Waterloo disruption: How to manage a remote team

Some pointers on how to cope when lots of your staff are working from home.

by Jason Downes
Last Updated: 09 Aug 2017

As the impact of the Waterloo Station upgrade work kicks in, commuters and employers are coming to terms with a large section of London’s rail network being severely disrupted for the majority of August.

But the changes should be seen not as an inconvenience to both employers and employees, but as an opportunity to increase productivity by trying different ways of working. Remote working has clear business benefits: research from Stanford University has found that remote workers are 13% more productive, take fewer sick days and benefit from a quieter working environment.

As an employer, there’s no better time to reap the benefits of a flexible workforce than when disruption is set to throw commuters out of their daily routine. However, many business leaders remain unsure about how to manage a team working remotely. Here are a few pointers:

Communication is key

Establishing how you will communicate with team members while they are working flexibly is fundamental to a productive and effective flexible working strategy. Many leaders’ reservations stem from concerns about how they will communicate with employees when teams aren’t all in the office.
The key is to implement a formal internal communication plan for the team during remote working periods. This internal plan should clearly set out how employees are expected to keep in touch with the rest of their team throughout the day, whether that be by phone, email or instant message platforms such as slack – and how often they need to do so.

Check in on progress without micro-managing

One of the biggest barriers to employers embracing remote and flexible working is concern that employees won’t be as productive. But research we conducted revealed that over half of employees (53%) think they would actually be more productive if they could spend some time working away from the office.

With employers’ scepticism about flexible working comes a tendency to micro-manage – which employees resent. Rather than control, managers should be focusing on trust: inspiring their team to manage their own time and work in a way which suits them best will support a positive remote working environment. Providing clear targets and internal deadlines where employees can manage their own time, is even more important when employees are working remotely.

Measures to maintain team rapport

For companies with team members who work flexibly for the majority of their time, it’s important to put extra effort into building and maintaining team rapport. Remote workers can often become isolated, so it’s imperative to make colleagues feel like they are contributing to the success of both the team and the company as a whole. Quick round-up emails of what’s been going on across the company, team highlights and progress updates will help employees see how they are working towards a bigger picture.

It’s also important to encourage ‘watercooler moments’ – having a team channel for sharing non-work related messages can go a long way to maintaining a community feeling and motivation. Of course, any remote working strategy should include face-to-face catch-ups, but remembering to continue with team socials at convenient locations will also keep your team cohesive and motivated.

Utilising new technology

With the technology needed to facilitate flexible working now readily available, employers have no real excuse to refrain from offering employees the opportunity to work in an environment that suits them and allows them to work more productively. Instant messaging platforms, conference technology and collaborative working tools all allow employees to work from locations that suit them best, without reducing overall productivity or hindering effective working relationships.

Jason Downes is founder of the Smarter Working Initiative and MD of Powwownow


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