Train Wisely, Manage Easily: Things You Should Know About Distributed Workforce

People are what matter most in any kind of business. They are the most valuable resource for fresh ideas and overall business growth. In the modern world, the battle for talent between organizations has become fierce like never before. At the same time, companies have the advantage of hiring skilled employees with no geographical boundaries. This is one of the reasons why remote work keeps growing.

Figures show that 43% of employees in the US work outside their office for at least some time, and this tendency keeps gaining ground. According to the Gallup research, the number of employees who work remotely full-time grew from 15% to 20% over the last four years. Chances are that this percentage will grow even more.

Apart from the geographical location, there are many factors that influence employees’ desire to either stay or leave their current job. The research done by SHRM shows that 31% of employees would leave due to a violated work balance, 30% would quit because of personal reasons such as parental leave, and 29% of respondents would seek another job opportunity if they had trouble commuting.

The majority of these problems can be solved by remote work. Distributed employees are less stressed, can set their own work schedule, spend more time with their friends and family, and don’t have to commute. Happy employees create productive teams, which is beneficial for companies.

Why distributed workforce fall short and how to avoid it

With remote work, there is a fifty-fifty chance to make your employees either productive and happy or demotivated and ineffective. There are some important principles your company should follow to keep your distributed workforce engaged, well-trained, and productive:

1. Emphasize communication. A lack of connection between employees leads to isolation, misunderstanding, and disengagement. Your remote workers can’t have random “water cooler” conversations, but they can stay in touch using modern apps like Slack, Skype, Trello, Google Hangouts, among others. The HQ team from CloudPeeps says that for them, remote work success means clear and concise communication and an open-door policy. Moreover, communication builds strong collaboration skills and keeps teams together.

2. Take care of your company culture. Remote employees can’t absorb company culture easily from far away, so it’s critical that they feel like a good fit from the start. In first few days of training new remote employees, Apple always shares the history of the company, describes how it was to work with Steve Jobs, and sends a care package to each of them to show that they are part of the Apple team. The company considers a sense of belonging to be crucial while managing remote employees. Zapier emphasizes that promoting company culture is much more than just buying a ping-pong table. The company organizes meetups, gives a premium subscription to Spotify accounts (knowing that many employees love listening to music while working), and uses Slack as anonline version of the water cooler” for communication.

3. Ensure a comfortable environment. A strong Wi-Fi connection, any necessary equipment, modern laptops, noise level, temperature, furniture all these aspects contribute to your employees’ productivity. “Surroundings adjustment” is what companies should take into account. For example, Automattic gives every newly-hired employee $2,000 to improve their home office. They can purchase desks, chairs, and anything else they may need to do their job well.

4. Don’t make the 9 to 5 scheme a standard. One reason your employees may choose to work remotely is the possibility to set their own schedule. We all know about biological clocks – night owls and early risers – and those executives who think that remote workers should stick to the way office workers do will lose. Leon Barnard from Balsamiq provides advice as to what a remote work schedule should look like:

Forget what you think working looks like. In a corporate office environment we are trained to think that sitting at a desk, typing on your computer is what working looks like. But with nobody looking over your shoulder you can be much smarter about it. Learn your natural rhythms and optimize around them. Not feeling productive? Get up and go for a walk. Or do the dishes. Don’t stare at your computer screen if you know you aren’t feeling it. Give yourself a break to let your brain work out the problems you’re dealing with. You’ll be surprised what comes to you when you return.

Remember that employees’ productivity and the results of their work are more important than the amount of time they spend at their desks.

5. Hire the right people. You should understand that not all potential candidates will be able to be productive when working remotely even if you stick to all the above-mentioned rules. Face-to-face conversations and close supervision still matter. So when you hire an employee, give them a test project and set the deadline to see how a candidate will manage to finish the task.

The right training program is key to remote employees’ productivity and retention

No matter whether your employees work remotely or in the office, they give you their time and energy. What they want in return is not only a paycheck. SHRM research discovered that a whopping 43% of employees would leave if they had a chance to enhance their professional skills at some other company.

Thus, training is one more vital aspect of retaining your remote employees and keeping them productive and motivated. From onboarding to continuous knowledge and skills development, everything should be well-thought-out. The main issue is to ensure that your training suits both remote and collocated teams. Instead of developing different programs for employees, focus on more personalized training.

“Hire smart people and get out of their way,” says David Fullerton, VP of Engineering at Stack Overflow, describing company’s guiding management philosophy. By choosing to work remotely, your employees count on their independence and your support. How can this be applied to training?      

Firstly, let your employees learn at their own pace. Your training program should be as flexible as your trainees’ work schedule. Just-in-time training can help you out. Your employees are primarily interested in information that can help them “right here and now” to complete a given task. Provide them on-demand content in short chunks to fight the forgetting curve. Keep in mind that relevance is important in retaining new material.

Secondly, ensure accessibility. Your remote employees cannot do their job only sitting at their home office. Tablets, laptops, and smartphones should be available to access training materials anytime and anywhere. 

Thirdly, provide feedback. You can create virtual groups where all your employees can share best practices, help others, or ask for help. You can also communicate through video chats or create online polls. Data analysis is important in providing relevant feedback too. This will help you to track your employees’ progress and define their knowledge gaps.

Managing and training your remote employees is indeed challenging, but technology makes it possible to overcome these difficulties. By keeping your distributed workforce engaged, constantly staying in touch with them, and providing them with concise and relevant materials, you will notice positive changes in productivity, revenue growth, and company culture.

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