewmojo and Google hangouts. Keep things objective yet interactive to help the entire company form the habit of using these tools. Doing this from the beginning encourages having some form of structure in a not-very-structured situation.
Be supportive, not intrusive
Working remotely comes with its own struggles. Remote employees aren’t able to walk a couple steps to their coworkers for help. It’s important as employers we be empathetic.
Express your willingness to be available to help along the way. This creates a mutual understanding that a safe space to reach out for help exists. Not only does this help remote employees feel at ease and welcomed, but as employers, you are able to reach out to them.
Another great thing you can do is to pair them up with a ‘buddy’ should they need help or just someone to chat with – they’ll thank you for this.
We emphasise the importance of mental health and well-being in the workforce – this is equally important, if not more, for remote employees who tend to experience isolation from the rest of the company. Human interaction is limited, so pick up the phone or video call to check in on how they’re doing regularly. Do, also, encourage taking breaks regularly and other activities such as going for walks as working remotely limits one’s mobility.
Don’t be mistaken, don’t come off as intrusive. Instead, encourage communication beyond emails and texts using the tools mentioned above. Also, don’t forget to include them in your internal news updates and resources. They’re a part of the company too.
Hire the right person
A candidate can have all the skills you need, but may not have the discipline or the ability to handle the unique pressure of working remotely.
One sure-fire way to identify someone suitable is to assign a project for a couple of weeks, and focus on analysing their approach to handling the work remotely, communication and collaboration skills, and overall mindset in such a work setting. Finding a balance in someone who has both the skills required for the job and ability to work remotely is key.
Some things we look out for are:
- Relevant skills, of course
- Communication skills – this shows their ability to communicate through other tools as there is no opportunity for face-to-face communication
- Independence – are they able to work independently and produce results?
- Patience – working remotely requires a great deal of patience as communication may not always be instantaneous
- Level of understanding – do they understand the importance of their role and outcomes?
Review and re-evaluate
Paired with setting clear expectations of both parties, it’s important to schedule regular reviews focused on the employee’s performance and well-being. Having regular meetings is one thing, but having a performance review at the end of 1 month, 3 months and 6 months can be beneficial to reinstate expectations set at the start, as well as to discuss how arrangements can be improved.
This is also a good opportunity for the remote employee to share with you their concerns, if any, and you can figure out the best way to help from there.
This may not be the last time you hire and onboard a remote employee. In fact, you may see this happening more. The best way to improve how you onboard remote employees? Ask them directly.
Feedback forms or just an open conversation can allow you to gather valuable first-hand feedback which will help you improve on your approach and even choice of tools to make things easier for the next person who joins. If all else fails, this won’t!