Remote employees work better — and do more for their teams — when they feel empowered and supported.
That’s a key finding of a Harvard Business Review study that tied employee creativity (and creative output) to their employers’ efforts to empower them. And it’s no secret that employers discovered the importance of empowering offsite employees in a big way during the coronavirus pandemic. According to Bevy’s 2021 Community Industry Report, a majority of enterprises saw community support teams — their internal empowerment engines — as more essential during the pandemic. Most added resources to those teams after going remote in early 2020.
Are you doing enough to empower your remote teams? If not, here’s a road map to make it happen.
1. Give Every Remote Employee the Tools They Need to Do Their Jobs
When you hire a remote employee or transition an onsite employee into a remote role, you ask them to transform their home into an extension of your office.
For that transformation to be successful, the employee needs a setup worthy of your office. That means enterprise-grade Internet, not “just good enough” home broadband. It means a multifunctional workstation that allows them to sit, stand, and move about as they choose. It means high-quality computing equipment that you can trust, not an aging personal laptop laden with grayware and possibly worse.
This all adds up to a significant upfront investment in each remote employee. But it’s essential to knit the employee into the fabric of your company and help them perform at peak potential. It’s an investment that will pay off many times over if and when the employee becomes (or remains) a productive member of your team.
2. Host Regular Check-ins With Team Leads
In a larger organization, it’s impractical for senior leadership to check in regularly with every remote employee. It’s not even desirable; executives have better things to do than converse directly about day-to-day issues with junior employees. (However, management should absolutely establish feedback channels for juniors. More on that in a moment.)
Senior leaders do need to check in frequently with team leads. Weekly is a logical frequency, but you might find twice monthly or even monthly works better. These check-ins should be in real-time (phone or video chat) rather than asynchronous. Ask your leads what they need and what they’re hearing from their direct reports.
3. Have Teams Meet Weekly (Or More Often)
Teams themselves should meet in real-time at least once per week. A relatively high meeting frequency is important when teams work closely together on projects whose success depends on everyone rowing in the same direction.
Team leads do need to be careful to keep high-touch management from devolving into micromanagement, which is anything but empowering for lower-level employees.
4. Create Clear But Fair Expectations Around Deliverables
Micromanagement serves no one. Clear but fair expectations around deliverables, on the other hand, ensure everyone works toward the same goals and holds to the same accountability standards.
Every leader should set expectations with direct reports directly on a quarterly basis (or more frequently as needs demand it). They should devote part of each check-in to measuring deliverables against these expectations. For expectations that involve hard deadlines, leaders need to keep a close eye on progress. Gantt charts and other progress measurement tools are useful here and may actively empower visual learners on the team.
5. Don’t Require Remote Employees to Be “On the Clock” Other Than for Required Meetings or Events
Don’t hold remote employees to regular, scheduled working hours. The clear but fair expectations you’ve set for them should stand in for a set schedule. That is, if those expectations are substantive enough to support full-time work week in and week out but not so demanding as to require two full-time-equivalent employees.
Employees feel empowered when they’re able to set their own work schedules around whatever else is happening in their lives. And thanks to asynchronous communication tools like workplace chat and recorded video, it’s rarely necessary for them to be on the clock for the entirety of the 9-to-5 workday in their time zone (mandatory meetings and company events excepted).
6. Use a “Suggestion Box” to Collect Anonymous Feedback About the Remote Experience
Empower your employees to tell you how it’s going, even if they don’t report to you directly.
Every junior employee should have every senior manager’s direct phone number. Perhaps not a personal number, but one meant to collect input about work-life at the company. This by itself isn’t enough to ensure steady feedback, since many lower-ranking employees won’t ever feel comfortable reaching out to senior leadership directly.
That’s where a “suggestion box” or its digital equivalent proves useful as a means of collecting anonymous, candid information that employees might not feel comfortable sharing in a team meeting. Think about how best to set up this pipeline and then do it as soon as possible.
Work Better Together, Even When You’re Apart
Use these six strategies to help your teams work better, even when they’re apart. As you implement them, you might just find that they have other benefits too, like strengthening your company’s internal culture and shining up its reputation for fostering community. Those benefits could lead to a stronger pipeline of more qualified candidates and better retention down the line — all because you went all-in on empowering your teams in the first place.