How to Thrive in the World of Remote Work
In an article we shared back in January, we argued that even though the worst threat of Covid has (almost) gone, the remote/hybrid* (*henceforth, we will state 'remote' only to include both cases) work model will stay with us for a while.
The world of remote work has indeed opened a new chapter for lots of companies. The most distinguished characteristic is its flexibility. Employees are usually given a measure of freedom to adjust their work hours to accommodate their daily lives more effectively. Got a dental appointment? No problem, you can have it even if it is before 5 pm. Quickly need to give a ride to your child? Totally doable. (That is, of course, when you don't have any meeting or event at the same time.) Many pieces of research have proved that remote work is beneficial for deep work and productivity. For example, they don't need to go through painful commutes and be pulled into unnecessary meetings. As a result, many work-from-home workers can get much more things done in a relatively shorter period of time.
Remote work is not without its challenges, however. The biggest challenge is decreased connectivity. Because you don't get to meet your bosses and colleagues in person a lot, it is very easy to feel isolated. They can easily feel no one really 'cares' about them and, therefore, they don't need to care about the company's culture and values either.
People are your most valuable asset. It must be a leader's priority to find good ways to maximize the benefits of remote work while mitigating its challenges.
For the last decade, our company has remarkably been growing fast. We welcomed several top talents who would mainly be working from home. Like most companies, this new change was dramatically accelerated during the pandemic. Today, we have a significant portion of our team members working from home. Wherever they may be located, their daily contribution and achievement are vital to our company's successful operation every day.
It took us quite some time and effort to find ways to connect efficiently with remote members. In this article, we would like to share three lessons we've learned through our journey so far. This list is not final. We are still learning and growing, constantly shifting our angle to find the best way that serves everyone better. If you have any good advice, suggestion, or even critique, please leave them in the comment. We are all learning from each other!
Ensure your work reflects the culture you advocate
Many companies often boast a huge, highly decorated plate in the lobby or the boardroom that shows everyone the core values of the organization. This is a great way to remind employees what they, as one body, stand for. However, we've seen our share of cases where that only became an eyesore: If those values are not diligently put into practice, they only become hollow cries.
We need to re-determine and shift our definition of 'space.' For remote workers, it does not matter how much money one has spent on the interiors of your company. For them, the space from which they need to feel the values and characteristics of the company is the virtual workspace they log in to each day.
Let us give you an example. Your company may argue that it cares how every employee's voice is heard and efficiency is the centre of every operation. When remote employees have issues with work, can you confidently say that you are providing them with a safe and comfortable place to voice their thoughts? Are you providing a transparent process system where a reported issue is adequately taken care of and also can be checked out whenever requested? For efficiency, you can only 'truly' say so when your methodologies are fair (ie. practically democratic/adhocratic approaches as opposed to bureaucratic that only favours a few) and your technical systems are mainly glitch-free.
Remember, we are all human
One of the common yet most brutal mistakes that companies with remote workers make is treating them as if they are AI robots. It is so because you don't get to see them (physically) often. In many cases, chatting is the most common way you 'talk' with them and this way of communication is highly flat and one-dimensional compared to the one done face-to-face. When you lose the other person's all non-verbal cues such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, etc., you may respond to him/her rashly or abruptly. This might give out wrong impressions down the line.
The easiest fix is to always remember that you are 'talking' to people each time you receive and send a message. Don't ignore messages for a long time for no reason; For the other person on the line, it may portray a strong picture of disrespect. If you need to answer their messages at a later time, let them know that their messages are received and when they will get your response. Go the extra mile for clarification whenever needed. Remember that how you say to your colleagues whether in person or online determines how they view you and your company. Thoroughly inspect their communication lines to see if there are any toxic workers who negatively influence them and if so, remove their influence as soon as possible.
Remote usually have very few workplace interactions. As a result, each physical exchange leaves a stronger and longer impact. Whenever they visit the office, especially when they are relatively new to the company, make sufficient time for them to walk around the office, introduce other workers in the office, and build rapport with them. Make intentional efforts to get to know them. If possible, throw events occasionally such as a bowling night, a movie night, a beach bbq, etc. in which remote employees can come and network.
Draw the big picture and let them do the rest
With the remote/hybrid work model, you can't enforce a strong corporate culture on everyone. Remote workers are not in your physical proximity. They will form their own autonomous cells with distinct microcultures. Defining and controlling these microcultures are clearly out of your control.
As a leader, the best thing you can do is to draw a big, clear picture for everyone to see and constantly refer to. Then let the remote employees and teams decide what specific strategies and methods they need to take for their own, unique needs.
A good leader is someone who gives his/her valued team members a safe, reasonable space and resources to try, fail, learn from their failures, and try again. Refrain from the temptation to barge in and push them to follow your way even if things seem to take a long time or their approaches are particularly not to your liking. If your team members are trustworthy, competent, and reliable employees, they will utilize their creativity and critical thinking skills to find the best fit that works ultimately for everyone on the team. Your job there is to supervise that the big picture is kept and encourage employees to spread their wings within that.