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Since COVID-19, companies such as Twitter, Atlassian, Slack and Facebook have made headlines for letting their staff work remotely “forever.” So far, this policy has seemingly been exclusive to large companies with healthy HR budgets and a penchant for disruption.
But what if remote-first work was more accessible? What if small business owners were empowered and encouraged to transition to a different mode of flexible work? What would this mean for talent pools in Australia and beyond?
My prediction is greater growth opportunities for small businesses and employees alike.
The COVID-19 crisis has sparked a remote work revolution that SMEs stand to benefit from. Controlled disruption in remote and hybrid working can create positive change; all SMEs need is a game-plan to overcome the most common challenges associated with managing remote teams.
Here are three tips to build a robust, productive and engaged remote-workforce:
- Cultivate your culture
Thanks to technology like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack, workforces across different functions, cities, regions and even countries are more connected than ever.
While these technologies are at hand, what matters most is how you use them.
For a small business, the culture you want to see starts at the top; this means leaders set the standard – remote or otherwise.
Trust and productive working relationships are earnt through communication. That’s why it’s important to establish a strong cadence around communication, such as daily team meets, weekly company-wide “All Hands” and fortnightly or monthly virtual social catch-ups.
It’s human instinct to find comfort in routines, so in a remote work environment, employees need to know when communication will occur. Establish a rhythm across time increments to support more regular catch-ups, spanning right up to your company’s long-term vision and objectives. To buy into your culture, your team needs to be part of your business’ journey.
Special attention must be paid to one-on-ones. Remote employees need assurance that just because they don’t have face-to-face interactions, it does not mean that their career prospects are any less important than office-based staff. Use this time to gauge how your employee is feeling by asking non-performance-based open-ended questions, and more importantly, really listen to their responses. When managing remote employees, it’s harder to pick up on the physical cues, so you must learn to rely on soft skills to build connections and trust.
If you find it hard to tap into the emotional side of your team, consider sharing mental wellbeing surveys that, anonymously or not, ask your employees how they’re feeling, and what you can do to support them.
A remote company culture becomes more complex than the standard Friday night drinks; it takes care and empathy to build a virtually connected and engaged team of people who feel supported, wherever and however they choose to work.
- Focus on outputs, not process
Studies show that more than two-thirds of workers say they are more productive when working from home, and one in three believe it makes them less stressed.
When employees feel empowered and supported to do their best work – wherever that may be – it leads to a higher quality of work and equal, if not greater levels of productivity.
However, employers still need to implement the same set of frameworks any office-based worker would be accustomed to – namely, Objective and Key Results (OKRs).
Using a holistic goal-setting framework aligns dispersed teams to the same monthly, quarterly and yearly objectives, while still keeping them accountable on an individual level.
Always keeping in mind the overarching objective, key results are formulated as the actionable plans, or a “task list,” to reach this goal and are designed to be shared to cultivate team spirit and trust. Employees are empowered to achieve key results in their own time and at their own pace, within a well-established boundary.
We are no longer programmed to fit our working lives around a typical 9 to 5 day – remote work is all about evaluating outcomes over process, and that does wonders for people’s psyche.
- Inclusive intentions
For remote work to be truly successful, business leaders must nurture an inclusive environment.
Naturally, the concept of remote work is designed to be inclusive to some of society’s most overlooked working groups, including people with disabilities, regional communities, carers and working parents, however a genuinely inclusive remote culture takes consideration and care.
The trust that comes with flexible working minimises the challenges associated with commuting, set hours and office spaces that are inherently discriminatory. It empowers people to choose a working environment that best suits their needs.
Even minor things that most of us take for granted, like having meetings recorded so that we can watch them in our own time, can make a massive difference to people with personal needs and responsibilities.
For small businesses, this is one of the critical factors to consider before adopting a remote work model. Ask yourself, am I prepared to level the playing field between remote and office-based employees?
Without accessibility and inclusion, the benefits of remote working become redundant.