As remote and hybrid work arrangements become less a pandemic response and increasingly a more permanent situation, thought leaders are starting to ask how to maintain productivity, accountability and a motivated workforce. While studies demonstrate employees are just as productive at home as they are in the office, many leaders are still somewhat uneasy with the idea.
There are real issues that need to be addressed, to be sure. The old models for things like mentorship and networking no longer apply in a post-COVID-19 world. Similarly, drivers of productivity like a cohesive company culture and employee engagement are threatened by the isolation that can accompany remote work.
But with the right tools and commitment, most businesses can make remote work just as productive, if not more productive, than in person office work. Ultimately, remote work requires leaders to retune their managerial style to fit the situation. Managers need to adjust to the fact that getting in contact with someone is no longer as easy as strolling down in the hall and that problem-solving sessions cannot be hashed out face-to-face. There is no water cooler or office potlucks over which employees can bond. These and other remote work concerns are not insurmountable obstacles, however. Here are three powerful strategies that leaders can apply to help keep their remote employees engaged.
1. Set clear expectations and boundaries.
The chief concern of employers about remote work is typically employees will succumb to distractions and productivity will decline outside the office environment. In fact, just the opposite appears to be the case: 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work due to pandemic restrictions say they now work weekends, with 45% reporting they put in more hours per week than they did before COVID-19. This is not necessarily something managers should be excited about, however. Working too much can be just as bad for businesses, as it can lead to burnout.
The term “boundaries” can have a negative connotation in some individuals’ minds, but they are actually immensely beneficial in fostering productive and positive professional relationships. Moreover, boundaries set the preconditions for free time. For instance, some companies may require employees be available during the standard business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But those boundaries also entail that employees and managers alike can spend all other hours however they choose.
Note that employer expectations need not be as rigid as this; some companies may choose to prioritize other metrics, such as work completed, over which hours are spent on-the-clock. Ultimately, all arrangements will require clear communication between employees and employers to ensure boundaries and expectations are reasonable and agreed upon.
2. Foster relationships — as a team and individually.
Time and time again studies have demonstrated that strong teams lead to better work. (As if you needed evidence for this fact!) Unfortunately, one of the negative effects that remote work can bring is short circuiting both the organic and intentional ways in which employees bond at work. While organizations can often get away with allowing employees to develop professional relationships on their own, remote work arrangements may require major interventions.
There are numerous ways business leaders can approach this. For instance, consider hosting virtual — or, where safe, in-person — happy hours (wine optional, of course) or networking sessions where workers can interact outside of the transactional context of most professional interactions. Whatever you do, the important thing is the subject be something other than work.
As with all things company culture-related, establishing positive relationships among employees is a top-down process. Managers should display the values and attitudes they expect from their employees. This means taking the time to learn about your employees; having conversations with them about their goals, professional or otherwise; providing honest and meaningful feedback; celebrating measured successes; sharing updates about the organization so people can feel connected to the “mothership”; showing empathy with regard to people’s life or family circumstances. These are just a few of the many ways in which leaders can help employees feel like the they have a connection to their coworkers and their employer, even when hundreds or even thousands of miles may divide them from each other.
3. Establish processes and leverage technology.
When thinking about the digital tools that empower today’s remote workforces, people tend to identify the communication platforms (email, Slack, video calling solutions) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that employees use on a day-to-day basis. And while these tools are absolutely essential for any remote workforce, they may not be sufficient to tackle the human side of the equation. Just in this article, we have outlined numerous areas that busy managers will need to attend to on top of their existing duties. There is no doubt that expecting them to address all these issues on their own is a big ask.
Thankfully, technology solutions exist that can help automate and report on many of these processes. By codifying processes, tracking activities, alerting users, analyzing data and much more, a performance management platform can enable leaders to easily establish procedures and promote adherence to them. The easier the platform is to use, the better — this will drive employee engagement with the platform and enthusiasm about their professional development.
In short, by involving employees directly in their performance management and career development, a performance management platform fosters transparency, gives employees a sense of empowerment, and allows workers to drive as much of the process as possible, minimizing the manager’s burden.
Culture + Process + Tools = Success
There is no question that keeping a remote workforce engaged requires a different set of skills from in-person work, and businesses that make the transition can struggle with this aspect. Thankfully, there is help available. For more than a decade, the professionals in BPM’s HR Consulting practice have been helping businesses successfully transition their office-based workforces to remote and hybrid arrangements.
Our approach involves intervening on the levels culture, process and tools to ensure that employees are at their most happy and productive selves. Leveraging their depth and breadth of experience, our HR professionals work with clients to develop simplified, though rigorous, processes for managing their remote workforces.
Combined with BPM Link, our proprietary performance tool, we help clients facilitate an agile work environment and uncover gaps between employee perceptions and realities of organizational objectives. To learn more about how BPM can help your business make the remote or hybrid work transition a success, contact Stacy Litteral, Managing Director, today.