Remote Workforce

What Does Productivity Look Like for a Remote Workforce?

If someone on your team isn’t working remotely already, they probably will be soon. Our organizations are getting more and more distributed, and top talent will increasingly expect the option to work remotely. Are you ready?

In a 2017 FlexJobs survey, 62 percent of respondents said they’ve left or considered leaving a job because it doesn’t offer flexible work options. Flexible work can bring all sorts of advantages to employers, including increased productivity — it just might look different than it did when employees were in an office.

“Employers need to understand that happier employees work better,” says Beth Ball, managing partner of Evergreen Content Firm, a content marketing firm with more than 55 remote employees. Everyone has places where they work productively — and where they don’t. “If you can leave the choice up to them, they’ll give you good work,” she says.

Focus on Results

When your employees are working in front of you, it’s easy to see what they’re doing. But when they’re working elsewhere, you might feel a little anxious about whether they’re working the way you want them to. Resist the temptation to check up on them at all hours, and shift your attention to what they accomplish.

“Productivity means focusing on results rather than hours worked and from where,” says David Lloyd, CEO of the Intern Group, which offers employees the option to work remotely if they prefer. “Whether workers are on-site or remote, results are what drives the company forward, instead of clocking in and out at a certain time. HR managers need to understand that location doesn’t matter as long as employees are results-driven.”

Boost Your Communication

One of the best ways to ensure productivity stays on track is to communicate. It’s easy for employees to give managers a heads-up on an issue when they’re in the same office, but remote employees might hold back or try to manage problems on their own when they would be easy to solve. There are plenty of communication channels and cloud-based tools that keep everyone on the same page, experts say.

Bell says her company uses Airtable to set up editorial calendars, and then uses Slack and a private Facebook group to keep everyone in the loop. Other options include Basecamp or Trello, or time-tracking apps such as Harvest or Timely.

Train Your Managers

As work changes, your managers may need to change their approach as well. Some may find it hard to not be able to look over an employee’s shoulder, and will need to learn how to manage in new ways, experts say. “Leaders need to be developed in the context of the way people actually work today,” says Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. “Studies show that when we work remotely, there is a tendency to focus on individual work, often at the expense of the team’s goals or collaborating,” he says. So, managers must be able to set clear expectations around common goals and how work will be assessed to ensure everyone understands what productivity looks like.

Your leadership development program should address the fact that leaders will be managing remote employees as well, Turmel says. That training should include what to do so that remote employees feel supported and empowered to do good work.