Allowing employees to work remotely can be a huge benefit to their personal lives and is an active way to demonstrate trust and show you value their contribution. However, person-to-person collaboration is still very much a vital part of business as well. How do we balance collaboration and remote work, and should we allow employees to work from home?
How Many Companies Allow Employees to Work From Home?
According to the US Census, 5.2% of US-based employees worked from home in 2017. This means US companies collectively allow employees to work from home to the tune of 8 million people. The trend is driven by employees desire to increase work-life balance, lower their gas costs, and reduce commute times, but companies benefit as well. Companies benefit by reducing real estate expenses and increasing their potential talent pool by removing geographical limitations that come with centralized offices.
The change hasn’t been without concern, however. And I must admit remote-work concerns me as well. I know the power of in-person collaboration because I use it often in my own communications consulting work. It is very powerful, especially when you actively listen to body language. So, how do effective companies do it? I asked remote-work pro, Vicki Brackett.
A major misunderstanding is many leaders have is not comprehending remote worker management is very different from in-person management. Vicki Brackett works with companies that decide to allow employees to work from home and wrote the book The Leadership Toolbox.
“They don’t truly understand that work-at-home leadership and managing people is different. And it is for obvious reasons, that we can’t see them and see the people we manage, but we can’t read their body language.” Brackett explained. “Managing takes a whole different approach and you have to be very conscious in how you do it.”
The one big concern about work-from-home employees – Vicki Brackett
She’s right. It’s, for this reason, I require my communications clients to meet face to face on our first meeting. But what of a large remote work staff? Because you can’t simply fly everyone frequently, Brackett says boosting your emotional intelligence is key in every organization’s effort to allow employees to work from home. That might sound like a pixie-dust philosophical idea, but it’s fairly doable and practical.
Boosting your emotional intelligence in the context of managing remote workers, looks like using caution and watching the behavior of those on your team. Noticing employees who are typically chatty, suddenly not engaged is a big red flag but there are other behaviors leaders need to look for when they allow employees to work from home. Seeing people’s responsiveness decrease, or take longer to answer questions; watching people come late to chat or virtual meetings; vanishing from conversations early; and making sure to pay attention to the language they use. Is it hopeless or hope-filled?
How Leaders Can Boost Emotional Intelligence – Vicki Brackett
Natural Collaboration With Remote Workers
Natural collaboration is at risk with remote workers, but it doesn’t have to be a major loss. “Because natural collaboration does take a hit, it’s up to leadership to make more frequent touches in various methods,” Brackett explains. This is where video and specifically phone comes into play. We all know how tempting it can be to simply fire off an email and check something off our list. It’s easy when leaders can later clarify in the hall or at the next meeting, but remote workers don’t have this luxury. Therefore, other communication methods are necessary.
“It’s constant; what I call touching people. You’re on the phone with them, you’re texting them, you’re keeping them engaged” Brackett explains. “I always tell leaders, ‘pick up the phone’ because here’s what’s happened: the world has become technical but our human heart hasn’t. So, we need to connect with people and we do that by the telephone and video.” It’s simple advice, but it’s extremely significant when you understand how written communication can be received.
Getting around natural collaboration hang-ups for remote workers – Vicki Brackett
Everyone knows the fear that comes over them when the boss emails “hey, I need to talk with you before you leave today.” Vague conversations that leave room for interpretation cause fear all day long, even when nothing is wrong. Because of this, leaders need to be very careful and even more so for remote workers.
Some employees, when threatened, could seek comfort from their colleagues explaining their discomfort to several others. Now, instead of just one person being affected, the entire team might be concerned about their colleague. This is avoidable and to keep this from happening, leaders can build what Brackett calls a “safe container.”
A safe container is created when work from home managers make frequent calls, emails, texts, and messages and are transparent in job performance and tasks. If you’re hearing regularly with your boss and they do say “hey touch base with me…” it’s not the slightest bother because people already feel confident in their relationship with their leadership.
Using caution with digital communication – Vicki Brackett
Do You Want To Work From Home?
Most people are employees, so what how can they convince their boss to allow them to work from home? Brackett explains this is actually quite straightforward. When you do ask, make sure to ask within the company and your boss’s best interest.
Sometimes it helps to come alongside other workers to pitch the added efficiency, and productivity, solving your boss’s problems in the process. Make sure to use data and research. As a team, approach your boss with a plan that can help him or her accomplish his goals. This is the best way to transition yourself to a work from home model.
When leaders allow employees to work from home, it can be beneficial for all parties, but the bottom line is that they need to understand remote workers must be managed differently. Paying careful attention to behavior and making frequent touches not only increases the quality of life for at-home workers but increases productivity as well.