Companies that have sent staff to work from home as a temporary measure may find unexpected benefits in having a long-term remote work plan. In the past, a remote workforce was a frightening proposition for most companies filled with fears of lower productivity, collaboration, and quality. But as the past several weeks have proven, a remote workforce is not only feasible, it is sustainable as well. Some employees work more efficiently at home, and there’s less overhead with fewer workstations maintained on-site. If your staff transitioned to working from home in response to COVID-19, then you may have improvised a lot of major policy adjustments. If you expect to continue having workers telecommute (or if you want to keep that option available to employees), then you’ll need to make some adjustments. How do you transition a temporary work-from-home solution into a long-term remote work plan?
Keep what works, fix what doesn’t
If your company has made the decision to continue remote work in some form or fashion, think of the past few months as a trial run. Leadership needs to take stock and feedback on what worked for all levels of employees, and what did not. Was there enough communication? Did productivity or quality drop in any way? Did workers feel disconnected or isolated? Keep—or even further improve—what was successful and develop solutions for whatever was lacking.
Assess software and security
As remote work quickly became the norm during COVID-19, Zoom and Google Hangouts quickly replaced face-to-face meetings and collaborative programs like OneDrive and Google Docs become a necessity. With the quick transition to remote work, your teams may have started using apps and other software that hadn’t been properly vetted by your IT department. If it hasn’t already, that need to be corrected immediately.
Compies must assess all work software for security issues and evaluate different channels for communicating with remote employees. Proprietary software may have been safe on the office’s local area network, but will the current configuration remain secure when an employee logs on from a coffee shop or unsecured public network? Especially when it comes to client information and billing data, you can’t afford to take chances with the security of private data.
Update employee contracts for long-term remote work
When an employee’s internet connection fails or their computer is damaged, how quickly are they expected to get back on track? In an office, it’s relatively easy to ensure that everyone has a functional work environment and equipment, but your employees may have an unforeseeable crisis at home, and your managers will be unable to verify each excuse for a missed deadline. Clear policies and expectations make the process more transparent and limit the potential for inconsistent management decisions.
Your business may also have obligations to consider the health and safety of employees, even when they aren’t working on company property. Many basic considerations will be intuitive, like not expecting employees to answer emails in the middle of the night and not setting deadlines that require extreme overtime hours. Employee contracts can provide a framework for keeping the demands and compensation for each position reasonable and consistent regardless of whether the employee works in the office or from home.
Set clear and consistent benchmarks
Remote work makes proper performance management even more important. How do you define success for each employee? Beyond the policies articulated in the employee contract, you’ll need practical guidelines for how quickly tasks should be completed. Whether you use QA scores, volume of output, deadlines, or a broad set of metrics, your policy needs to be clear to each member of the team. Ideally, weekly meetings with team managers would provide check-in opportunities to address any shortfalls and reiterate policies. When expectations are clear, remote work can remain structured and productive, and output can even exceed what was formerly possible in-house. Once you’ve established the expectations and metrics, that data should be integrated into your performance reviews for remote teams.
Recalibrate your benefits
Employee benefits are constantly evolving, and this would be an opportunity to update your extra perks. Covered parking and the nearby gym membership may lose their appeal when employees are working from home. Instead of investing in office amenities, consider helping employees upgrade their home office with improved internet connections and relevant hardware. Dramatically reducing your on-site staff should result in other cost-saving opportunities, so try to reinvest those funds in benefits that help retain your remote employees. Instead of snacks or food in the office, other perks may need to be sent electronically or by mail. To help with team building and collaboration, you may also secure a temporary space for monthly or weekly in-person meetings.
Train managers and leaders for long-term remote teams
We’ve all known individuals who are friendly in person, and yet their tone in emails might sound short and abrasive. Without the face-to-face interaction of the office, some managers may struggle to build rapport with subordinates and among teams. Managing a remote team requires new skill sets—like scheduling video meetings and remaining vigilant about mental health, as well as job satisfaction issues. Sometimes a decrease in productivity can be addressing workflow bottlenecks or miscommunications. When teams work remotely, it’s easy to jump past the problem-solving steps that would naturally be included in the office, like checking to see how the employee perceives the problem.
Remote teams can be a huge cost-saving measure for many companies, especially when the workload is entirely managed online. As with any major adjustment, shifting to a remote workforce requires careful planning. But with the right planning and continued adaptation, this working from home “new normal,” can eventually become just the working “normal.”