Working from home (WFH) has quickly gone from being a rarity to common practice. There are many advantages to letting your employees work from home. It provides freedom and flexibility for your workforce, helps you save on many expenses, and actually improves productivity in many ways. By acknowledging and facing the challenges associated with WFH culture, you can find effective ways to deal with them successfully.
Individuals are increasingly seeking jobs where they can enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, place a high value on flexibility at work. With all this flexibility come certain challenges for employers. I wanted to share some of these challenges as well as some of the ways I deal with them.
Maintain Clear Communication
Communication is vital for any organization. Problems and misunderstandings can happen anywhere, of course. When you share a space with people, however, you can at least look them in the eye and discuss issues. When it comes to WFH, it’s a little trickier. Phone and even video conversations are not the same as face-to-face meetings. There’s also the more straightforward issue of keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring important information is making its way to your team members.
- Use a reliable company-wide (or team-wide) tool that everyone uses to share information. Don’t rely on individuals calling or emailing each other. Slack and Trello are useful for setting up multiple channels of communication for different purposes. Depending on your needs, you may be able to use free or lower cost apps such as Google Docs or Dropbox, which are useful for sharing files.
- Identify how to use each virtual communication channel. Clearly set the expectation of what is shared via email versus instant communication tools.
- Develop a schedule for communicating across time zones. If you have employees in different countries and time zones, it can be difficult to schedule meetings at a time that’s suitable for everyone. Take the time to ask or poll employees to find out what times are best for them. You can alternate times to suit different schedules. It’s also helpful to provide an incentive for attending meetings that aren’t at ideal times by paying employees for their time.
- Be transparent. Building trust is essential when communicating with employees working remotely. Be honest and transparent with your employees and demand the same from them. Be forthcoming with information about pay rates, expectations, hours, and upcoming projects.
Productivity and Accountability
If you’re still on the fence about WFH culture you might be surprised to learn that studies show employees working from home tend to be more productive than those working in an office! This may be because they’re more content as well as free to set up schedules that are optimal for their needs. At the same time, you do need to set some ground rules to make sure your remote workforce is as productive as possible.
- Set clear expectations. You can’t have your team so flexible that people check-in and complete assignments whenever it’s convenient. Be sure that everyone is clear about his or her tasks and deadlines.
- Make strategic decisions when assigning work based on experience, skills, and past performance. You might, for instance, pair a newer team member with a more experienced employee on a certain project. Make sure everyone knows who they can consult if questions or problems arise.
- Track metrics for daily and weekly tasks. Use project management and time-tracking apps to keep everyone accountable. Basecamp and Asana, for example, make it easier to track progress on projects.
Keep Remote Teams Connected to the Company Culture
Company culture is an important part of any organization though it can be hard to pinpoint or define precisely. This topic overlaps with communication but is a distinct concern. The culture of a company is a combination of the founder or founders’ values and the more spontaneous kind of culture that springs up whenever people see each other and work together regularly. This is harder to maintain when employees work off-site some or all of the time. The danger is that employees perform tasks without feeling any real connection to your organization. This is a serious issue if you want to build a company with loyal and engaged team members. Here are some ways I avoid this problem.
- Strike a balance between WFH and traditional work. Despite the advantages of WFH, I wouldn’t recommend having a workforce that is exclusively remote. That really makes it challenging to create a cohesive team. I believe in giving all of my employees desk space so they feel at home at the office. When people come to the office regularly, it allows for bonding and getting to know each other even if they frequently work off-site. You may, however, have a business model where employees work mainly at home. In this case, you should still schedule regular live meetings as well as holiday gatherings, retreats, luncheons, and other special events.
- Use a reliable video chatting application. While this tip also falls into the communication category, it’s also about helping everyone feel connected. There are many ways to chat nowadays: email, phone, text messages, various chat programs, and so forth. The advantage of video is that it’s the closest thing to talking in person. You can observe facial expressions and body language. Using video for meetings and even casual chats can help reduce the sense of disconnection remote workers can sometimes experience.
- Stay in touch with your remote employees. Don’t only contact employees regarding specific tasks or projects. I like to build rapport with everyone, which means a certain amount of casual interaction as well as work-related. Schedule regular meetings as well as one-on-one chats, whether by phone or video chat. This is especially important with employees who work remotely all or a good part of the time.
- Provide a virtual setting for employees to meet. You need an online version of the proverbial water cool where people can relax, socialize, and get to know each other. If you use Slack or a comparable communication application, set up at least one channel that’s devoted to socializing.
When working from home, it’s easy to face distractions from family or other household duties. In your WFH agreement, it needs to clear that employees working from home are expected to have some sort of child supervision or daycare. If you live in a household with others, it should be made clear that when you are at your desk, it should be treated the same as if you were sitting at a desk in the office.
WFH is the New Normal
Communication, productivity/accountability, and company culture are all closely related areas that need to be addressed with remote work. Everyone, including business owners, managers, employees, and freelancers are still adjusting and experimenting with the brave new world of WFH culture. Using the right tools and keeping in close contact with remote workers helps you overcome these challenges. Remote work is clearly the wave of the future. In fact, 85% of companies now either allow or require remote work. We need to adapt quickly to this way of working and make the most of it.
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