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Settling in to a remote workforce

In response to the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape, many companies have shifted, unexpectedly and rapidly, to remote work. Working remotely is hardly a trend: by 2018, nearly a quarter of the American workforce worked remotely in some capacity, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the transition can still be challenging. As an organization, what policies, procedures and structures can you put into place so your employees will thrive while working remotely — whether for a season or for the long-term?

There’s plenty for your organization to gain from a remote workforce. A remote workforce keeps your company agile, nimble and well-positioned to succeed in uncertain seasons. Remote work options can reduce attrition: 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention. It can even have a great impact on your bottom line, as nearly six out of ten employers say telecommuting has resulted in cost savings.

While companies transitioning to remote work have plenty to gain, the shift to new workplace norms can have some pain points. But with smart policies, strategic tools and wise processes established, your team can succeed. Let’s look at what your organization can keep in mind as remote work quickly becomes a reality.

Define and communicate remote work policies

Office culture has a set of official policies and expectations, and so should remote work. If your organization doesn’t yet have work-from-home policies, now is the time to create them.

A solid remote policy should outline:
  • Availability and presence: Working where you want doesn’t always translate to when you want to, so availability policies can clarify expectations.
  • Communication and connection: When you can’t walk by an employee’s office to ask a quick question, policies surrounding communication become more important than ever.
  • Tools, platforms and data management: Consistency sets the stage for collaboration, so it’s wise to outline the tools your employees should use when working together.
  • Productivity and outcomes: Often, traditional workplaces default to measuring productivity by presence. In the remote workplace, results define a good day’s work.

Empower your employees with best practices and “rules of engagement”

Beyond official policies, be ready to guide your employees with best practices for communication. Remote work can be more successful with the right “rules of engagement” officially established, so your team establishes good rhythms and patterns.

Your rules of engagement can delineate ideal communication, for example. What’s the expectation for digital replies, like emails or notes on an instant message platform? When is it best to schedule a video call vs. an audio conference?

It can also be helpful to clarify expectations on office hours. Will everyone be expected to work the same hours as they had while they were in the office? Will you establish core hours that all employees must be working and available? Determining an “office hours” policy — even if you’re not working from the office — sets the stage for great collaboration and productivity.

Equip employees with the right tools

Team collaboration can deteriorate without the right tools. Fortunately, plenty of digital options for working together are readily available. For example, which video conference software should your team members utilize? Should you use collaborative document software instead of the dreaded email chain of document versions? What project management tool will make sure everyone’s on the same page?

Reinforce the understanding that email isn’t always the best option. Remote teams can thrive with communication via instant message tools, such as Slack®, Skype or Microsoft Teams®. And be patient as employees learn. Offer tutorials to simplify technology onboarding.

Redefine productivity and set core metrics

In a face-to-face environment, we often define productivity by what we can see — like your colleague who arrives early and stays late, for example. But in the remote workplace, what defines a good day’s work? What outcomes and results will employees be expected to achieve when management can’t monitor in-person?

Outline the results you’re expecting by outcomes and task completion, rather than only the hours spent online. Consider how to assess employees based on what they’ve accomplished.

Institute accountability

When you can’t connect face-to-face with team members each day, accountability becomes more important than ever. How will your management know how remote employees are really doing? Stay ahead of a productivity slip with formal accountability.

Empower your company’s management to create regular patterns for accountability. Especially in a period of transition, when anxiety may run high, direct company leaders to have regular team meetings and status reports. Time tracking tools can also be helpful to monitor projects and processes.

Take a strategic, proactive approach to IT

Remote work can open your information network to security risks when your team members are logging on outside your building. Therefore, an information security policy matters now more than ever. Partner with your IT department to delineate technology best practices, such as secure password storage and cloud document storage.

When it comes to hardware, such as laptops and monitors that are company property, create protocol for IT requests and troubleshooting. When something goes awry, or a computer needs repair, how should employees respond? Having a plan reduces downtime and ensures your team members can get back to productivity as quickly as possible.

Bolster company culture

Company culture in an office environment often points to in-person activities, such as employee lunches and team building sessions. But when you’re not in the same workspace, positive company culture can suffer — unless you make the effort to cultivate it.

Seize the opportunity to define your company culture beyond face-to-face gatherings. Lean into your company values and look at how you do business as company culture. Collective celebrations for achievements, regular team video conferences and a platform for casual conversation (such as an instant messenger or a Slack® channel, for example) can help bring employees together. And try not to overthink culture: sometimes, it’s as simple as connecting face to face when you can’t meet live. Encourage your employees to take conference calls via video, call to hear each other's voices and connect beyond business as usual.

Ultimately, the transition may not be easy — but the outcomes can be rewarding. Transitioning to remote work presents an opportunity for your company to trust your people, practice adapting to the unexpected and showcase just how agile you can be. As you work through challenges, your organization can find itself positioned to thrive.

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