How to Keep Culture Intact While Scaling Remote Workers

Remote Workers Video Conference

In this Point of View, Ultimate Software Vice President of Human Resources Kathleen Pai shows how culture and smart management help employers leverage remote workers–without sacrificing engagement.

Shifts in workplace culture and connective technologies have created an influx of remote workers. In fact, 25 percent of the workforce works remotely in some capacity.

This has created a whole new set of challenges in talent management: While the breakdown of geographic barriers expands the talent pool, dispersed populations can have an adverse effect on culture if people aren’t managed effectively.

Remote workers are as integral to a company’s culture and health as local employees – and shouldn't be treated as afterthoughts. #HR #RemoteWork @UltimateHCM Click To Tweet

Remote employees often have different motivators, pain points and feedback preferences compared with their in-office colleagues. Therefore, they require distinct considerations. They’re also often just as integral to a company’s overall culture and health as local employees and should not be relegated to an afterthought.

If organizations don’t adapt management to fit the needs of remote workers, managers could face, at the least, a lack of engagement among virtual employees and, at worst, an exodus of talent as those employees look for work elsewhere. However, there are steps that everyone from HR leaders to managers can take to manage their remote talent effectively and keep their culture intact.

Avoid Virtual Micromanagement

Whether it’s online or in the office, micromanagement is among the top complaints people have about their managers. More than a third (39 percent) of employees said being a micromanager was the worst trait a manager could possess. Micromanagement can also contribute to disengagement.

According to CareerAddict, 69 percent of respondents who experienced micromanagement in the workplace considered changing jobs, and 85 percent said their morale was impacted negatively. As managers learn to empower their teams, they need to apply the same level of trust–if not more–to their virtual team members.

To monitor for and address micromanagement, managers should consider preferred communication styles in developing a team communication and operating agreement for their remote workforce

Ideally, this plan should include guidelines for project management, incorporating information such as when to provide status reports, preferred communication channels and who should conduct the final review on specific portions of the project.

This kind of agreement helps instill a greater sense of accountability among team members, especially when some or all of them are remote. Establishing expectations throughout can also get ahead of any miscommunication and ensure key milestones are met.

Kathleen Pai
Ultimate Software’s
Kathleen Pai

Keep Time Zones in Mind

Remote teams often span across regions, and it’s easy to forget that scheduling a routine 3 p.m. team call may actually cut into another employee’s lunch hour.

While it’s not always easy to accommodate multiple busy schedules, making an extra effort to keep different time zones in mind–and avoid putting a check-in on someone’s calendar for 8 p.m. on a Tuesday–can help remote workers feel like their specific working situation is understood and respected.

When scheduling recurring team calls, occasionally rotate start times to ensure team members across the country–and around the globe–aren’t always stuck with an especially early or late call.

Managers should also help remote employees set boundaries and clearly communicate their typical schedules with their colleagues. This can be tricky territory, especially for more junior team members who may feel intimidated about countering their coworkers if a meeting is scheduled outside their usual work day.

Over communicating around time zones will help colleagues learn one another’s schedules and allow for better workplace etiquette overall. For example, when a team member is reaching out at noon for feedback from someone who has left for the day, encourage them to acknowledge this is their initial note and make clear that an immediate response isn’t needed.

Watch ‘Virtual Body Language’

Spotting disengaged employees isn’t always easy. A team member might produce consistent work, but in fact feel disconnected from their team’s day-to-day activities. This is true even when you see a person every day!

Add virtual employees to the mix and recognizing disengagement becomes a greater challenge. While body language can say a lot about an employee’s state of mind. managers must learn how to catch virtual body language cues through video, instant messages or email to recognize and address disengagement in their remote workers.

There are patterns that may point to a disengaged employee. Managers should keep an eye out for team members who miss or are continuously late for routine meetings or who fall silent for long stretches on team calls.

Also consider missed deadlines, lack of participation in team activities or unanswered emails and messages. It’s vital that leaders assess their virtual team’s engagement levels often and address concerns with individual team members early.

Make Time for Communication 

In a physical office, employees can chat anywhere: over coffee, at lunch or in the halls. This kind of casual social interaction builds team bonds and even results in spontaneous brainstorming sessions. Virtual employees typically miss out on inter-office socialization, which can lead to feelings of isolation. 

Managers can combat this by making time for both formal meetings and informal discussions with remote team members. For example, scheduling daily or weekly 15-minute “stand-ups” can help build team chemistry.

Each team member can share what they’re working on, any challenges they’re facing, and whether they need help. This essentially creates an opportunity for virtual employees to connect and collaborate on a work challenge, or simply chat about something fun in their personal lives.

After all, working on a team is about camaraderie as much as collaboration on business projects. Whether in person or online, friendly conversations can go a long way in fostering team relationships.

Managing remote talent sometimes requires a few extra steps, but those steps are well worth taking. A truly engaged workforce not only strengthens culture – it also helps attract top talent. By prioritizing culture and managing virtual employees effectively, companies can scale across geographical borders without sacrificing employee engagement.

Kathleen Pai is the vice president of HR at Ultimate Software. Based in Weston, Fla., Ultimate Software is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report. To learn more, click here. This article was originally published in Training Journal.

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