The global pandemic accelerated the move towards remote work in a way that few predicted. For some companies, transitioning to a remote workplace was relatively smooth. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Shopify announced permanent moves to work from home, at least for some segments of their workforce.
But is embracing a remote workplace ideal for everyone? We’ve spoken to founders and executives to find out how they’ve managed the transition to remote work and how to best position a company to be completely remote.
Be Prepared for Challenges
If you’re not used to working remotely then there can definitely be growing pains. Companies that only shifted to a remote workplace following the pandemic have had some interesting results.
“It was challenging to learn how to lead remotely,” said Peter Jackson, CEO of California-based virtual workspace software company Bluescape. “Something that we’ve learned is [that remote leadership is] very different from leading in-person teams. As we don’t have a physical presence with our co-workers, we’ve had to think of how to engage and motivate our employees without seeming overbearing or annoying.”
One of the fears many companies have is that employees can get complacent or disengaged. But the resulting decisions they make are fraught with potential problems. “Something we didn’t want to do was hop on the employee monitoring software bandwagon which we view as simply spying on our teams and has the negative effect of destroying trust,” Jackson said.
The key is to build the relationships and culture that allow employees to thrive. Jackson and his team have focused on building organic virtual connections through individual check-ins or large team-building town halls. “At the same time, we know that adding too many meetings or touch points can be just as frustrating as neglecting employees,” he said. “That’s why we aim to keep a respectful balance while encouraging employees to share their honest opinions with their managers on check-in cadence.”
For companies that were already working remotely, the challenges have been slightly different. “Our company went fully remote about a year prior to the pandemic, so we have been, and are still working remotely the whole time,” said Chad Gniffke, CEO of IT services company briteCITY, based in Irvine, Calif. “The main challenges we face are on project collaborations [but] using Microsoft Teams has helped us.”
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Company Culture Is Still Important
Having a great company culture can be the difference maker when it comes to a successful transition to working remotely. Remote work has its challenges but culture can create many positive outcomes as well. “We noticed our employees were actually more productive when they were able to work from home. They have really appreciated not having to waste time sitting in traffic and are able to dedicate their time more efficiently,” said Gniffke.
Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP, a cloud communications specialist in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., also noted the benefits. “The employees are just as productive as they were in the office. Sometimes, they are more productive. They will do extra work, go above and beyond for projects and deliver before deadlines,” said Yonatan.
Company culture can make or break remote work and businesses need to be adaptable in this aspect as well since culture is a fluid and dynamic thing. “We have a really great company culture too, and I would say that has been the biggest negative. We don’t get to interact as much as a team and as a result we aren’t as cohesive as we were in the past. We do try to combat that with frequent online meetings and make sure to get together once a month or quarter to make sure our team is intact,” Gniffke said.
However, while those used to heavy interaction may suffer, it can work to the benefit of more introverted employees. “Some of the employees who used to fade in the background because of their personalities are thriving,” Yonatan said. “Working from home has necessitated more one-on-one communication and it has helped drive some of the quieter employees out of their shell.”
Related Article: Your Next Pandemic Priority: Strengthening Company Culture
How to Succeed With Remote Work
Even though everyone is in different locations, maintaining a positive company culture and building a successful remote company is possible for many. Here are a few tips for making it work:
Communication has improved dramatically in recent months and there are several tools that make it easier when working remotely. Gniffke suggested fully utilizing online collaboration tools. “We have a quick video call every morning with the whole team to make sure everyone is on the same page and get the day started out on the right foot. We also do frequent video calls throughout the day to collaborate on issues or projects that need to get done.”
Make Employees Comfortable
Recognize that remote work is a different to how things functioned in the traditional office setting. “The worst thing you can do is try to manage your teams like you’re still in the office. If you’re going to go all-in on remote, you’re going to have to unlearn some old management tactics and learn entirely new ones that are built for your remote workforce,” said Jackson.
It’s a manager’s job to ensure that employees have everything they need. Just as you would in an office, give them the tools to succeed. “Work with the HR department to help them purchase the desks, chairs, laptops and anything else they might require,” Yonatan added.
Don’t Forget About Security
According to Yonatan, “Security goes beyond VPNs. It includes training the employees on best cybersecurity practices when working from home, continuously updating them on emerging threats and finding solutions for endpoint security.”