The quick shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic was fraught with challenges for both employers and employees. But some employees ended up adapting so well that they don’t want to return to the office.
That’s largely a good thing. Remote work is a trend that employers should strive to embrace, where possible. A remote workforce has many benefits, including:
- Increased productivity;
- Better performance;
- Higher retention rates;
- A larger talent pool; and
- Lower overhead costs.
Still, it’s understandable that some employers may be hesitant to allow remote work arrangements. While there are undeniable benefits and while some employees may thrive at home, other employees may flounder without the routines, social interaction, and engagement at the office. And a small number might actually try to cheat the system.
In a mid-2021 thread at ycombinator.com, a poster (“dreyfan”) claims to be employed at ten different remote engineering jobs at the same time. dreyfan uses a number of different strategies in order to “coast” at each job for 4-8 weeks before being terminated, claiming that their projected annual earnings for this scam are approximately $1.5 million.
Stories like dreyfan’s may be few and far between but it’s fair for employers to have concerns about productivity where supervision is minimal. Still, in today’s job market, employers need to hustle to attract top talent and part of that hustle includes offering what employees want. It’s clear that they want to work remotely. If you’re willing and able to embrace that trend, there are several effective ways that you can engender loyalty, encourage engagement, and monitor performance in the remote workplace. And it all comes down to effective and responsive leadership.
Discussions around engaging remote employees often focus on tools like tech support, communication methods, and incentives. All those things can help but, truly, loyal and engaged employees are the result of great leadership.
Employees who feel happy and valued are employees who will perform well and remain loyal. Leaders are key to creating an environment where this happens, by treating employees well, empowering them, and giving them opportunities for advancement and by giving teams the tools and support that they need to flourish.
As the world transitions into a new way of working, it’s a terrific time for leaders to re-evaluate their leadership skills. In the remote workplace, roles can be filled by a very diverse demographic, bringing with them not just their talents and skill sets but different ways of approaching work and communication.
While some leadership traits are transferable between on-site and remote workplaces, the remote workplace isn’t just different in terms of physical location. It’s also different in terms of demographic makeup. Whether managing global projects or considering the schedules of new parents, many leaders may need to adapt and evolve their existing skills. In particular, they should closely evaluate how they handle inclusion, innovation, change, and communication.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies should be a cornerstone of every company’s culture. It’s relatively easy to generate metrics around diversity and equality and adjust your hiring goals appropriately. Inclusion can be tougher to measure and to address.
In a terrific podcast, Ola Sitarska, the Engineering Lead at Onfido, points out that while diversity is about representation, inclusion is about making sure that everyone’s experience is as equal as possible and that everyone is treated as equally important. She offers this example: “Diversity is getting invited to a meeting. Inclusion is being a part of that meeting and having some sway in it.”
It’s especially important for leaders to focus on inclusion initiatives in remote workplaces, since it can be more difficult to build a sense of belonging among remote employees. Beyond a manager’s ability to influence how each individual employee feels about their role with the company, it’s critical to foster inclusive teamwork so that everyone on the team feels valued as they work together to solve problems and conflicts.
Great leaders recognize that innovation requires input from all employees – especially those on the front line. Those are the employees who deal with everyday problems and who can offer insight into areas where improvements can be made. For this reason, it’s important for leaders to finesse their listening skills and most especially to learn to listen before talking.
Additionally, innovation can be fostered by improving communication lines and by incentivizing the process. Reward employees who come forward to identify problems and suggest solutions.
Change is a given. Whether the change is small or large, good leaders effectively guide their employees through change.
But rather than being solely reactive, an exceptional leader is proactive in identifying future change and creating solutions. The shift to remote work and increased reliance on technology during the pandemic accelerated some general workplace changes that were already in progress. It’s crucial for leaders to look towards reskilling and upskilling their existing staff so that that change can be effectively handled. By investing in their employees’ future, leaders show how highly those employees are valued. And, once again, an employee who feels valued is one who will remain loyal, engaged, and productive.
Of course, effective communication skills have always been one of a leader’s most valuable tools. But new ways of communicating are necessary in the remote workplace.
While Zoom meetings have become ubiquitous, scheduling issues with employees scattered around the globe may require that other types of electronic communication be explored. Video messaging is an excellent option because video:
- Creates the impression of your physical presence;
- Can be personalized;
- Improves engagement; and
- Allows people to absorb and process information more effectively than text.
Other online communication tools that specifically encourage engagement – like instant messaging, polling, voting, and collaboration tools like Slack and Trello – are also terrific options for making employees feel like their contributions matter.
Don’t forget to use these communication tools for casual, non-work related purposes as well. Personal connections are integral to making employees feel like they are valued.
While tools and strategies like collaboration apps and incentivization can help to foster employee loyalty, engagement, and performance in the remote workplace, it is excellence in leadership, and the knowledge of how to use those tools and strategies, that is the true driving force behind a dream team of employees.