HR Professionals Weigh in With Advice on Remote Work
Many industries, especially the tech industry, are increasingly moving toward remote work, with employees working remotely either part or all of the time. Remote work comes with a host of advantages for both the employee and the employer, but it also introduces new challenges. Remote work changes the way that employees interact with their supervisors, bosses, and other employees. It can alter the workflow of the entire company.
Most of the changes that remote work brings are positive. However, they can also require some adjustment on the part of your company. Here’s what HR professionals are saying about remote work, and about the strategies your company can implement to make sure that this model works effectively for everyone involved:
How to Get Started with Remote Work
If you run a company that already works out of an office, the transition to remote work can be tricky. HR consultant Sabrina Baker recommends starting small:
Ease in with one or two days a week. Tell people it’s a pilot so they know it may not be permanent.
She also suggests starting with jobs that are easier to do remotely, like finance or marketing.
Whether you’re moving existing employees to a remote position or hiring new workers, an important part of management is figuring out the best way to interact with each individual employee. Jordan Boogaard suggests paying attention to three things:
- Connection. Get to know each of your employees. Be interested in them and be willing to spend some time building relationships with them. Find out whether they’re more available during the morning or the night, especially if they are working from a different time zone, and find out how they’re most comfortable communicating – phone call? Skype chat? Email? Text?
- Coaching. Different employees need different levels of communication. Some employees work better and stay on-task more effectively if you check in with them daily. Other employees are more self-directed and can be counted on to generate results even if you only talk to them once a week. For those employees, more regular communication might not be an effective use of your time or theirs.
- Accountability. Set clear goals and make sure you and your employees agree on them – as the Senior Director of Human Resources at CommScope, Jerry McCreary, puts it, one of the most important things is “having clear criteria upfront versus case-by-case. That way it’s objective and it’s upfront for everyone.” Beware of workers who have a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. You may need to ask deeper 3rd- or 4th-level questions to know if they are being honest.
Of course, making sure workers are comfortable is only part of the picture. It’s also important to make sure leaders and managers are comfortable. To make sure they are, those leaders need to see that productivity is increasing (or remaining level), and that work is continuing to go smoothly even if they aren’t physically seeing it happen. Susanne Mitschke, the CEO of CitrusLabs, says that “most startups are skeptical about if people are actually working or not. I think proper onboarding and training are key to ensure the quality of the team.”
Developing a Rapport
Since you won’t have all your employees close by in an office setting, you’ll need to be mindful and deliberate when it comes to building a rapport with them. You’ll also want to do your best to foster relationships between your employees, so that information can be shared and employees can work on improving together. Hilary Clarke states that “half of all hands are learning and development. Team members share stuff and give people a voice who normally wouldn’t have a voice in a company-wide situation.”
Some companies start out in an office and then go remote. Other companies start remote but later move into an office. That was the case for Rachel McGovern’s HR Operations team at Passage Bio. Once she moved into the office, she found it was easy to build trust with her boss because she talked with them daily, and it was easy for them to see the work she was doing.
The Challenges of Managing Remote Workers
“Managing someone at their desk is the lowest hanging fruit of management,”
In other words, it’s difficult to relinquish control and give your employees autonomy, trusting them to get things done. It’s easy to micromanage them at their desks, even if that’s not the most effective form of management. When it comes to managing remote workers, Lisa Foster says that the “biggest hiccup is the ‘manager’s mentality’ – if you don’t see the person in the seat, they aren’t working.” When it comes to remote work, this simply isn’t true.
Kirsten Behncke Colyer says that managers who haven’t managed remote workers before often: “find it very hard to measure the performance of their employees without actually seeing them. It has a lot to do with a lack of knowledge of the actual work as a manager. Once a manager has a good grasp of what someone can reasonably achieve in a certain timeframe, they are more comfortable to be flexible…” however, she also cautions that human relationships can sometimes deteriorate when people don’t see each other for a long time. That applies to all sorts of relationships, including the relationships between employers and employees. To combat this, it’s important to be attentive and empathetic and to maintain regular communication.
Remote Work Growth Challenges
One of the best things about hiring remote workers is that it allows the employer to access a global pool of talent. says,
We are able to be pickier in who we hire because as a remote-first company, we receive a TON of applicants. – Kinga Wilson
However, not every worker is cut out for remote work.
Some people feel they can work productively from home. Others try it and realize they aren’t as productive. –Lisa Foster
Sometimes, a decline in productivity is the result of an employee just not being a good fit for remote work. Other times, the issue is due to poor time management, or due to the employee not maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. Lisa Foster says, “some people think they can work and take care of their young ones at the same time! [Remote work is] not to save on daycare.” With remote work, you’ll need to evaluate your employees based on results, not on time spent working – but if the results aren’t there, you may need to help guide your employees toward a better workflow and work-life balance.
Colocation and Part-Time Remote Work
For many workers, remote work is vastly preferable to in-office work. Studies have shown that remote workers are generally happier, healthier, and more productive than they would be in an office. However, there are also some advantages to owning office space. David Kramer, who runs Maxx-Marketing.com’s LA office, says:
being together with your team fosters the creativity that they need. Being remote for that part would be really challenging for us. – David Kramer
So, going fully remote isn’t ideal for everyone – but for some companies, a mixture of both allows the company to have the best of both worlds.
For example, Tom Collingsworth’s team at Itero Group was entirely remote, but they found that they needed physical space for collaboration. He says, “we tried using video conferencing, but you can’t replace face to face interaction. I’ve found people really appreciate sitting down and having lunch and that’s where I spend a portion of my time. The challenge, I feel, is keeping the core values and beliefs in front of them.”
Kinga Wilson’s team works completely remotely, but her company also has an office to use for in-person meetings with clients. Hilary Clarke’s team at Truly Wireless is a remote hybrid team, with 12 remote employees and 8 located near their office in San Francisco. However, she doesn’t refer to the building as a “headquarters” – it’s just an office. In her words,
we think of it as just a physical space where work happens, just like how my home office is a place where work happens. – Hilary Clarke (Truly Wireless)
Remote Work is About Tradeoffs
The tech industry is going remote, and so are many other industries. Remote work allows companies to hire more talented workers from all around the world and save money by outsourcing to areas with lower costs of living. For employees, remote work offers freedom and lower levels of stress. Many workers also find that working from home allows them to be more productive.
HR professionals acknowledge the benefits of remote work, but they also the challenges involved in transitioning to remote work from an office setting. Employees may struggle with time management when working from home, and managers will need to make some adjustments to their usual style of management. Developing and maintaining relationships with employees can be difficult when you’re both in different locations, but it is certainly doable. Finally, it’s important not to forget that in-office work has its advantages too. For some companies, colocation may be the best possible option.