With a year under our belts of remote work, it’s easy to assume we’ve all got this new lifestyle figured out. Many businesses have been moving forward and most team members are able to do all the same tasks they once did in the office.
While remote work is here to stay in some form, it will evolve. Children will go back to school and workers who found themselves bouncing between helping with 4th grade math assignments and the latest earnings report will find themselves in a quiet house. Workers who once had to balance their work schedule with getting out to the grocery store to make sure elderly parents had what they needed may be freed from doing these daily errands. There may be less immediate distractions, but still plenty of distractions.
To manage yet another “new normal” of remote work, it is critical to build in processes, policies, and meaningful engagement to ensure that remote teams remain productive and, more importantly, aren’t falling victim to burnout. People that enjoy their jobs tend to be more productive, yielding continuous success for your small business. As such, I’ve developed a list of questions to determine if your virtual team members are comfortable and well-supported in their position. Leaders should be asking these questions regularly, such as one-on-one meetings and touch-base conversations.
- Are you feeling organized? It takes a certain personality to work remotely. Being successful at remote work requires a person who is self-motivated and able to self direct. Micromanaging in a remote or virtual model is nearly impossible so ensuring that team members have the right self-management skills and tools is critical. If they respond that “no, I’m not organized,” probe to find out why. Is it a lack of resources? In which case you can provide what they need. Or is it more of a work-style, personality issue? There are many virtual learning courses that can help them improve their soft skills. Remember, a virtual workplace may not be a fit for everyone, and it might turn out that an in-office position is better suited for that individual.
- Are you communicating as much as you need to with your peers and managers? The use of free, commercially available video conferencing tools may have been fine to get you through the switch to remote work, but as remote work becomes more permanent, investing in enterprise-grade communication tools will be critical. In order to provide high levels of interactivity that you would have in an office environment, workers need access to a wide range of tools including video conferencing, live chats/IM, and message boards. Each platform meets a different need. Chat apps replace the desk drop-by and remove an email from inboxes. Message boards fill the water cooler or lunch room gap, providing a “place” for people to interact with a wide variety of colleges, not just those on their direct teams. Don’t underestimate the need for community in a remote environment where many people may feel isolated.
- Are you feeling motivated in your current role? For those that have the self motivation needed to thrive in a remote role, ensure they have goals to strive toward and that those goals can be easily measured remotely. Productivity can’t be a matter of guesswork. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) work well for remote workers. The KPIs should be relevant to the individual or department in question. For a call center agent, for example, a good KPI may be customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, response time, or customer retention rate. For a marketing or sales person, perhaps it’s customer acquisition or conversion rate. Other professionals will track things by deliverable, deadline, hours, cost, or profit. In any case, the more quantifiable, the better as it provides a distinct mark to work toward.
- Do you have everything you need to be successful? This question should cover both material things — desk, camera, high speed Internet — as well as intangibles — direction from your manager, ability to interact with your team. This needs to be asked at all levels of the organization. For those supervising people in customer service positions, they cannot just walk the halls to listen in on calls or conversations to provide feedback on how to interact with customers. They will need ways to listen and check in on how people are doing the day-to-day work to provide the much needed and wanted feedback to continually improve service. You’ll need a technology ecosystem in place that enables interactive distance learning as well as real time chat sessions so supervisors can assist team members through difficult tasks.
Remote work is here to stay, but that does not mean it is static. Checking in with team members is even more critical when they are not in the office. But that does not mean adding more meetings to already full calendars. If you ask the right questions when you do connect, the interaction will drive meaningful changes to how teams interact with each other, your customers, and you.
Katie Bapple is the Sr. Director of Agent Experience at Liveops. She uses her experience as an online community strategist and architect to help others learn how to establish and maintain thriving online communities. Liveops is a virtual call center company with tens of thousands of agents working remotely across the United States. Prior to her current role at Liveops, Katie worked as the Senior Director of Community Management at Socious that was later acquired by Higher Logic. Katie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Global Studies from Arizona State University.