Aug 28 2018
It’s no secret the modern workforce is doing more work outside of the office. This puts companies in the unfamiliar position of managing remote teams in a way that produces real results.
Technology has upended every facet of American life, especially the way in which we view our careers. With a connected device in our pocket at all times, work – and all its responsibilities – can be accomplished from anywhere at any time. As such, employers should face the facts: nearly half of American workers report doing more work from home, and three-quarters of Millennials report wanting more opportunities to work remotely.
Nevertheless, remote teams consist of employees – aka: humans, and humans still have an aversion to working for awful managers in companies with outdated values regarding work, no matter if it’s in an office or working from home.
At Divining Point we made the conscious decision to fully embrace remote work in a way that allows us to get more shit done and enjoy “showing up” for work each week. Here’s what’s worked for us:
1. Success starts during hiring
Successfully managing a remote team starts during recruiting. If your employees must be self-managed, disciplined, and focused, you need to screen for these qualities. You can’t expect someone to flourish in a remote environment if they exhibit a need for constant direction, get distracted easily, and have a poor work ethic. It just won’t happen.
This is what many managers fear most: what if I hire people who violate my trust, do poor work, and spend their time juggling a bunch of side hustles when they’re getting paid to work for me? Frankly, the onus is on you to weed them out before you ever give them a shot on your team. And yes, bad hires still make it through the screening process, but there are additional tools to fix this problem.
For starters, a culture of accountability and proper use of communication tools will give you early indicators that someone isn’t carrying their weight.
Secondly, if your team is fully invested in the success of the company, your own employees will give you warnings when there is a fox in the henhouse.
Finally, the employment policies you set in place and the communication you keep with the bad hire will allow you to quickly process them from the company. In this case, we live by the rule of “always be recruiting” just in case you need to make a fast move. The world is full of talented, reliable people who would jump at the opportunity to work remotely with your team.
2. Greater flexibility creates stronger commitments
Increasingly, the number one thing employees of all age groups desire is “work-life balance”. This fairly subjective term is loosely defined as the ability to take care of one’s personal business while still living up to the requirements of your job.
Today’s employees find nothing more soul-sucking than having to request time off (or ask permission) to do critical personal chores. Having the flexibility to handle these tasks at one’s discretion actually elevates engagement at work and increases satisfaction with an employer.
At Divining Point we take this one step further. We understand there is a direct connection between physical health and optimal work performance. A healthy team leads to happier employees, fresher ideas, and better quality work for our clients. It also cuts down on sick days and trips to the doctor. As such we give our team the freedom to break from work to accommodate physical fitness and exercise – something that is woefully ignored in traditional work environments.
Yet, none of this is possible without clear expectations about accountability and a method to track performance. Tools like Slack, Trello, Basecamp, and Asana allow managers the opportunity to coordinate remote workers and guide projects from concept to completion. Since mobile devices allow people to always “be on”, a team can stay in synch and tackle critical tasks despite the asynchronous work schedule of each specific employee. When deadlines arise the team is expected to work together around the clock to meet them.
Essentially, commitment increases when employees are given the option to decide the times when they can produce the best quality work. As a result of this freedom, employees find themselves choosing to work harder and longer to achieve the collective goals of the company who has entrusted them with greater work-life balance.
3. Responsive communication leads to greater productivity
Companies live and die by prompt and clear communication. Fortunately, remote teams have multiple ways to facilitate quick communication from wherever they may be; so much so that results can be as fast or faster than onsite teams working the standard 8-5.
For better or worse, Americans spend the greater part of their days attached to their phones. Every morning they check their emails before getting out of bed. They exchange messages with people at all hours of the day – and late into the evening. There is no excuse for radio silence when your device is practically glued to your hip at all hours of the day.
There is a breaking point, though. If your phone is always on, when do you mentally shut off?
Divining Point operates with a simple request: be responsive during the core hours of the traditional workday – even if you’re not actually working. The rest is up to you depending on your workload and deadlines. Again, accountability is key here. If a deadline must be met, you better respond to your messages.
Core hours, in our opinion, are defined as those times when traditional office workers are the most productive. I regret to inform you that those hours are 9:30 AM to noon and 1-3 PM.
From 8-9:30 AM most workers in traditional offices are drinking coffee, gossiping, and getting their act together. From 3-5 PM the post-lunch slump is in full effect, and people start clock-watching to count the minutes until they can disappear for the night. Truthfully, four and a half hours of productivity may even be pushing it for workers confined to an office.
4. Fewer distractions equals more focus
Nothing kills productivity and morale quite like too many meetings. Unfortunately, remote teams are just as guilty as traditional offices at wasting time and killing engagement through meetings. But you have to have frequent meetings in order to make sure everyone is on the same track, right?
For companies that require creativity, problem-solving, or intense analysis, your meetings destroy performance. In general, people can only focus on one task for about 20 minutes before their brainpower starts to wane. Although a break is needed to keep the mental fires burning, a person can string together multiple 20-minute blocks in order to meet deadlines or complete projects. What happens when you start adding meetings and calls to the day? Context-switching. Switching back and forth between meetings and tasks can add hours of unproductive time to your employees’ day.
But meetings aren’t necessarily the primary distraction to a remote worker. Remember that communication part above? That’s right. Notifications are the biggest culprit.
While platforms like Slack and Hangouts offer faster communication, they also present countless distractions. It’s akin to a person in an office who constantly comes to your desk to ask you a question – or just chat about last night’s ballgame. Part of the joy of working remotely is not having to face that person every day.
At Divining Point we understand everyone has shit to do. When you need to buckle down on a project, it’s not unusual to turn off notifications for general chatter. As a manager, giving your team the ability to shut out noise – even your noise – has the added benefit of keeping them focused on their work.
5. Developing a culture still requires building relationships
This point may seem counterintuitive to the items above. How can you build a culture when you allow your employees to define their schedules, work from home and even tune you out? The simple answer is you have to make time to actually get to know your team.
Video conferences, team building exercises, and casual conversations during meetings build rapport to strengthen your relationships. Celebrating personal events (like birthdays, anniversaries and family milestones) and acknowledging the non-work achievements for each employee helps your team bond.
If your team is centralized in one geographic area, like ours, then periodic in-person meetings and special events can also build connections. Meeting in person for weekly coffee sessions to discuss the week’s projects or engage in casual conversation can sometimes make the difference between a positive company culture or a disconnected group of “workers”.
Ultimately, though, culture is defined at the top. The success or failure of your remote organization is largely driven by your ability to inspire your team, engage them in the success of the company, and guide them through difficulties.