We’ve been operating our company without direct office space for over 20 years, embracing a virtual model when we’re not working at client sites or connecting in person. While working remotely has become second nature to us, that doesn’t mean it was an easy journey, and we’ve learned many lessons on how to operate a company with remote workers successfully.
This year, I am releasing a book, “Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams,” focused on how to build a great culture when you have a mostly virtual workforce. As coronavirus spreads across the world, and companies must quickly adopt remote work options, I wanted to take a moment to provide some of our insights before the book release.
In the following excerpts, I’ve provided a quick guide on how to maintain productivity and a sense of connectedness as you quickly move your teams to work from home.
Trust Your Remote Team
The immediate pushback I hear from executives considering remote work is that virtual employees will simply not work as hard as they would under in-person supervision. The reality is the opposite: remote workers end up working too much because their work is always right in front of them, and they need to learn to find healthy boundaries. We have worked with thousands of people over the last 20 years and can count on our hands how many times we’ve had an issue where someone was intentionally not working.
Based on our experience, you should trust your team when you aren’t directly observing them.
Many companies also mistakenly assume their management and measurement structures need to be revamped for virtual workers. Just like a brick-and-mortar company, if you have a good management structure in place where you are reviewing work product at an appropriate pace when someone isn’t performing, it shows up immediately. You should be able to translate your existing management structure to virtual with very little change.
If you are rushing to push your team to remote, don’t spend your time worrying if you can trust your team to work or spend time trying to figure out ways to monitor them through software. Instead, focus on training them on how to work remotely.
Prepare Your Teams for Remote Work
If you find yourselves rushing to get your employees’ set-up to work remotely, develop a training guide or cheat sheet for how to manage their day and the expectations you have for them. The most important part of that guide for them will be how to set healthy boundaries. Here are a few things they’ll need to consider:
Find a Healthy Balance
Many new remote workers worry they’ll be distracted by their home life and lack the discipline to get work done. Instead, the exact opposite usually occurs: Remote workers become more productive once freed from a traditional office environment. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise since working remotely means fewer distractions, no commute and the opportunity to take real breaks.
A productivity increase is good, but many remote workers take it too far and end up working too much. How does this happen? The boundaries between your personal and work lives disappear. The laptop is always right there in front of you, and your mobile phone is always on. Your ability to jump between work and personal tasks is suddenly a lot easier, but if you switch back and forth all day long, it quickly adds up.
I’ve found the best approach is to allow employees to create healthy boundaries that work best for them and when they are most productive during the day. Based on their life schedule, let them determine the time periods during business hours that are strictly for work, and when they’ll be taking breaks. They need to develop the discipline to respect those times so that they can achieve a healthy balance. Encourage them to share their approach with their family so that everyone knows when to leave them alone so they can stay focused on work.
Also, if someone hasn’t worked remotely before, there’s usually an adjustment period as they figure out how to make it work for their home environment and schedule. Those who are initially reluctant to make the switch usually love it once they get their new routine down.
Create the Right At-Home Approach
When employees begin to work remotely, they’ll need to form new habits and make decisions around how they get work done. The way their day flows is up to them now (to an extent). Let them architect a customized approach.