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Remote work requires daily collaboration from teams of people often separated by hundreds of miles, if not more. A company’s day-to-day operations are too vital to leave to chance during the transition from site-based to virtual work. Rather than shoehorning the same office protocols into a new format, Jessica Vann, Founder and CEO of Maven Recruiting Group, advises companies to reinvent how they engage with remote workers each day.
“Remote work isn’t going away, so it’s crucial to make the transition work right,” Jessica Vann says. “Rethink your company’s onboarding, communications, meetings, and culture from the ground up. That is the only way to fully integrate employees into a remote workforce.”
Integrating New Hires with Well-Designed Onboarding
Effective remote organizations make a point to integrate new hires with a thorough onboarding process. “It’s not easy to onboard hires remotely,” remarks Vann. “They need more than a welcome email. Onboarding remotely requires employers to be a lot more intentional and organized in how they share information, monitor an employee’s understanding of the concepts or material, and imbue cultural values and norms. At Maven, we have spent considerable time overhauling training documents and materials to make them more user-friendly. To replace some of the live interactions new employees might have had previously, we have created training videos. We’ve overhauled our company intranet to make these things more accessible and searchable. Moreover, we’ve introduced multiple live touch points throughout a person’s onboarding to make sure there is adequate support if there are questions.”
Putting their money where their mouth is, Maven rolled out a dedicated Training & Development Lead to facilitate and shepherd the learning and onboarding experiences of new hires. They initiated creative ways for senior leaders of the company to share their knowledge with more junior members, such as weekly Masterclasses.
Keeping Remote Workers Engaged by Rethinking Work Culture
Each employee has unique needs as they integrate daily operations into their homes work environments. Some are parents, some could work across different time zones, and others may encounter unexpected scheduling conflicts.
“In the office, you could pop in and ask for some advice or a quick moment. However, those days are done. We’ve really had to rethink how people are still able to get that quick touchpoint without having the ability of cruising by someone’s desk.” Vann explains. “Instead of an open door policy, we have an open technology policy. This means our team pings one another throughout the day on chat platforms or text and requests time as needed. A lot of things can be settled in 30-second conversations, but people have to know they can access you. People also have to be accountable to their calendars. For this to work, the expectation needs to be set that people need to be responsive and accountable.”
Keeping Remote Workers Engaged by Promoting Wellness
The benefit of remote work is freedom, but the price of working alone is often a lack of motivation, creativity, and enthusiasm. Activities that get remote employees away from their screens and promote overall wellness can boost their morale and productivity.
Vann suggests creating monthly wellness days, which have been a boon for Maven’s team and culture. She also encourages her team to capitalize on their time off and truly make it time away. While Vann’s company is remote, she also strives for a balance by incorporating in-person time. Vann’s Team has quarterly offsites and team reward days — some of which are remote, some of which are in person ― in addition to having in-person working retreats a few times a year to promote wellness and team camaraderie.
Keeping Remote Employees Engaged by Rethinking Employee/Management Communication
Integrating remote workers into the day-to-day operations involves an overhaul of employee/management communication. Effective communication is all about relationships, and as many managers now know, communicating effectively and fostering relationships with long-distance employees can prove tricky.
“We have a policy of employees being on camera in meetings to encourage active participation and monitor engagement and to ensure the meetings can be as productive as possible. Moreover, as part of their onboarding, we cover meeting etiquette and set expectations for how employees can show up successfully.
“Technology is critical in the day-to-day operations, but we also try to give people time back when possible. We have consolidated the frequency of meetings and shifted to calls or emails when possible. This is because we recognize that meeting fatigue is a very real thing in a remote environment.
Keeping Remote Employees Engaged During Virtual Meetings
Remote meetings were awkward during the early days of the pandemic. However, most people have since adjusted to the new normal. Today, effective virtual meetings can allow people to connect across the ether just as naturally as they do in person.
Before taking meetings online, managers should familiarize themselves with the software. No one enjoys wasting time while supervisors figure out how to set up breakout sessions or share their screens.
Even though virtual meetings have a lot in common with gatherings around a conference table, it is necessary to reinforce some etiquette during the transition. Expectations regarding professional dress, punctuality, and whether or not screens are activated need to be addressed. Before the meeting starts, take a few moments for small talk, and make sure everyone knows each other by making brief introductions. Throughout the meeting, ensure that people feel valued by giving opportunities for them to share and be heard.
“Meetings should have clear agendas so they can be productive, but we also encourage little buffers for laughs for people to connect.”
Keeping Remote Workers Engaged by Establishing a Work-Life Balance
The flexibility of remote work is liberating. However, it can also create ambiguous work conditions that lower employee morale and output. Setting boundaries on the space and time that remote work intrudes on the home helps employees stay engaged and productive during daily operations.
Remote employees need to establish designated workspaces in their homes. “The couch is comfy, but it’s a black hole for remote work,” Vann warns. “When employees create designated workspaces, they must avoid distractions like their TV, fridge, and phone. Their workspaces need to be neat and organized, and so should the main tools of their trades — their computers. Nothing stands in the way of deadlines like clutter.” To support that objective, Maven provides a stipend for new employees to equip their home office. In addition, the company similarly provided that benefit to existing employees once work shifted to home environments.
When setting boundaries to protect work/life balance, scheduling is critical. Writing out to-do lists, establishing regular work hours, and keeping track of appointments with an online calendar are the best ways to integrate a company’s daily operations into dozens of remote itineraries. For more information, readers can check out Maven’s podcast, Reimagining Your Remote Workspace: Advice from a Designer on How to Create a Productive and Beautiful Home Office.
Redesigning the workplace to accommodate the day-to-day workload for the new era of remote workers requires creativity, flexibility, and a willingness to change. This transition involves organization-wide adaptability and a thoughtful overhaul of company culture, internal communications, staff meeting protocols, and work-life balance.
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