By Rhoda McVeigh
The workplace has recently undergone a profound transformation, accelerated by global events, technological innovation, and the demands of multiple generations of employees. The rise of remote and hybrid work arrangements is a defining feature of this transformation.
After several years of “experimenting” with remote work out of necessity, the trend has grown in both popularity and practice and, as this Harvard Business Review article suggests, is expected by business executives to increase in the coming years. As organizations adapt to this new reality, managers will continue to play a key role in ensuring the success of remote and hybrid work models. Here are ten considerations for creating a productive remote workplace.
- Clear Communication and Expectations. In remote and hybrid work scenarios, high quality communication becomes more crucial than ever, so it’s imperative to establish clear channels for communication and expectations. Regular team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and collaborative tools can bridge the gap and help build a sense of connection among team members. However, with the rise of tools like Slack and mobile applications, turning work off can be challenging. Boundaries around when employees are on or off the clock will need to be set – and respected. The key is to communicate frequently to keep connections strong, and sometimes check in just to see how someone is doing unrelated to work. Showing genuine care about each employee as a whole person will be appreciated.
- Flexible Work Policies. Good management starts with good policy, and a well-crafted flexible work policy is the foundation of productive remote and hybrid work arrangements. Leadership should develop policies that set expectations, guidelines, and procedures for requesting and operating in flexible arrangements. These policies, including guidelines and requirements on work schedules and availability, communication, time tracking, safety, data security and equipment use, etc., should be clearly defined, transparent, and available to all employees That said, remember that each person’s needs are going to be as unique as they are, and some flexibility within the flexible work policy will demonstrate a responsive, employee-centric culture.
- Tech Infrastructure and Support. A secure tech infrastructure is essential in remote and hybrid work environments. Employees need access to the tools and resources to carry out their tasks effectively, including secure remote access to company systems, training on new technologies, and a support system for addressing any technical issues that arise. This is a critical aspect of remote/hybrid work to get right as sub-par technology and support can be a huge source of frustration and negatively impact everyone’s productivity.
- Data Security and Privacy. The online scam industry is thriving these days with unprecedented phishing fraud and cybersecurity threats, and data security is a high stakes concern for managing remote employees. IT and legal teams need state-of-the-art technology as well as clear guidelines for data protection and privacy. Employees are the biggest vulnerability to a company’s data security through human error, apathy or lack of training in how to protect the company they work for. All employees should be enrolled in ongoing educational programs for maintaining data security.
- Effective Performance Management. Managing performance in a remote workforce requires a paradigm shift that focuses on outcomes rather than number of hours worked. To accomplish this transformation, managers must collaborate with their team members to set clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), even when hourly time tracking is needed. Regular check-ins and performance reviews should be conducted to provide feedback, identify challenges, and celebrate successes. A controversial practice on the rise is the surveillance of remote employees through live video feeds, or software measuring time logged into the network, keystroke activity, etc. While monitoring may be appropriate for some organizations based on their operational needs, this approach can signal ineffective performance management, may erode trust in the employer-employee relationship, and can backfire in recruiting and retaining talent.
- Work/Life Balance and Wellbeing. Maintaining health and wellbeing should be a priority for those managing remote and hybrid teams, which can be more susceptible to burnout. Some studies have shown those working remotely can more easily lose track of time and tend to work more hours than they did when commuting to and from an office location. Organizations should promote a healthy work/life balance by encouraging employees to maintain boundaries between work and personal life. Providing access to mental health resources, wellness programs, and flexible schedules can also contribute to employees’ improved wellbeing. It’s crucial that leadership models the desired behavior by taking regular vacations, prioritizing personal wellness and limiting communications to regular office hours. When managers send emails to their employees outside of regular office hours – even if they don’t expect an immediate response and simply want to get it off their plate – it sends mixed messages about expectations and respect for boundaries.
- Inclusivity and Equity. Remote and hybrid work models can inadvertently create disparities among employees. Not having a physical presence in the workplace can result in being overlooked for special assignments or promotions, and managers should ensure that inclusivity and equity are considered in decision-making. This includes providing equal opportunities for career advancement, access to training and development, and being mindful of potential biases in performance reviews. Managers should measure and reward employees based on the quantity and quality of the work that is being produced.
- A Culture of Belonging. Remote and hybrid work can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation. Organizations should proactively foster a sense of belonging by offering regular virtual team gatherings, celebrating special occasions and milestones, and maintaining a strong company culture through online platforms. Bringing employees together in person for a quarterly or annual “town hall” or team day is generally a good investment, if feasible. If it’s not feasible, be creative. Consider if a manager can go to them. Are there pockets of remote employees in areas where a group lunch can be hosted? Plan a quarterly virtual social event, during office hours; it’s not the same as in person, but even virtual social gatherings can help foster a culture of belonging.
- Learning and Development Opportunities. Engagement studies repeatedly show that employees want growth opportunities in their career. A silver lining of the pandemic was the explosive growth of online learning programming – much of it free to access. Employers who leverage this opportunity to meet employee demand for learning and development will be rewarded with more highly skilled employees who are engaged, productive, and might also be more easily retained.
- Employee Feedback Process. Feedback from employees is invaluable in shaping the remote and hybrid work experience. Surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations are a company’s best tools for understanding levels of employee satisfaction and engagement at work. Keep in mind this is a process. Communicating findings and how the organization intends to follow up on the results with revised policies and practices is key. Employees who are told how important their feedback is, and then hear or see nothing changing after sharing it, can quickly become cynical, resentful, and disengaged.
It’s a good bet that remote and hybrid work arrangements will continue to be a factor in the workplace for the foreseeable future. Employees are demanding it, and successful organizations will need to invest in making these models productive in order to attract and retain top talent, and be in the best position to meet overall business goals.