By Jessica Miller-Merrell
One of the biggest challenges for companies today is that our workforces are becoming more decentralized. Managers are leading teams that are in different locations or working remotely. This makes communication challenging as we get less face time with team members and organizational leaders, but also it makes hiring equally challenging.
I should know, I own a coworking and shared office space in Austin, Texas, called Duo Works. Many of our members are remote workers, freelancers, and employees who are working away from the office location in favor of a location that’s either at home or close to their home and away from all the traffic.
63% of Companies Today Have Remote Workers
Last year, freelancing website Upwork released the results of its second annual Future Workforce Report, which explores hiring behaviors of over 1,000 U.S. managers. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies today have remote workers.
Additionally, as companies increasingly embrace hiring remote employees, they’re evolving their work-from-home policies. Nearly half (45%) of hiring managers said their company’s work-from-home policy has changed in the past five years, with 60 percent saying it has become more lenient and inclusive. This increased inclusivity is making it easier for companies to find the talent they need. Over half (52%) of hiring managers that work at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year.
There are many benefits to having a remote workforce, including increased productivity, lower overhead costs (on-site, in-office), flexibility as an employee perk, and a wider talent pool when selection is not based on location.
“Both the employee and manager must be accountable,” says Faith Rothberg, CEO of College Recruiter about her team managing remote employees. “We use scorecards. Every employee has at least one “number”, meaning an objective measurement of their key contribution over the past week, quarter, and year. We track and report those numbers to each other.”
Screening and Hiring Remote Workers
Screening candidates for the qualities that are most important when working remotely is an important factor for matching the remote job with the right candidate, and in turn, being able to successfully manage a dispersed workforce.
In 2017, Leadership IQ created an online test, “Is Your Personality Suited To Working Remotely Or In The Office?,” in which respondents answer 10 questions and receive results indicating whether their personality is better suited to working remotely or working in an office. More than 14,000 people took the quiz, and Leadership IQ aggregated data on remote working characteristics and recommends using two questions when screening for remote positions:
“Could you tell me about a time you made an important decision without the help of a supervisor or boss?” Given the necessarily independent nature of the successful remote employee, we want to know how they’ve handled making important decisions independently. And we want to know what, exactly, they consider an important decision.
“Could you tell me about a time you got tough feedback from a boss?” Another characteristic of successful remote employees is that they like their critical feedback to be candid, direct and without sugarcoating.
Solving the Challenges of a Dispersed Workforce
We must be able to adapt as HR leaders to accommodate a growing remote workforce. Not having employees on-site during the same hours of work can make communication more difficult, particular in team and relationship building.
For a 2017 study, the Harvard Business Review polled 1,153 employees, and 52% said they work, at least some of the time, from home. When they do, according to HBR, many feel their colleagues don’t treat them equally. Remote employees are more likely to report feeling that colleagues mistreat them and leave them out. Specifically, they worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.
Based on survey responses, the HBR report recommends that managers adopt the following best practices for off-site employees:
Nearly half of respondents (46%) said the most successful managers checked in frequently and regularly with remote employees. The check-ins varied from daily to bi-weekly to weekly, but they were always consistent and usually entailed a standing meeting or scheduled one-on-ones.
Face (or voice) time.
One in four respondents said managers who insisted on some face time with remote employees were more successful. Make a visit to remote employees or schedule a mandatory in-office day once a week, month, quarter, or year. Use this time for team building (depending on how far away your remote employee lives). If in-person meetings are not possible, use video conferencing or pick up the phone to ensure colleagues occasionally see one another’s face or hear one another’s voice.
Communication, communication, communication.
Respondents overwhelmingly emphasized the importance of frequent communication with their manager and colleagues. The most successful managers are good listeners, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of over-communicating while encouraging the same for others on the team.
Managers who are direct with their expectations of both remote and on-site employees have happier teams that can live up to those expectations. People are never left in the dark about projects, roles, or deadlines.
Survey respondents said successful managers are available during remote employees’ working hours, no matter their time zone. They go above and beyond to maintain an open-door policy for both remote and on-site employees – making themselves available across multiple time zones and through different means of technology.
Successful managers don’t just resort to phone or email; they are familiar with video conferencing technologies and a variety of services like Skype, Slack, IM, Adobe Connect, and more. They tailor communication style and medium to each employee.
Make relationships a priority.
Good managers go out of their way to form personal bonds with remote employees. They use check-in time to ask about their personal life, families, and hobbies. They designate team meeting time for “water cooler” conversation so that the whole team can create personal connections and strengthen relationships.
Finally, understanding that hiring and employing a dispersed workforce is the new normal is critical to making a significant shift in how we work with remote employees and candidates, and how we make those experiences as seamless and productive as possible. According to Flexjobs.com, remote work grew 115 percent among U.S. employees during the past 10 years.
Rothberg agrees, “You’ve got to hire the right people for the right seats. We’ve hired some great people who didn’t work out well because they were in the role that wasn’t well suited to take advantage of their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. We all focus on the employee, but the role needs to be appropriate for a remote employee too.”
Note that this year’s Flexjobs’ Top 100 companies offer the most remote work opportunities because remote work has become a vital part of their operations, and combining brick-and-mortar offices with remote work will provide a well-balanced strategy for the future.
Jessica Miller-Merrell is a workplace change agent focused on human resources and talent acquisition. Named to Haydn Shaughnessy’s 2013 list of top 50 social media power influencers, she’s the founder of Workology (formerly Blogging4Jobs). She can be contacted on Twitter at @jmillermerrell.