Okay, I get it. Now how can I make it work? I have numerous questions and here are just a few:
- How can I manage the staff?
- How do I even know they are working?
- What about collaboration?
- What about company engagement?
- There are more….
Relax, it works. We at Edoc Service have been doing this for over 17 years and we haven’t imploded yet. Here are some simple guidelines to consider:
Start with culture
Remote workers must believe in the company and what the company does. Every company should have a compelling purpose that filters down to staff at all levels. There also has to be a culture of trust and the trust has to be two-way. There is your starting point. If these do not exist in your company, stop here, the remote structure will fail.
When it comes to hiring, hire for a cultural fit first, skills second. When your team is culturally connected there is an implied trust factor. You need not worry about whether or not they are working; they are driven!
It is all about the team
Remote workers function best when they are part of a team. In fact, I believe it is the only way a remote structure can succeed. The crux of having a remote workforce is having a group of self-managing professionals. Teams thrive on success. Non-contributors provide a weak link to the team and the motivated members will not tolerate it. There will be a tribal council and the laggard will leave. With a strong team infrastructure, little the need is to worry about productivity or work time. Concern over “a good days work for a good days pay” is relevant. The solution is hiring only self-managing professionals so you can forget it. The teams themselves will make it work.
The teams should be connected to the company
You are 75% there with the culture fit. Close the loop by making the team members a part of the business. Do they know business principles from an entrepreneurial point of view? Teach them. Open your financials and bring them into the “unknown land of the accounting and financial results and projections”, make them a part of the process. Give them ownership in the business results (no not equity, the results) and treat them as partners in company success. One presenter at a leadership conference I attended recently said, “teach all your staff how to be entrepreneurs and then figure out how to keep them”. This is great advice in my view.
The collaboration factor
The biggest challenge to date in going remote is the process of collaboration, including spontaneous collaboration. At Edoc Service, we utilize Go to Meeting including video presence so we can see one another while we meet. We find this works well and we don’t lose dynamics from body language in a physical setting. We augment this with physical gatherings throughout the year. We plan to be more strategic regarding this in 2014. Yes, it is an ongoing endeavor and process and we are continuing to experiment.
Remote does not always mean “at home”
There are many alternatives to the home office. There is a vast amount of open office space in most locales. Coffee shops and many fast food places offer Wi-Fi thus encouraging work in their businesses. Many hotel lobbies are designed for this. You are actually doing the business a favor by working at these locations as it provides them an image of “vibrancy” during off-peak times. Be respectful however. I once observed a worker in a Panera Bread establishment with a large screen set up on a table; this appeared to me to be a little over the top. Working through a lunch or dinner period when tables are scarce can be rude as well. One obvious point is to patronize the establishment. Taking advantage of facilities without making a purchase speaks poorly for yourself and your company.
Let’s face it, when working remote, the world is your oyster! What freedom!
The village is out there for those willing to accept it. Jump on the train or respond here with a good reason not to!
Jim Mullaney is President/CEO of Edoc Service, Inc. a total virtual company.