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How to be a good employer to remote staff

We’ve all heard the mythical stories about companies which have gone beyond strewing around a few bean bags to becoming ginormous, open-plan professional spaces with free food around the clock, puppy pens, gyms and beds for employees to nap in whenever they get sleepy. But of course, these things are not right, or even possible, for a lot of work places. So what is it that can make you a great employer in a slightly more conventional work place?

What most workplace perks, from the wacky and wild to casual Fridays, bringing cookies in for everyone or cutting down on mandatory hours spent in the office, have in common is that they take into account employees’ needs as human beings. They go beyond what would streamline the office best to get the most work done, and try to satisfy needs and desires which aren’t necessarily directly related to work. This aligns with the fact that more and more, offering some flexibility in the way your employees can work is becoming an integral part of what it means to be a good employer.

Why is remote work becoming more common?

We seem to be collectively realising that we all have different strengths, weaknesses and needs, and so an individualistic approach means much more efficiency than doling out one-size-fits-all demands and rules. There’s also the fact that many of us are seeking a better balance between our personal and professional lives than a lot of people have had in the past, with careers often overtaking family commitments and time spent with partners and spouses. Often, people have even sacrificed their physical and mental health in the name of professional advancement. Granting people an opportunity to redress this misbalance in different small ways can make a massively significant difference to morale in your office. Indeed, 51% of remote workers surveyed cited an improvement in work/life balance as their main reason for seeking geographically flexible work.

Of course, we can’t fail to mention the role of technology in facilitating remote work. Amongst the countless benefits of teleconferencing for your business is the way it allows employees to attend meetings from the comfort of their homes. It is in great part thanks to such simple tools as conference calling and instant messaging, as well as cloud-based apps beginning with concepts as simple as Dropbox which allow teams to update and collaborate on work in real time from opposite sides of the world.

The challenges

There are certainly lots of things to consider when you’re deciding on whether to make the way your office runs more flexible, and how exactly to do this. After all, flexible work is not suitable for every work place in the same ways, so think about whether remote working is right for your place of work, as well as whether your staff feel they would be suited to working away from the office.

If you have given these questions full consideration and had open discussions with your staff about how they would feel about having the option to carry out some of their work out of the office, there are still a few other areas to think about. A really useful study carried out by TINYpulse and Owl Labs has shed light on the challenges facing employers of remote workers.

You might expect that the biggest problem would be finding a way to track how well staff are performing if you can’t actually keep an eye on what they’re up to. But if you think about it, what you really need to see is what work is being produced, rather than whether your staff look busy. According to people who are already managing teams of employees working from multiple locations, a more significant difficulty is coordinating activities and making sure everyone is receiving the same information and being kept up to speed. This is supported by reports from remote staff themselves, who consider isolation and difficulties in communication and collaboration the largest drawbacks of remote work.

In fact, it appears that generally the biggest challenges are faced by the people working away from the office, rather than their employer. It’s things like feeling out of the loop, and a perception that they have fewer opportunities to discuss career progression than colleagues who are in the office. In the study, participants reported having 25% fewer career growth conversations compared to onsite staff. Whether this perception always reflects reality or not is not entirely the point, either. You need to make sure that your employees all feel equally valued, and that none are feeling snubbed or overlooked. Otherwise, the positive regard which you gain from adopting a flexible approach will be entirely undone and staff will be left feeling that their hard work is pointless.

The solutions

Thankfully, there are fountains of advice and information and great tools out there which can help distributed teams to stay connected and engaged – and they don’t have to dent your budget or eat into the savings you might be making by implementing remote work. Think about your team’s specific struggles and needs and do a quick search for how other people might have addressed them, or for a handy list of some fabulous free services which could aid your business you could cast your eye over the Freemium Services section of WHYPAY?’s blog.

Some of the most directly useful for telecommuting teams include Asana, which can help you to make sure that a good workflow is achieved despite the physical separation. Another great organisational tool is Trello. If maintaining clear and direct communication is a priority, you could look to LivePerson for free online chatting, or Slack, another really useful way to improve internal communication.

Obviously simply using these services isn’t enough – as wonderful as they are, they can’t do all the work for you! Make sure that you’re checking in with your remote staff frequently. Be careful, though: you don’t want to create the impression that you’re hovering over their metaphorical shoulder, and that you don’t trust them to be doing their work rather than playing video games or having a lie-in. Instead, you want to be asking how they are feeling about their work, their team and their role in the business as well as what they have achieved. Nobody understands better than them what could help boost their efficiency and cohesion, so tap into this knowledge by asking them directly!

And don’t just check in when things are missing or communication is slipping. If things are running smoothly, find out why so that they continue to do so. And if people are working well, be sure to tell them and show your appreciation to avoid that potentially damaging feeling of being overlooked which so many telecommuters have reported.

It’s also crucial that you don’t exclude your remote staff. It can be quite easy to call an impromptu meeting, and especially in a crisis you might just grab everyone you can see who can help tackle the issue quickly. This definitely doesn’t foster comradery or ensure you’re really profiting from the potential and strengths of all your staff, though. It’s as simple as remembering to pick up the phone and conference call with the people who are working from elsewhere, so that they can hear what’s happening and contribute their ideas. With WHYPAY?, this doesn’t have to cost you time or money either. You can have your very own, completely free conference call room ready to go at any time of the day or night, to dial into as often as you like and for unlimited durations. If you feel it necessary, you can even add features like screen sharing, transcripts created with speech-to-text technology or live YouTube streaming, Call.Group has a range of plans which can meet your needs.

One of the most important things that you can do to guarantee an efficient and happy distributed team happens way before and tasks are assigned or meetings are planned, though. That is making sure that the people you are hiring or offering remote work to are genuinely suited to working away from the office. They need to be self-motivated and result-oriented, of course. You also want to look for people with strong communication skills who won’t fall out of touch with the team when separated by long distances or even time zones. Good organisation is, of course, also vital. But even people who have all of these traits by the bucketful might not want to work from home for countless reasons, so checking whether it is something that appeals to them and not making them feel forced out of the office is important.

The benefits

Logically, although the challenges are pretty minor and the solutions straightforward and free, you’ll want to know what your business and your staff stand to gain before shaking up your workplace.

Although staff bear the brunt of the challenges of remote work, it is something which a lot of people want, and would even choose over a raise. In fact, some would even be willing to be paid less if they could do some of their work from home. That might initially seem surprising, but it makes sense when you think that a huge majority of remote workers – 82% in one study – are less stressed than their onsite counterparts, and 7% happier. That’s probably why 90% of them plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers.

This translates to more than just a happy workforce for you, too. Almost all telecommuters say they work more productively away from the office (91% of those surveyed), and they also tend to be more engaged with their work and invested in the business and the work they’re doing for it. CEO Dave Nevogt summarised it pretty well: ‘It’s clear to me that remote employees stay longer, work harder and offer better ROI’.

You don’t need to take our word for it, though. Even in 2016, three-quarters of the world’s companies had taken on a flexible approach to working. 61% of them said this had resulted in increased profits, while 83% explicitly stated that productivity had been increased as a direct result of flexible working hours. And the change doesn’t need to be a drastic one. Businesses allowing their employees to work remotely even just three times a month have been found to be more likely to see a revenue growth of 10% or more within the last twelve months.

And not only can you make more money, but you can spend less too. Back in 2015, US businesses saved up to $44 billion by implementing remote working opportunities.

These are some pretty compelling figures. And if cold, hard cash isn’t enough of a reason, think of the environmental benefits of reducing the amount of commuters on the roads.

So for a cleaner planet, happier and more productive workforce, and larger profit margins, think about loosening your company’s approach to work. Consider the duration, location, and rigidity of timing of employees’ working days and how much you can bend in these areas. The great thing about flexible working policies is that they’re just that – flexible. You can do it in whatever way best suits your company and your individual employees, and in whatever degree you’re collectively comfortable with. And remember that you aren’t venturing into this territory alone (and your remote staff shouldn’t feel they are either!). Make use of the amazing resources and tools available to you to make sure that the transition runs as smoothly as possible. It starts as simply as just remembering to pick up the phone, so click onto WHYPAY? now to generate as many free conference call rooms as your heart desires and keep your team connected.

Gabi JamesHow to be a good employer to remote staff
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