Ready or not, remote work is a reality that we can’t ignore anymore.

In fact, it might very well become the norm, if we believe what Matthew Hollingsworth of We Work Remotely (WWR), the world’s largest remote job portal, says:

“We see hundreds of thousands of qualified people come to WWR each month looking for remote work and have seen the companies that embrace it leading the way in attracting the best talent.”

Taking the cue, progressive companies are adapting the work-from-home culture, mainly for its cost-saving benefit.

Dell, one of the early adopters of remote setup, reportedly saved $12 billion a year in rentals when their staff chose to telecommute.

And now, with many companies still in lockdown mode, remote work is no longer a nice-to-have option, it’s a need-to-have option. Social distancing norms have forced companies to permit their staff to work wholly or partly from home. In anticipation, many companies have gone forever-remote.

But with little time to prepare the ecosystem or train employees for the “new normal,” productivity has plummeted.

Don’t believe me?

IBM found a dip in their employees’ performance when they started working from home, which forced them to roll back their remote work policy. Around the same time, Google also publicly discouraged remote working, saying that facetime between employees had a positive impact on their output.

Aetna, Best Buy, and Yahoo also called their workers back onsite, citing lower productivity.

Saikat Chatterjee of Gartner articulates the situation perfectly: “We’re being forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and, so far, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of organizations to implement.”

Amidst all that, we can’t deny that the trend of remote working is on the upswing. 115% more professionals worked from home in 2019 as compared to 2018 and that was before the global pandemic.

Since the trend is here to stay, both managers and workers need to make the paradigm shift, with minimal impact on their productivity. For managers, keeping their remote workers engaged should also be a priority.

In this post, I’ll share a few productivity hacks for extracting the best results from remote teams. But first, let’s talk about the challenges that remote workers face so that you (as managers) are better equipped to overcome them.

Why Are Remote Workers Less Productive?

High-performing employees can lose interest in work when suddenly thrust into a remote set-up. Here are the top reasons responsible for their reduced productivity:

  • Less supervision: Often, managers worry that employees are not completely honest about their work hours when they are out of the office setting. At the same time, employees feel managers offer them less managerial support than on-site peers.
  • Distractions: Remote workers struggle to maintain discipline and productivity if they don’t set apart dedicated workspaces.
  • Less access to information: Remote employees waste a lot of time and effort in locating information that is readily available to in-office co-workers. This can take a toll on time-sensitive tasks. There is also a communication lag between employees separated by geographies.
  • Social isolation: Remote workers don’t feel the same sense of belongingness as in-house teams since they have fewer opportunities to informally interact with co-workers. A Harvard study of 1,100 remote workers found that they felt shunned and lonely, which reduced their willingness to give their 100% to work.

All these factors pull down the morale and productivity of remote teams.

Productivity Tips for Remote Managers

There is no denying that remote workers have some challenges working against them. But that doesn’t mean they should be any less productive than regular workers.

Let’s take a look at how you can super-charge your remote teams.

1. Get the Right Tech Stack

Invest in tools that keep you connected to remote teams, wherever they are located. Conduct an orientation session to train employees on how to use the tools with ease.

Here are the basic tools that remote-savvy teams should master:

  • Video conferencing tools: For daily team meets or special training, video conferencing/webcasting like Zoom are a must. Visual cues aid in topic comprehension. Plus, you can study the body language of employees and catch distress signals ahead of time.
  • Project management tools: To track project progress and employee productivity, tools like JIRA are essential.
  • Team communication tools: For quick communication, use mobile-friendly instant messaging apps like Skype and Hangouts. Emails can easily be missed in cluttered inboxes. But if emails are your preferred channel, follow deliverability best practices. Set up delivery notifications so that you can actively follow up.

Before you upload your sensitive company data to these tools, ensure that your IT team looks at the data security aspect.

2. Simulate Normalcy

If your employees have no experience of working remotely, the sudden change can throw them off-balance. They can lose track of deadlines and responsibilities with their new-found freedom. Managers can maintain a semblance of normalcy by doing the below:

  • Structured office hours: No doubt, flexibility is one of the main perks of remote work. However, employees should adhere to regular working hours so that project pipelines are not disturbed. Managers need to formulate and communicate remote work policies in clear terms.
  • Daily check-ins: It’s a good practice to check in with your teams, ideally as the day begins. You can schedule video calls, individually or team-wise (for collaborative projects). The important thing is to have a predictable schedule so that your workers have a forum where they are heard on a daily basis.
  • Celebrate occasions: It’s important to celebrate small and big milestones to keep employees motivated. Note how Red Stag Fulfillment gives a shout out to their employee for his diligence.
  • Non-work interactions: If you have a hybrid set-up (remote+onsite), schedule team-building activities to build a rapport between both groups of workers. Try to build interpersonal relationships with remote workers to get acquainted with their unique challenges and capabilities.
  • Dedicated workspaces: Home can be a sub-optimal workspace, especially for people with familial duties and shared accommodation. Encourage workers to chalk out an isolated spot for working, away from the communal space.

Boredom can really pull down productivity. Since stay-at-home workers can’t exactly stroll to the water cooler and catch up with colleagues, they can get bored and unproductive really quickly. To keep the brain ticking, these productivity tips can help.

If you have the budget, you can rent co-working spaces from where your remote teams can operate.

3. Set Expectations

Remote work becomes resultful when managers convey their expectations to their teams right from the beginning. During the first virtual check-in, spell out rules regarding reporting and the turn-around times of tasks. You can use project-management tools (from point one) to automate task assignment and follow-up.

You can also set “rules of engagement” that dictate how employees should behave during team meetings. For example, dress formally for daily check-ins (no pajamas allowed), inform their supervisor when punching out early, send a formal email to request time off, etc.

How will that help?

One, remote workers will grasp that they need to be professional even if they are out-of-sight.

Two, task allocation becomes easier for leaders if they know everybody’s workload and bandwidth.

Three, if everybody is clear about protocols, there’s less chaos and more production.

Key Takeaways

If you equip remote workers with the right tools and foster the right mindset, nothing can hold them back from giving their best.

Here are some simple strategies to supercharge your remote workers:

  • Use tools for project management, team management, and web conferencing.
  • Simulate normalcy by having structured office hours, daily check-ins, and meeting “engagement rules.”
  • Make it a point to celebrate each worker’s accomplishments.
  • Set expectations in terms of work quality, deadlines, and communication protocols.

What challenges are your remote teams facing? Mention them in the comments below. I’ll try to help as best as I can.