By Heather Hurst
Remote work is on the rise. Gallup reports that over 40% of American workers now spend at least some time working remotely, and nearly a third do so four or five days a week.
The flexibility, convenience, and independence has made remote work a top priority for job seekers, especially millennials, and many workers say they’d love to spend more time working from home (or the local coffee shop).
See our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report for more interesting statistics about remote workers.
Off-site work arrangements are also beneficial for employers, and not just in substantial overhead cost savings. Studies show that remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts, and they’re also more engaged, which is a critical factor in loyalty and retention.
In fact, according to Gallup, workers who work remotely 60-80% of the time are the most engaged among their peers, which contributes directly to job satisfaction, performance, and longevity.
Despite these benefits, managing workflows with remote teams can be a challenge in some organizations.
With no face-to-face communication, it’s easy for workers to feel disconnected, left out, and isolated, which can cause process breakdowns. The problem is magnified when you have team members spread from Los Angeles to Tokyo, with only a few work hours that overlap. A project could quickly fall days behind schedule.
However, there are several strategies that can help keep work flowing, even among teams who may never lay eyes on one another. Here are six quick tips:
1. Establish an Assignment Protocol
Remote work demands a regimented approach to work requests and assignments to make sure nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Informal, “drive-by,” and verbal requests can be a problem in even the closest office environment, but when teams are distributed, the problem can quickly escalate and soon team leaders have no idea who is working on what.
Establish a protocol for incoming work requests and divvying up assignments. It can be something as simple as requiring that all work requests be sent to a specific email alias (such as firstname.lastname@example.org).
Create request templates or creative brief templates to help clarify expectations and ensure team members have all the information they need to get started once the assignment comes their way.
2. Use Document/Asset Storage
Managing digital assets and making sure required documents are readily available is an absolute must for remote teams. Expecting workers to email back and forth to request the information and assets they need is cumbersome and time consuming, and it introduces the risk of versioning errors.
Instead, create a central repository of documents and resource materials that’s readily accessible using digital asset management (DAM) software, or even something as simple as Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox. This ensures no one has to wait for materials to be sent their way and work can keep moving forward.
3. Use Collaboration Tools
Remote employees can feel isolated unless proactive steps are taken to ensure inclusion. In fact, about two-thirds of remote workers worry about colleagues making changes to project plans without telling them.
To prevent feelings of exclusion and to help keep every team member in the loop, use real-time collaboration tools that capture the entire discussion around projects, plans, and progress—and display it in full view of the entire team.
Tools like Slack, for example, are much more transparent than email for project-related communication, and they ensure that valuable input and feedback doesn’t get lost in the email inbox dumpster fire.
4. Break Down Tasks into Subtasks
Despite the fact that remote workers tend to be more productive, it can be hard to actually track the work that’s being done. For in-house teams, it’s easier to stay on top of project status and it just feels more secure when you see each other every day.
But handing off tasks to remote workers feels a bit more uncertain. Are they doing what’s expected? Or are they blowing it off?
Using a system that tracks each task and allows you to break larger tasks into smaller subtasks can give you a more granular and realistic view of project status, timelines, and expected completion times.
It can also help you spot any bottlenecks along the way and remediate issues before the team gets surprised by a major snag as the project nears its expected completion date.
5. Schedule Live Check-Ins
Data shows the most successful teams are those in which managers check-in frequently with remote workers. It takes a concerted, intentional effort to maintain engagement, rapport and, well, a team-like atmosphere. Digital conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, and others can help keep the team in-touch and connected.
Choose a schedule that makes sense—perhaps bi-weekly or monthly—and use this as a time to introduce new team members and discuss project status, questions, or concerns. You might also build in some fun, such as games or team-building exercises to help forge connections and boost engagement.
6. Make Feedback and Recognition a Priority
Remote teams don’t have the opportunity to be part of office celebrations for milestones and achievements, and it can be harder to give and receive feedback when you can’t walk up to someone and congratulate them on a job well done.
But, plenty of research shows that peer recognition is a powerful motivator for employees to do their best work. Absent the in-person pat on the back, remote teams can use collaboration tools like Slack or purpose-built recognition and gamification platforms to provide positive feedback, encouragement, and recognition to one another.
Managing workflow across remote teams can be cumbersome and challenging without the right software solutions and strategies to keep team members engaged, informed, and working efficiently.
While there are plenty of targeted tools to address specific needs, Workfront can provide a comprehensive, all-in-one platform to help remote teams stay connected, on task, and on time, no matter how scattered they may be.
About the Author
Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.Follow on Twitter More Content by Heather Hurst