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10 secrets to a successful remote workforce

10 secrets to a successful remote workforce Jay Friedman

Depending on who you are, a remote workforce either sounds like a fantastic idea or pure madness. Both employers and employees can have these opposing emotions, too. Employers are often excited by the prospects of decreased employee turnover and reduced overhead, yet they can simultaneously fear potential productivity loss. Some employees see only positives, while others fear a loss of camaraderie with their coworkers and endless hours alone. Can there be a happy medium where a remote workplace works for everyone? There sure can. Here are 10 secrets -- five for employers and five for employees -- to ensure remote workforces thrive.

Employers: Hire right

Some positions must work from home. An individual who is the lone employee in a specific market, such as a sales representative, is a good example. Whether the position you're hiring for must be remote or has the option for a virtual presence, it's important to hire correctly. Personality assessments, such as the DiSC or MBTI, are great ways to get insights into a candidate's work style and encourage more introspective questions during the interview process to determine what truly motivates the candidate. Always be sure their motivations line up with sentiments they'll most likely experience in a remote environment.

Employers: Set clear expectations for employees

The HR-friendly version is, "You must be able to provide yourself with a work environment that is free from distractions during normal business hours." What it's really saying is, "Working from home is not a substitute for child care, is not a time to have movies on in the background, and is not the place for loud dogs." It's also important to establish business hours during which the employee is required to be available and responsive via IM, email, or phone. Don't play a guessing game; make it crystal clear.

Employers: Get together the right way

At Goodway Group, we've turned the act of getting together into a celebration rather than a requirement. Twice a year -- summers in Deer Valley, Utah, and a holiday party in Vegas or Orlando -- we fly the entire company in to be together for a full week. It's intense. Meetings and activities are all day, every day. But every survey we deploy tells us people cherish this time together and make new friends every single trip.

Employers: Culture needs to be steered

This holds true in an office environment as well, but there are nuances to steering your culture remotely. Employees won't see their managers' body language as often and will read more into tone, whether spoken or written. Not only will people read into it, but they'll instant message about it with their colleagues, which adds yet another layer of missed queues. A more open and transparent culture around the organization's financials, significant terminations, and recent promotions gives remote companies a greater chance for success, but this philosophy must already be ingrained in your cultural DNA.

Employers: Manage by objective, not time

While employers need to set clear business-hour expectations, it's important to understand that an employee's presence isn't the only indicator of success. This applies to in-office employees too, but becomes obvious and necessary when managing remote staff. The easiest way to hold them accountable is to develop a counter-balancing system of workload and performance objectives. For example, require that your campaign managers handle "x" accounts each month and "y" revenue, but also expect them to maintain "z" client retention numbers. With this approach, you'll see people expertly balance their work and time. This practice can be recreated for any role in the company, from accounts payable to media trader.

Employees: You're at work

You've likely already read about creating a designated work space so you can "turn it off" during personal time. This line of thinking is important, but it has been written about many times before. Taking it one step further, it's important to treat the time you're working as truly being at work. Others outside the company often think that since you're at home, you're available. You're not, and it's important to communicate that. Friends who ask to be taken to the airport or kids that need picking up shouldn't be treated any differently than if you were in a corporate office building.

Employees: Work-life balance advantage

We already covered that working from home doesn't mean working on the side while taking care of little ones or home chores. The expectation is that you're working when you're scheduled to be working. The advantage of working remotely is that you're saving yourself a commute, and spend that extra time on home matters. Of course, in our day and age, we're all expected to keep an eye on time-sensitive matters during most of our waking hours. However, the reality is that true off-hour urgencies are far and few. Remote employees can typically enjoy most of the extra time they get in the mornings and evenings to family, friends, and life in general.

Employees: Take breaks

Tying into the work-life balance theme, you absolutely must take breaks in a home office environment. The human brain is not wired to work eight hours straight, or even three or four hours straight. This applies to office environments too, but the breaks at home are more fun. Go hang out with your dog for 10 minutes, play a game on your phone, or walk around the block. I take frequent breaks throughout the day with the knowledge that I'm checking for time-sensitive emails early in the morning and at night.

Employees: Be video-ready

Despite being entirely remote, we don't video chat all that much at Goodway. But there are times when it is the best way to communicate, and if that's what the situation calls for and you are unpresentable, it gets awkward quickly. No one wants to wait while you get dressed or do your hair. This doesn't mean you need to be ready for a gala at a moment's notice -- most people I video chat with are in a baseball hat and glasses, regardless of gender! It also goes without saying, don't forget to pick up a separate webcam and earpiece to avoid echoes.

Employees: Managing up is even more important

Managing up is always important. Managing your boss and sometimes even your boss's boss will improve your career prospects. However, in a remote environment, setting expectations and clearly communicating your goals, aspirations, and preferences is slightly more challenging and that much more meaningful. A number of different books on Amazon offer insightful reviews on this topic, including "Managing Your Manager," "It's Okay to Manage Your Boss," and "Suddenly in Charge." 

As a boss with a dozen direct reports, it's important to me that my direct reports keep thorough records of their accomplishments and progress against goals. While I'd love to do it all myself -- OK, no I wouldn't -- my team members who proactively do this make it easier for me to have meaningful career progression discussions and provide specific feedback at review time. Moreover, this concept goes beyond goals and employee reviews; anything you can do to better organize information for your leaders is a winning tactic.

As someone who runs both the strategic and operational sides of a 300-plus person, fully remote organization, I can tell you there are challenges to our environment that don't exist in an office, but the same is true in reverse. Starting with these 10 secrets will put you far down the path to success with any size organization or remote team.

Jay Friedman is COO of Goodway Group, and a partner in the 3rd-generation family company founded by Milton Wolk in 1929. Friedman joined in 2006 to add a digital media component to Goodway’s offerings, beyond the existing print and promotional...

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