Remote work opportunities are an increasingly common feature in modern organizations, and for good reason. Remote work isn't simply a great perk for attracting new talent — there are countless benefits this arrangement offers the organization.
Disengaged employees cost companies billions worldwide, and research from Gallup shows that remote employees not only log more hours on average, they are slightly more engaged overall, and had the lowest tendency to be actively disengaged.
Top talent is also more accessible in a remote work situation.
You're at an immediate disadvantage when asking someone to leave their home behind and move to a new city, state, or even country. Unless they're already planning on moving, that factor alone is going to weigh heavy on their decision to join your team.
In many cases, you'll need to provide a relocation stipend as well. Offering opportunities for remote work is a great way to spark the interest of the best in the field, and keep them satisfied.
Need help bringing in the right people? Read our guide on evaluating and hiring remote workers.
Modern employees appreciate autonomy
Some employees work most effectively in an office chair, but others are more effective in their living room or a coffee shop. Remote employees gain a valuable sense of autonomy from the freedom to choose which of those settings works best for them at any given time.
Remote workers save space and resources
Although it's both culturally and logistically important for remote workers to have a place in your office that they can come to when necessary, it doesn't need to be a permanent office. This can dramatically cut the expenses associated with maintaining a static physical space for every employee every day.
All these great benefits don't come without their own challenges, but by deliberately building an excellent remote work program, you'll be able to overcome most of them.
So what does it take to build an effective program for remote employees?
Communication is the most important element of a great remote working program. If you're planning on building one, or improving the program you already have, this should be the first item on your checklist.
There are some amazing communication tools available that either didn't exist, or weren't entirely feasible even five years ago. Here are a few that we've found useful in our own remote work program.
No, not an inter-dimensional bridge between two black holes that provides instantaneous travel between to points in spacetime. Technology hans't advanced that far yet. The principal is the same though — with internet bandwidth as plentiful as it is, you can create a persistent video conference or hangout between remote teams.
This is a great tool for facilitating those impromptu conversations that come up amongst colleagues working together. It also helps maintain a pretty visceral sense of presence.
If you're still using email as your primary means of communication amongst team members, your remote work program is going to be at a disadvantage. Although there is still a place and time for email communication, there are much more effective tools for team collaboration.
Slack and HipChat are both immensely useful tools that expand dramatically on old-school email functionalities and create a lively, up-to-the-millisecond mode of communication that really breaks down the sense of distance between remote locations in a meaningful way.
Speed isn't the only thing these platforms offer, though — they're also great ways to share all kinds of files, and both have a huge list of integrations and "bots" that expand their capabilities in a way that transforms them from a simple replacement for email or instant messaging.
For example, it's possible (and easy) to integrate peer-to-peer recognition platforms like Bonusly with Slack and HipChat, so that everyone on the team stays up to date on the great work their colleagues are doing, and instantly receive recognition for their own contributions.
Tracking progress, measuring results
Because people aren't working directly together anymore, there's much less room for micromanagement, but with that immense improvement comes a new responsibility for tracking progress.
Google famously adopted a system of measuring Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs. OKRs publicly state the most ambitious and overarching goals each employee is working toward, and regularly measure the progress made toward those goals. In Google's case, that measurement is based on a 0-1 scale.
These aren't to be confused with employee evaluations, as a consistently perfect score of "1" wouldn't mean the employee is performing perfectly, it would imply their OKR wasn't ambitious enough.
Progress tracking tools like iDoneThis are a great way of measuring smaller increments of progress by regularly sharing "dones," or tasks a team member has completed with their colleagues. It's a great way to support asynchronous work schedules between employees on other sides of the world.
Project management suites like Trello are priceless in helping remote teams keep track up to date on what has been done, where everyone is at in their projects, and what's on the burner next. We use Trello to keep up to speed on the new projects our Pixel Fiddler (design specialist), who lives thousands of miles away, is working on.
Remote employees still benefit from celebrating success — it's crucial to involve them in the recognition and accolades you give — not just to them, but to their colleagues as well. Their physical distance can sometimes pose a challenge, but there are many great tools and techniques that can help.
It's important to have a forum where everyone can share in the success of the team. Peer-to-peer recognition is one of the easiest ways to maintain an atmosphere of shared success. Colleagues who work more closely with remote employees can publicly recognize their contributions, and this positive feedback loop works both ways. Remote workers also gain insight into the contributions their colleagues are being recognized for.
Finally, make sure remote employees feel like they're genuinely sharing in positive experiences with others. Although they may prefer to work remotely, that doesn't mean they want to be left out.
Find ways to include remote employees in daily team activities, but also try to get everyone together face-to-face now and then. Company offsites, especially in a location that is new to everyone, are a great way of achieving this, and providing a memorable shared experience.
Our entire team always looks forward to the next time we all get together for an offsite. If it isn't possible to bring everyone together in one physical location, get creative with other ways you can get your team together online.
Remote work is a reality in the modern business landscape — you can either build a great program for it or lose out on some great employees. Hopefully, reading this has given you some good ideas, and a head start on building or improving your own.
Ready to learn more? Read our 10 Tips for Being a Happy and Successful Remote Worker.