At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies quickly transitioned to working remotely—a decision intended to be temporary and short lived. After several years of working remotely, many companies have made the transition to permanent hybrid or remote work cultures. In fact, a recent report from Upwork reveals that remote work will continue to rise, estimating that 40.7 million American professionals will be working fully remote in the next five years.
Businesses are scaling their tools and optimizing their offices to usher in this new era of remote work. However, managing remote workforces over the long term takes more than just providing employees with equipment and tools to work from home. The ultimate goal is to do more than “get by'' and instead thrive from the benefits of a remote workforce. Upwork shares in their Future Workforce Report that 67% of surveyed businesses are now making more management updates post-COVID. To build on these management efforts and make the most of remote work, we’ve outlined three critical factors that are central to successful, long-term remote workforce management.
Factor 1: Enhancing Productivity
A business transitioning to remote work must maintain its profits in the process, and at the end of the day that means maintaining productivity. For many, this is happening organically. According to a survey of 10,000 employees conducted by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, employees reported they were “just as productive working from home compared to working in the office.” In fact, 30% of respondents reported being more productive working from home. Add that to the estimated 9 billion aggregate hours of commuting time saved between March 2020 and September 2020, and that’s quite a time savings! Time that usually goes back into working for the company.
But some companies, like Microsoft, argue this is a temporary phenomenon and that collaboration, creativity, and, ultimately, productivity will suffer in the long run if businesses don’t take steps to actively manage their remote workforces.
Right now, businesses can enhance productivity by encouraging employees to care for their mental health, take regular breaks, follow a schedule, and create boundaries in their physical and virtual work environments. And in the long run, regular communication and employee surveys can go a long way in staying connected to your workforce and knowing when they need additional support.
Factor 2: Enhancing Efficiency
Efficiency takes productivity a step further. When businesses focus on efficiency, they are not only concerned about output but also the energy and resources exhausted to get the work done. Employees who are efficient make good use of their time and don’t get burned out as quickly.
A survey by Airtasker reports that remote employees worked 1.4 days more than office-based employees every month, totalling almost 17 days every year. When employees work efficiently, they don’t need to put in these extra hours, leaving more time in the day for things like exercise, lunch, and meditation; activities that increase creativity and focus for when they return to their computers. A healthier, happier workforce will take less sick days and produce quality work without the burnout. This makes remote work more sustainable for your employees over the long term.
How can you help your employees gain the skills to be efficient? By training them to work smarter, not harder. One time-tested strategy for training employees to be more efficient is Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique. It goes like this:
- Choose the task you need to get done.
- Set a timer (25 minutes is recommended).
- Work on the task until time runs out.
- Write down that you’ve completed that work session.
- Take a short break (about 10 minutes).
- Every 4 sessions, take a longer break (about 20 or 30 minutes).
Arming your employees with techniques like this will improve efficiency and make remote work sustainable for your organization.
Factor 3: Enhancing Engagement
Lastly, a critical factor in remote workforce management is employee engagement. In a 2021 Gallup poll, only 34 percent of the 57,022 employees surveyed reported feeling engaged at work; this is a 2% drop from the previous year and the first time employee engagement has dropped year-over-year in a decade.
The good news? Managers have a lot of influence over employee engagement. According to Gallup, miscommunication, poor collaboration, and uncertainty about relationships drives down employee engagement for remote workers. A way to combat these side effects is by giving employees frequent, meaningful feedback. In the Gallup poll, remote employees who strongly agreed they received meaningful feedback in the past week were 4.6 times more likely to be engaged than those who did not strongly agree. When remote employees know where they stand with their manager, they feel better connected to work, even from a distance.
A New Era
Remote work is here to stay and millions of workers around the world are finding better balance in its flexibility. To make this new way of working sustainable, businesses must intentionally manage the productivity, efficiency, and engagement of their remote workforce. Doing so will yield better outcomes for employees and businesses. Begin now with simple, daily actions—encouraging breaks, training employees, and giving feedback—and you’ll be off to a great start.
To reinforce these best practices, consider outsourcing your essential business tasks to the expert remote team at SupportNinja.