5 Uncomfortable Realities Remote Managers Must Accept to Succeed
The way we work is changing. As employees seek greater flexibility, better growth opportunities and more meaningful engagement from their employers, companies are having to adapt their workplace to meet the demand.
Some of these new conditions can be uncomfortable for managers hard-set for traditional models, but holding on to what has worked in the past can be harmful to productivity and overall business success.
Here are five uncomfortable realities of the new workplace that managers will need to consider in order to retain and attract talent.
1. Work Culture Requires Effort
Even two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges cited by leaders who have pivoted to a remote workplace remains organizational culture. It can indeed be more challenging for companies to create that "togetherness" feeling when working in a remote setting, but as with most aspects of the remote workplace, communications is key.
With the watercooler chat now a thing of the past, managers must find new ways for employees to engage with one another — and with the organization as a whole. While remote employees are typically isolated from one another, they shouldn't feel like they're working in silos, without a common goal.
Successful remote leaders are able to instill a feeling of belonging, a team approach, geared to drive the company forward in its mission, even with dispersed employees. "It's not always about having control over what your employees are doing, but more about building a strong company culture that breeds productive and motivated employees," said Ryan Naylor, CEO of Phoenix, Ariz.-based VIVAHR.
2. Flexibility Brings Productivity
The myth that remote employees aren't as productive as their in-office peers should, by now, have been debunked. While there will always be some who will try to get by doing as little as possible — whether remote or in the office — most knowledge workers take their performance seriously.
But that doesn't mean a person must be sitting at a desk in front of a computer for eight straight hours, five days a week. New work realities show that it can be tremendously benefit for employees to be granted flexibility in how, when and where they conduct their work, so that when they do take to the task, they are motivated and productive.
Having the ability to organize the work day around other commitments like childcare, errands or even leisure breaks is a significant game-changer for many employees, though it make it difficult for managers to assess a person's workload and output.
Team leaders must find ways to communicate with staff and track progress without interfering with the flexibility the company touts to attract them in the first place. Message boards and work management tools can be helpful, as is a return to basic email, which can be sent and read whenever each party is available — as opposed to a call or a push notification. Whatever the method, policies should be put into place to clarify when it's okay to send messages and when it's okay not to respond.
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3. Security Is Everyone's Responsibility
Data security is one of the biggest challenges for any business, and remote work can increase the risk of a breach.
BYOD organizations are, of course, at a heightened risk, as employees access confidential company data on their own devices, which may or may not be secure, but even those companies with rigid protocols in place can have vulnerabilities. From employees logging into the company server from an unsecured network, to ignored software updates, to shared login information, passwords and other credentials, the risks that a breach stems from human error are significant — and rising.
Companies that used to relegate security to the IT department should know by now that they need to change their approach. Homes are particularly vulnerable to data loss because of unknown visitors, risk of criminal activities and accidental loss, and phishing scams are growing more sophisticated. This makes cybersecurity everyone's responsibility, and managers must ensure their team members are well trained and informed on the risks and behaviors that concern the company's data.
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4. Meetings Are a Tool
Meetings often get a bad rep for being unproductive. When the pandemic hit, the frequency of meetings shot up substantially, and employees reported being overwhelmed with the amount of time they spent in virtual meetings.
A Harvard Business Review article from spring 2020 explains why virtual meetings are more demanding than in-person meetings. Distractions are a big part of it; having the ability to take a meeting while answering emails and continuing to do our work means we're asking our brain to process more information at once.
But despite these realities, meetings remain an important tool to nurture in the remote workplace. They just need to be used properly. Casual check-ins, for instance, are great reasons to have face-to-face meetings. Long, 60-minute presentations that don't impact a person's day-to-day are not. They're more likely to come off as draining and a big waste of time.
Managers should not only set the tone for how employees are expected to use meetings, they should also provide alternative means of engagement. For instance, that 60-minute PowerPoint presentation earlier mentioned could instead be shared on the company's intranet, so employees access it when they are more disposed to absorb its content.
Managers also need to ensure their team members' time is being used optimally, and that includes minimizing distractions and unnecessary meetings and understanding that everyone absorbs and retains information differently. Some prefer to connect via video, while others prefer a simple email or message. Allowing remote workers to access information in the format they prefer will go a long way in reducing Zoom fatigue and boosting productivity.
Related Article: Rethinking the Role of Meetings in Digital-first Workplaces
5. Remote Is Here to Stay
For a while, many organizational leaders expected the way we work to return to its pre-COVID reality. Headline after headline reported on companies announcing an impending return to the office. Those mandates were met with backlash, as workers threatened to quit if forced to comply.
The reality at this time is that remote work seems to be here to stay. At least for the foreseeable future and as long as the labor market remains tilted in favor of employees. The good news is, the longer it lasts, the greater the chances that leaders and managers recognize the multitude of benefits that come with offering employees the flexibility and work-life balance they seek.
Managers seeking to succeed in the remote workplace should not look to the past for guidance but rather, they should find new, innovative ways to motivate and drive their team forward.