There’s been a dramatic change in the ways we do business since the pandemic, one that has challenged many entrepreneurs. Traditionally, we traveled to a place of work — a set office location. With few exceptions (such as ecommerce or startups), this has been the case for the better part of 100 years, during which many companies have attempted to reduce their footprint away from traditional brick-and-mortar office space, typically without much success.
Mandated shutdowns and social distancing completely changed this paradigm. At the same time, many employees began to understand the true benefit of a work-life balance. This mindset shift wasn’t necessarily due to the number of hours they were putting into their job, but more to do with the ancillary responsibilities around working.
In many cases, employees spend an hour or more each day commuting, incur costs for parking and other externals, and experience various office-based distractions. Just like so many other things in life, when we see how good something can be, we don’t want to go backwards. In addition, the remote shift has made it possible to live and work in less populated and/or costly areas.
This freedom generated a new challenge, because today there is such a premium on talent that many can dictate the terms in which they’ll work. The days of the leverage being in favor of the employer are no longer, in favor of a mutual leverage structure. To attract the top talent, an offer that includes working remotely — at least partly — may be the key going forward. This is not necessarily new to certain functions, but for administration, finance and HR as well as a host of other areas, it can be a seismic change.
Adapting to these evolutions requires a shift in current management paradigms. Many companies have managed remote work forces for years successfully (it’s common, for example, to have outside sales professionals working out of their homes), but what needs to change is how we manage many teams’ objectives and performance, as well as their communication channels.
To be truly successful when managing a remote workforce, we must create clarity in five key areas.
1. Clarity of expectations
We commonly see a disconnect between what a manager believes team members should be focusing on and what the team believes. This requires better long-range planning and exceptional communication, as well as an understanding among staff of the strategic direction and mission (aka the businesses “why”). This not only involves detailing what has to be accomplished, but also the impact each area of responsibility has on both the success of the organization and its team members.
2. Clarity of systems
Since remote staff will inherently be more isolated, knowing the available communication, goal-tracking and other operational systems and how to maximize their use is essential. These help create leverage for time-efficiency and performance. For each person to maximize their output and effectiveness, they must utilize such systems adeptly and consistently.
3. Clarity of accountability
The ability to see real-time and accurate measurement of key performance indicators (KPIs) will allow team members to constantly adjust to meet objectives. It will also enable the management team to view areas where an employee may need additional skills training to perform needed tasks.
4. Clarity of training
With the implementation of new systems, communication tools and responsibilities, a well-defined and ongoing training program is essential. Utilization of different modes of training (such as videos) will be additionally important. A remote workforce can work both earlier and later than traditional business hours, so having access to a video that outlines an infrequently used report, for example, can make the difference between success and utter frustration.
5. Clarity of culture
I define culture as the way a company thinks, the way it acts and the way it interacts, and it’s truly foundational to either success or failure. Since we are now more isolated, it can be much easier to lose our connections to the company and its coworkers. For those not in a traditional office setting, fostering a good culture means creating integrated ways of working and being more deliberate and intentional in communications generally, emphasizing clear expectations at every step.
These areas of clarity are important if the entire team is under one roof, let alone if it’s spread out all over the country. In a traditional office setting employees can pick up skills at least partly through osmosis, but a remote staff will not have those opportunities and will have to be supported additionally. Gaining clarity in these areas will create a structure that will retain employees longer and enhance both performance and profits.