Kirsty Cooper, Remote Engagement Assistant at Twinkl Educational Publishers, tells unLTD why employers should be engaging with remote workers to ‘future-proof’ their businesses
Why remote working?
In today’s modern 24-7 world, many companies choose to hire from a global pool of talent which may involve navigating different time zones and languages.
Increasingly, working 9-5 in an office setting is inappropriate for businesses, so working methods are changing to reflect this. Remote working is when team members are able to work somewhere other than their company office – usually at home, or sometimes in a cafe or co-working space.
It’s estimated that a surprising 16 percent of companies worldwide operate in a totally remote way with no physical HQ. Their employees instead connect using technology like email, chat programs and video.
A survey amongst remote workers by Buffer found that ‘remote working is not a trend – it’s here to stay,’ with 99 per cent of nearly 2,500 respondents saying they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
Meanwhile a two-year study carried out by Stanford University found a 50 per cent increase in employee retention when remote working was allowed, and decreased sick days amongst the team.
Remote working can reduce costs for businesses and workers, and allow for a more diverse workforce to be hired as they are not limited by geographical location. Benefits that come with remote working for employees can include increased flexibility, more time to spend with family and cutting out a potentially lengthy daily commute.
But, there are lots of challenges posed by remote working too. A Harvard Business Review study of 1,100 remote employees reported a greater incidence of these individuals feeling excluded or mistreated by their colleagues, and this can drastically affect the morale of the wider team.
If your company prizes good culture in the workplace, it’s important that this culture extends to all staff, wherever they are in the world. This is a journey for every business, but here I’ll share some tips that Twinkl lives by in order to engage our remote workers in our company culture.
Take the initiative
As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easily. Remote worker inclusion won’t happen without a leadership commitment. Business leaders must take the initiative to include their remote employees and ensure that all colleagues are briefed on new processes to facilitate this. Many remote workers will not be aware of the kind of benefits and collaborative working that is available to them, so won’t know how to ask for these from their employers. So, take the initiative. All future company processes should be designed in a way that is inclusive of remote workers – don’t lose sight of inclusion!
Initially, bridging the gap between staff in the office and those working remotely is important. Something we’ve found invaluable at Twinkl is making a switch from email and chat programs to Google Hangouts and other collaborative, video-based communications systems. Let your staff get to know each other and encourage socialisation like phone calls and virtual coffee chats to break the ice. Face-to-face communication, even virtually, is much more personal and easily understood than the written word, in which tone and meaning can often be misinterpreted.
Additionally, office staff can catch each other in the corridor, over a coffee or by the water cooler in order to pass the time of day or share thoughts. For remote staff, it’s easy to be left out of these crucial chats which can leave them feeling blindsided and excluded. Make sure all of your remote staff are invited to take part virtually in all relevant meetings, and make each team member and leader aware that they are expected to do this.
Trust your remote workers
It can be an easy trap to slip into for leaders to micro-manage their employees. Most good leaders will empower their team to work off their own steam and manage their time efficiently. Many remote workers will end up working hours that are slightly different to the 9-5 because of their lifestyle, or the fact that they’re in a totally different time zone – they might not spot emails or messages straight away and this shouldn’t be handled with distrust.
At Twinkl we don’t insist that our office team logs their work hours or tasks completed, so we don’t insist on this for remote workers either. There are lots of great time management and productivity tools out there, and some workers may choose to use these as a way of making sure they stay on task, or to manage their workload more efficiently. This shouldn’t be enforced, however – clear expectations, performance indicators and regular check-ins should be enough for leaders to empower remote workers to deliver their best.
Ensure remote workers are involved
Afford all your remote workers the same time and investment you would afford office staff. Training can be delivered using Google Hangouts or Skype, and any daily or weekly regular meetings should be scheduled at a time when remote workers can attend. Remote workers can contribute just as much unique insight, great ideas and sensible feedback as your office staff, so make sure they have the opportunity to do so to avoid feeling like their input isn’t valued.
Remote workers should have access to all internal communications where possible, and be encouraged to participate in company dialogue. Tools like Jamboard, Trello and Basecamp are great for allowing employees to keep up with one another and internal staff members too. It’s good to have work based threads on these tools, but allow some space for social threads too. Our remote workers are always sharing pictures of their lovely pets, comparing great books they’ve read recently, running Secret Santa and other seasonal campaigns, and even organising remote coffee breaks on Google Hangouts.
If you have the resources, in addition to this you could appoint your remote workers with a ‘champion’ or even an engagement assistant (like me!). This gives them a dedicated person who’s there to support them and a friendly face who can take responsibility for keeping them updated on all company and project changes, big or small. They can even lead and develop strategies for maintaining and improving remote worker inclusion in your company.
Celebrate your remotees
At Twinkl, we ran a ‘Remote Week’ in September 2019, where our remote team members introduced themselves to the wider team through videos that were shared with the company. They were also able to share blogs they’d written about various aspects of remote life – these covered topics like achieving a good work/life balance, avoiding loneliness and isolation and building positive relationships with the office-based team. These articles offered our office staff an invaluable glimpse into the lives of their remote colleagues, and the team fed back that they felt much more connected after viewing these.
Why not also create a challenge for your remote workers (for example, getting an item from one point in a country to another) or a collaborative project that they can work on together? Remote workers can all be a real source of strength and fulfilment from each other – so try to orchestrate ways to bring them together (even digitally) whenever you can.
When employees are satisfied and motivated, that good feeling can permeate to all levels of your business and productivity and performance will improve too. In a world that increasingly relies on remote working, you owe it to your business and your team to invest in those working remotely. Think of it as future-proofing!
Kirsty Cooper is Remote Engagement Assistant at Twinkl Educational Publishers. A former EYFS teacher, Kirsty is also a mother of two with keen interests in writing fiction, reading, crafting and playing guitar (when she can find the time!)