COMMENTARY

Effective remote work requires following these principles

Communication, focus and the right hires are among the keys to success

Government agencies, like other employers, have spent the last year adjusting to limitations imposed by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Almost universally, this has forced agencies to rely heavily on remote work and delay talent acquisition, especially for on-site positions.

As more Americans get vaccinated and restrictions are eased, the situation is rapidly evolving. While lasting implications remain unknown, two early trends are emerging. First, employers are starting to ramp up hiring and demand for talent will significantly increase. Second, remote work is not going away.

Seventy-six percent of CEOs say they will allow remote work on a full-time basis for all or most employees, according to Predictive Index’s Annual CEO Benchmarking Report 2021. And 97 percent of companies said they will allow remote work in some form moving forward.

Hiring is picking up, but it remains difficult to hire on-site employees. Demand is especially high for project managers, technical solutions architects, and business analysts.

The increasing demand for talented employees, the scarcity of potential on-site workers and the growing popularity of employees working remotely make it critical for employers to embrace remote work and ensure managers can effectively manage offsite. To ensure efficient telework, it is critical for managers to institute the proper systems and processes.

Managing a remote team is not always easy. Concerns range from a lack of face-to-face supervision and limited access to information to social isolation and reductions in productivity. Given the fact that remote work is likely to continue even after the pandemic, consider the following tips to maximize remote teams’ chances for success.

Determine Your Requirements

Over the last year, many employers have learned that many functions can be efficiently and effectively performed remotely. Over the same time, employers have also learned which functions need an in-person staff to perform. When acquiring new talent, it is vital to determine if they need to be in the office full time, part time, fully remote or remote just until vaccination rates are sufficient to ensure the safety of in-person workers. If you want someone who is completely remote it changes the entire calculation.

Hire Self-Starters

These employees will get stuff done even if they are secluded. They still need direction but won’t necessarily need specific tasks to be productive. They have forward momentum/tempo and get work done. Live fire scenarios are an effective way to evaluate a prospective employee’s qualities like initiative and problems solving which are common attributes among effective remote workers.

Clear, Concise Communication

Clear communication becomes more important when managing remote workers. Nearly half (46 percent) of remote workers said the best managers “checked in frequently and regularly,” according to a study outlined in the Harvard Business Review.

Focus & Measure What Matters

Manage expectations and stay focused on goals when embracing a remote workforce. The focus needs to be on what is being accomplished, not necessarily what is being done. It is all about accomplishments, not activity. Use Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to identify your company strategy and help employees see how they are contributing to the big picture and align with other teams. OKRs need to be reviewed regularly, ideally weekly and quarterly.

Weekly 1:1s

You can never give enough feedback. Recurring weekly meetings with each team member are critical. These meetings are critical for discussing work progress, but also allows managers to evaluate how the member is doing professionally and personally. Three questions should always be discussed:

  1. What have you accomplished?
  2. What are you working on?
  3. What support do you need from your manager and colleagues?

Team Meetings

Set aside regular times every week for an all-hands meeting. If time zones prevent this, try to arrange two meetings, in differing time zones. Cover what the team is working on, give details on any decisions that may affect the team and reiterate that you want feedback and open communication. Having these regular meetings helps the entire team share news and encourage motivation.

In-Person Collaboration

In-person interaction is valuable for any team, but even more so for teleworkers. There is undeniably something unique that happens when teammates collaborate in person. Additionally, try to convene the team quarterly somewhere for a fun, social event. As restrictions are lifted and employees vaccinated, there will be more opportunities to strengthen the team through in-person events. Virtual happy hours, fundraisers and brown bags may not be as effective as in-person events, but it can still help the team come together until it is safe to meet in person.

Reliable Tools

If you haven’t already, invest in reliable tools to make virtual collaboration possible. Then train your personnel and develop clear processes to use these tools. If remote employees can't download files, struggle hearing on a conference call, and consistently receive meeting invitations for times when they are still asleep, you have failed to address the basics.

Embrace Video

It’s important to turn on webcams because non-verbal communication provides valuable meaning in interactions. Video provides a positive feedback cycle that engages participants because they can see the speaker’s expressions, movement, energy and passion. Lighting and background are also very important and shouldn’t be ignored.

Choose the Best Tools

There is not one tool that will meet all your team’s needs. Most teams use a handful of tools, especially as they grow and evolve. Managers must ensure their team is equipped and prepared by staying informed about the latest tools and resources.

Embracing teleworking

The challenge for leaders and managers is to bring simplicity, harmony and opportunity and this can be complicated by telework. However, it is important to recognize that popularity of telework is likely to continue long after the pandemic ends, so savvy leaders will embrace this change and institute systems and processes that help bolster the productivity of a team that are unlikely to meet face to face on a regular basis.

About the Author

Dan Küffer is vice president and chief of staff at Think Systems, Inc., a national technology and operations advisor that fills professional technology roles.

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