Over the course of the last 18 months, the way in which companies operate on a day-to-day basis has evolved dramatically. Employees are demanding more flexibility about when and where they work — which has created both challenges and exciting opportunities for company owners.
Prior to the colossal COVID-19 pandemic that’s still sweeping the globe, only 22% of companies were ready to facilitate mass remote working. As a matter of fact, some three out of four companies across the UK and the EU said that up until COVID-19, less than a quarter of their staff had regularly worked from home in the past.
But thanks to intensive government restrictions and work from home mandates in key markets across Europe and North America, that all changed virtually overnight. Global supply chains have had to be withdrawn, brick-and-mortar retailers have had to hit the ground running with new e-commerce sites, and a vast majority of organisations were forced to send their workers home to start working remotely.
Over a year-and-a-half after UK corporates went remote, it seems that the end of the pandemic may actually be in sight. The UK Government has lifted most of its health and safety restrictions, shops have been reopened and NHS numbers are improving.
Yet despite this shift back to “business as usual”, it seems a large proportion of organisations have actually realised some key benefits from maintaining remote teams — or at the very least, transitioning to new hybrid working models.
A lot of that boils down to meeting the demands and expectations of a rapidly evolving workforce. According to one recent report published by the Office for National Statistics, 85% of remote workers want to use a hybrid approach of both home and office-based methods.
Even after the UK Government lifted restrictions at the beginning of 2021, 31% of companies told researchers they were still planning to maintain remote teams no matter what happened with the pandemic — with major organisations like Google announcing plans to let a large proportion of their employees decide for themselves whether they wanted to work remotely, in the office, or a combination of the two moving forward.
In terms of organisations embracing hybrid working, this can mean freeing up a lot of assets and removing overheads.
For example, you could get rid of an underused office space you’ve leased. Instead, you could invest in virtual office services that offer physical meeting and conference rooms on an on-demand basis. That way you’re saving money and embracing remote working, while also affording your business the ability to meet in-person with both internals and potential clients.
For employees in search of an improved work-life balance, this is a huge step forward. Study after study has demonstrated that, in many cases, efficiency and output are actually increased when employees are permitted to control their own working arrangements.
That being said, remote working does pose some major hurdles for managers and company directors.
After all, when your team is spread across the country (or the globe), it can be a lot more difficult to make sure you’re always in the loop on what’s happening across a wider enterprise.
Fortunately, there are plenty of leadership strategies and dynamic project management tools available that can help managers to overcome these hurdles and lead their hybrid or remote teams more effectively.
To help you get started, this guide will walk you through some basic ideas and tools you can deploy to guide a remote team and establish success for your business.
What are the benefits of remote working?
Before we explore how you can manage a remote or hybrid workforce, it’s important that you understand the key benefits remote working generates not only for employees but also for a company’s bottom line.
First and foremost, remote and hybrid working increase work productivity.
According to one study on telemarketing firms, employees are up to 40% more productive when working from home than their colleagues in the office. The average home worker’s output shoots up by at least 4.4% when stacked against those employees who are stuck in the office.
Next, there’s performance levels. When you provide workers with more autonomy in terms of where they conduct their work, research from Gallup shows those workers “do better”. Remote workers produce 40% less defects than those still working in the office.
Translation: when you allow your employees to pick and choose where they’re working from, they make way fewer mistakes.
Remote working also bolsters employee engagement. Because productivity and performance are improved when employees are handed autonomy, researchers have also found that engagement subsequently improves within organisations, too. That equates to 41% less absenteeism because employees actually want to be logged in and get stuff done.
Bearing that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that remote and hybrid working models have been proven to boost retention. A whopping 54% of workers say they’d change jobs if they were offered a role with more flexibility.
By granting workers the ability to spend some (or all) of their time at home, the average staff turnover drops by 12%.
Combine all of the above elements that we’ve already covered, and you’ll be unsurprised to know that embracing remote working increases an organisation’s overall profitability. One study found that profit increases by $11,000 per year, per part-time worker when a company introduces a flexible working policy.
That equates to a 21% rise in profitability levels — and so it’s important to remember that flexible working isn’t just about making employees happy. It’s also about making your business better.
Even so, to make this all work and realise these benefits, you’ve got to make sure you’re leading your remote or hybrid team effectively. Otherwise, you may end up creating more problems than solutions.
How to lead a remote or hybrid team
No two organisations are totally alike. As a result, the working model that’s suitable for your team might be very different to the system put into place by other companies.
That being said, there are a few foundational strategies managers across every sector must consider and implement if they’ve got any hope of enabling a flexible working culture that embraces any form of remote working.
We’ll quickly break down each of these key strategies and explain what you need to know moving forward.
Employees want to work somewhere they feel welcome. Making your employees feel welcome engages them and makes them want to contribute to the business in a meaningful and deliberate way.
But if you’re not providing that welcoming atmosphere for each and every one of your employees, you’re not going to be maximising their talents. Employees have got to feel like they’re on a level playing field — and without that level playing field, retention will inevitably plummet.
So, how can you build an inclusive work environment that accommodates both remote and office workers?
First, you’ve got to invest in the right tools so that everyone can feel like they’re part of office projects. In many cases, that means team management software that remote workers can use to dial in alongside office teams, so that everybody is in the same “room” together for meetings. This ensures everybody is in the loop and feels they can contribute to important discussions.
Similarly, any hybrid working policies your business creates should consider the personal journeys many of your employees are on.
For example, how flexible are you when it comes to parental leave? How difficult or expensive is it for employees commuting long distances to get into the office? Have you supplied remote workers with proper equipment to get the job done at home?
By answering questions like this as and when they arise, you’ll be able to create a dynamic and flexible working model that makes sure everybody in your business is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This makes you a better leader, and it will make them better employees, too.
Trust is a key element of remote working.
Quite a few corporations have come under fire recently for invading employees’ privacy using employee tracking software that monitors how much workers are typing, what tabs they’ve got open, who they’re talking to, and when. These monitoring strategies often erode trust and make employees want to work less hard.
But trust works two ways, and as an employer, you’ve got to be kept in the loop on what your team members are up to. That’s why an effective remote leader has got to maintain constant lines of inclusive communication tools with each and every employee.
You don’t need to be overbearing about it. All you’ve got to do is make sure you’ve booked regular check-ins with your workers. This could be a virtual call, a quick coffee, or even just firing them a direct message (DM) to see how they’re getting on. This should apply to both the tasks they’re working on, but also their well-being.
If you run a large organisation, you’ll likely need to delegate these regular check-ins to line managers. But you may also want to consider wider initiatives like mentoring opportunities and peer-to-peer learning that can open up new lines of communication and bolster cross-departmental collaboration.
These type of projects help remote workers feel more involved in the company, and they also create chances for talent mobility that otherwise might not have occurred.
Recognise hard work
When employees are out of sight, it’s easy for them to slip out of your mind too. This can lead to the dangerous assumption that everybody is getting on just fine, and the work is just going to keep on getting done like clockwork.
These assumptions often lead to employee resentment. After all, a lot of the thankless tasks your workers do can be incredibly time-consuming and challenging.
When you aren’t watching them complete those tasks in real-time, it’s easy to forget how hard they’re actually working. That’s why you need to make sure hard work always goes rewarded.
To effectively lead a remote team, you need to acknowledge and appreciate the work your team is doing. Traditional recognition tends to take the form of paid time off, bonuses, or raises. Handwritten notes, cards, and gifts don’t go amiss either.
But when you never see your workers in person, you’ve got to be more creative about how and when you show that appreciation. This could mean starting a “quick wins” work thread, where members of staff are directly put into the spotlight in front of their coworkers.
For something more personal, consider a number of virtual or mail order ways to reward your employees. Think Amazon gift cards, a new piece of office tech, or simply a paid afternoon offline. You’ll be surprised just how far a little recognition goes in terms of retaining staff and boosting morale.
Invest in the right technology
At the end of the day, most of the remote leadership strategies we’ve discussed depend on how much you’ve invested in technology.
By “how much”, we aren’t specifically referring to a monetary value. After all, a lot of project management and remote working tools are actually very affordable. But what we do mean is that you’ve got to go all-in on these tools and invest your time and energy to ensure they’re being put to the right uses.
A project management tool is vital to effectively lead a remote team. These tools empower you with a constant, 360-degree view of all of the projects and expenses your business has got on the go at any one time.
They also set up constant lines of communication through direct messaging functionalities, and allow collaboration by setting up project cards that employees can use to chat, attach files and assign subtasks.
There are a lot of decent competitors in the project management sector.
Many web apps and in-browser project management tools operate “freemium” models that let you use basic functions without paying a penny. But if you want to add above a certain number of collaborators or unlock certain functions, you may have to pay a small monthly or annual subscription fee.
Industry leaders include services like monday.com, Trello, ClickUp, Basecamp, and Workfront — but there are literally hundreds of options out there.
To find the right tool for your team, first, consult your staff members on what tools they need to work effectively both at home and in the office. You can then develop a “wish list” which can be cross-referenced against each provider until you arrive at an affordable and scalable solution that ticks all the boxes.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember this list isn’t exhaustive.
What’s going to work for one company and its employees may not work for you. So, it’s important that you open up lines of communication with all of your stakeholders to make sure you understand what your workers need.
But as long as you’re being inclusive, engaging with your employees, and showing them the appreciation they deserve, you’ll be well on your way to leading your remote or hybrid team more effectively.
Just remember, to maintain those open lines of communication and keep admin processes powering forward, you’ll also need to invest in the right tools or professional virtual office services, to lay down the foundations upon which your remote working culture will be built.
Want to learn more about leadership strategies and remote working? Check out the Blue Square Offices blog. You’ll find guidance on working from home, hiring remote workers from overseas, and much more.