Working from home is a lot like traveling for work—people glamorize it until they try it.
Don’t get me wrong, some people are great at working independently. For them, remote teams are fantastic. They take advantage of the benefits of working from their kitchen table without skipping a beat.
But others really struggle with it. That’s not a knock against anyone, but a lot of great employees just need the structure of the office to reach their potential.
Personally, I don’t really like working from home for extended periods of time. I end up working strange hours, screwing up my sleep schedule, and letting my social skills wither.
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to other people working from home. With the explosion of communication technology and the nature of many jobs today, more workers will be skipping a commute in the near future.
In fact, a 2018 study by IWG found that 70% of professionals spent at least one day a week working away from an office.
I’ve managed remote teams in the past, and at the moment, our team at ShipChain has over a dozen remote employees. Managing that group can be tricky, but it’s easier if you keep a few rules in mind:
Make your remote teams feel valued and a part of the company.
Employees who don’t work from an office miss out on the daily events that occur within this setting. Birthday parties, lunches, water cooler talk—these all help bond people together over time.
As a manager or CEO, you have to find ways to make your remote teams feel just as involved and valued. It could be as simple as remembering their birthday and sending them a gift or buying them dinner. In one case, we had an employee overseas who needed a professional headshot, so we offered to pay for it.
Value doesn’t always have to be related to money, either. Daily engagement is the real key. Get everyone involved in meetings. Use online team building exercises. And always use video calls when you’re making introductions.
Eventually, it adds up to a more involved and productive team.
Take time to learn if people can work independently.
Not everyone is great at working remotely. So, it’s your job to learn how people on your remote teams work to help everyone be most effective.
The trouble is, it’s often difficult to tell how people will perform away from the office. They themselves might not have a good idea of their ability to stay disciplined and work efficiently from home.
For employees who are already in-house, simply test it out.
Give them a chance to work from home and see how they do. Some may take to it quickly, others may discover they’re better off back in the office.
If you’re hiring for an exclusively remote position, then you need to hire more carefully. Look for past experience working independently and focus heavily on that aspect of the role while you’re interviewing a candidate.
The ability to work remotely isn’t something you can determine quantitatively; it’s a qualitative characteristic that a manager has to assess for each individual.
Set a schedule for your remote teams if you feel it’s necessary.
Many people push back against routine—right up until they don’t have one. They then begin to feel lost and slowly become less productive.
In some situations, remote workers can benefit from having a schedule imposed on their day. It doesn’t have to be rigid or overbearing to the point of eliminating what makes flexible work great. Imposing deadlines or making sure employees are online at certain times can help people stay on track.
Some people respond better when they have a check-list of tasks in front of them.
Others thrive on autonomy.
When it comes down to it, everyone needs some sort of guidance and structure to their day. Creating the right processes for your team is critical to keeping people on track.
Teach self-discipline, and then give people the freedom to make their own decisions.
Regardless of whether a position is in-house or remote, people tend to perform better in roles if they’re trusted with responsibility, rather than being micromanaged.
A good example of this is the U.S. military. The chain of command is somewhat decentralized, in a way that entrusts people in the field to make quick decisions instead of waiting on an order from above. That strategy has paid off over the years because the soldiers in the trenches are usually the ones who understand the situation on the ground best.
Now, certain people will need more guidance than others. Everyone responds differently to different amounts of freedom. But generally, people flourish when they’re given the ability to make their own decisions.
Remember, every person on your team is an individual. They all think individually, work distinctly, and come from various backgrounds. Remote work can be fantastic for some, while for others, it simply may not be the right fit.
Regardless, your goal as a manager is to figure out how to get the most out of your entire team, whether they’re in-house or at home.