Steve Duignan, VP of international marketing at LogMeIn, talks about the pressure remote staff face to look productive and shares some tips on how bosses can manage them.

In an attempt to keep staff sufficiently engaged and motivated, businesses today offer all sorts of perks, ranging from flexible working hours to free meals and annual company trips.

However, with modern technology making it easier than ever to work effectively from outside the office, one perk in particular is making a bigger impact than most when it comes to employee satisfaction: working from home.

According to recent research, the vast majority (81 per cent) of UK-based respondents believe that having the option to work from home is important to the future of business, with 52 per cent already working from home at some point in any given week.

What’s more, nearly a third (30 per cent) say they feel happier while working from home due to key benefits such as having the flexibility to take breaks whenever they want, eliminating the stressful commute, saving money and being able to look after family members or pets.

So, employees are clearly tuned in to the benefits of being able to work remotely, but the same can’t always be said for their employers.

Removing the stigma

Despite the personal benefits, nearly half (46 per cent) of UK-based respondents said that working from home meant they felt more pressure to demonstrate that they were being productive. This highlights a paranoia for many that bosses may think their staff aren’t working if they aren’t visible, suggesting that there is still a perception problem associated with remote working.

Remote employees feel pressured to prove that they're working

This mindset is one business leaders need to overcome if they want to get the best out of their employees. In most cases, enthusiasm for working from home is driven by the freedom afforded by flexible working – which improves both productivity and contentedness – rather than a desire to slack off or the enticing prospect of a pyjama day.

Besides, the business benefits of letting employees work from home are well-documented. For example, one global survey of business professionals suggests that the home office is now the most productive workspace, removing many of the distractions that are characteristic of office environments.

Working from home is also known to increase employee satisfaction levels and result in healthier workers that take fewer days off overall, all of which provides very tangible benefits to employers.

Businesses therefore need to make sure they avoid creating a corporate culture that negatively impacts those who work from outside the office. They need to foster a culture that is positive, engaging and that supports remote workers, rather than giving off the impression that the boss’s all-seeing eye is trained on them at all times.

What kind of environment do you want to create? What values are most important to your business? How do you want employees to communicate with each other while working remotely? These are all questions that need to be answered to ensure you are able to get the most out of your employees.

Fostering collaboration

Although managing a disparate workforce can certainly be challenging, there are some practical steps businesses of any size can take to foster a positive corporate culture, no matter where their staff choose to work.

Ensuring that remote workers feel connected with what’s going on in the office is a sure-fire way of easing fears about appearing unproductive. If employees have simple avenues through which they can contact the office, they don’t have to worry about their bosses making the assumption that because they’re not visible they’re slacking.

Plus, it works both ways. Bosses who find themselves worrying about off-site productivity levels can see that the gears are turning, even from afar.

One method of creating that feeling of connectivity is by making a commitment to conferencing. Scheduling live conference calls provides the opportunity for natural conversation between teams, but still lacks the element of face-to-face interaction.

Instead, by leveraging video conferencing platforms for meetings between remote workers and on-site teams, businesses can maintain the sense of community felt in the office, all the while affording the employee all the benefits of working from home.

Establishing a truly effective culture of remote working is certainly a difficult task, but one made easier by the right attitude, and with the help of tricks like utilising on-demand collaboration tools to bolster communication avenues.

“Remote working is no passing fad, it’s here to stay”

Remote working is no passing fad, it’s here to stay. That’s why it’s crucial that businesses engage with the widespread desire for flexible working, and ensure employees are provided with the toolkit they need to be productive at home, and don’t feel stigmatised for not undertaking the traumatic commute.

Anne Cantelo, founder of Onyx

Anne talks about she manages her remote employees

Anne Cantelo is the founder of communications firms, Onyx. She believes that productivity is based on output, not looking busy.

All our employees are remote and have been since 2016. Engaging with them is really no different to employees who are based in an office.

I make it clear what they’re responsible for and what work needs completing, ensuring that everyone understands the quality needed. I expect all employees to tell me if they’re struggling and that the team will support each other.

This is backed up by a 360-degree performance process that includes reviewing objectives at least once every six months. The process includes me and regular freelancers.

I speak to most of them most days by Slack, Skype, e-mail or phone. We usually meet up at least once a week in client offices or in meetings. We see these days as ‘non-productive’!

Everyone has a laptop and we use SharePoint, but that’s common now. We have access to an osteopath to advise on seating position. The biggest danger, from a health and safety viewpoint, is that people are sitting for long periods in positions that could cause damage.

Finding suitable staff

Recruitment is mainly down to very careful selection of employees; this working set-up doesn’t suit everyone. We target people who are very much team players and are inclined to help each other for the common good rather than choosing those who are out to prove themselves.

To encourage interaction between people who might not normally work with each other, we ask people to mentor each other in certain skill areas. For example, we had one person who wanted to improve their writing skills – she’s being helped by the journalist in our team.

On Fridays, we share our successes and priorities for the week ahead. We have a regular whole team get-together once a month too: it’s part social and part business.

I encourage people to lunch with each other when they’re at the same location. The company pay for it – it’s still cheaper than paying for an office!

Contribution is measured by output

To trust your employees, you need to shift from the belief that seeing someone sitting at a computer means that you know they’re working. You don’t.

The only way to know if someone is contributing to the organisation is by their output and that’s just as easy to measure if they’re remote. In many ways it’s easier to measure as you don’t get distracted by other metrics. The team know that too.

Our productivity has shot up since we started working this way. We’re not unique in this. We carried out research and we found that increased productivity was a common benefit reported by employers who had embraced this way of working.

This is not some strange experiment that will soon disappear, and it’s not just for parents.

Remote working is a far more natural way of working, it’s how we all worked until the end of the 18th century when the first office was opened.  With IT we don’t need to work the ‘traditional’ way anymore.

Commuting every day is bad for families, bad for the environment, bad for the economy, bad for our mental health and terrible for employers.

Nigel Davies, founder of Claromentis

 

Nigel talks about managing remote employees

Nigel Davies is the founder of digital workplace Claromentis. He has a more flexible approach, allowing people to work from home or come into the office, depending on which is better for them.

We’re an agile business, so we have a unique method of working that is fast, reactive, democratic and supportive.

Employees know exactly what they’re working on because we meet regularly to discuss how to move next and to set the new agenda. There’s very little wasted time. For those who aren’t on the product development team, including customer services and marketing, we set goals and celebrate successes.

We all engage through the digital workplace, a working environment that has evolved from the business intranet and was created with virtual employees in mind. Equally, everyone is free to use the office in Brighton as much or as little as they like. We see some faces more than others.

Getting new staff set up

From day one when new recruits are onboarded and trained up, all our employees use the digital workplace which offers everything a remote worker needs to ensure they don’t feel isolated. It lets users collaborate on projects, share information, train and learn. It integrates HR tools and third-party apps too.

“We’ve been trampolining, duck herding, hiking on the South Downs, and we do an annual Great British Bake Off”

Our internal social media feeds are usually always buzzing. Employees are encouraged to post whatever they like, which is normally photos of team nights out, details of upcoming events, company news, observations and ideas. Our social media tool is customisable, so users can mute conversations that are distracting or irrelevant. What’s more, they can choose to share with selected colleagues rather than company-wide.

We also have a strong set of core values that shape our culture. The friendly, fun and inclusive culture we’ve created is something we’re really proud of.

We encourage our employees to run team socials and they come up with some really popular ideas. We’ve been trampolining, duck herding, hiking on the South Downs, and we do an annual Great British Bake Off.

One of our most popular events is our yearly innovation week when our development team stops working on our software and spends a week coding anything they choose. They are free to team up with any number of people, from any department, and one person can work on more than one project. This year we held it in Barcelona.

Trusting your employees

You have to let go. We’ve tested lots of different ways, but we’ve found the best approach is to put complete trust in our employees from the start. Measure successes based on goals and results.

We used to ask people to make sure they had a dedicated workspace at home but increasingly, this isn’t necessary. Some people prefer to work standing up at their worktops, or from the comfort of a sofa, or a local co-working space.

We trust them to work however they are most productive and to ask for help or show up at the office if they aren’t finding remote working as easy, liberating and fun as they thought. It’s certainly not suitable for everyone.

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