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Opinion: 7 tips for settling into a remote workforce

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In response to the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape, many companies have shifted, unexpectedly and rapidly, to remote work. Working remotely is hardly a trend. In 2018, nearly a quarter of the American workforce worked remotely in some capacity, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the transition can still be challenging. As an organization, what policies, procedures and structures can you put into place so your employees will thrive while working remotely – whether for a season or for the long term?

Let’s look at seven tips your organization should consider as remote work quickly becomes a reality.

1. Define remote work policies.

Office culture has a set of official policies and expectations, and so should remote work. A solid remote policy should outline:

Availability. Working where you want doesn’t always translate to when you want to, so availability policies can clarify expectations.

Connection. When you can’t walk by an employee’s office to ask a quick question, policies surrounding communication become more important than ever.

Tools. Consistency sets the stage for collaboration, so it’s wise to outline the tools your employees should use when working together.

Outcomes. Often, traditional workplaces default to measuring productivity by presence. In the remote workplace, results define a good day’s work.

2. Empower with rules of engagement.

Remote work can be more successful with the right “rules of engagement” officially established, so your team develops good rhythms and patterns. What’s the expectation for digital replies, like emails or notes on an instant message platform? When is it best to schedule a video call vs. an audio conference?

It also can be helpful to clarify expectations on office hours. Will you establish core hours that all employees must be working and available? Determining an office hours policy – even if you’re not working from the office – sets the stage for great collaboration and productivity.

3. Equip with the right tools.

Team collaboration can deteriorate without the right tools. For example, which video conference software should your team members utilize? Should you use collaborative document software instead of the dreaded email chain?

Reinforce the understanding that email isn’t always the best option. Remote teams can thrive with communication via instant message tools, such as Slack, Skype or Microsoft Teams. And be patient as employees learn. Offer tutorials for technology onboarding.

4. Redefine productivity.

In an office environment, we often define productivity by what we can see – like your colleague who arrives early and stays late. But in the remote workplace, what defines a good day’s work? Outline the results you’re expecting by outcomes and task completion, rather than only the hours spent online. Consider how to assess employees based on what they’ve accomplished.

5. Institute accountability.

When you can’t connect face-to-face with team members each day, accountability becomes more important. Empower your company’s management to create regular patterns for accountability. Especially when anxiety may run high, direct company leaders to have regular team meetings and status reports. Time tracking tools can also be helpful.

6. Take a strategic approach to information technology.

Remote work can open your information network to security risks when your team members are logging on outside your building. Partner with your IT department to delineate technology best practices, such as secure password and cloud document storage.

When it comes to company hardware, such as laptops and monitors, create protocol for IT requests and troubleshooting.

7. Bolster company culture.

Company culture in an office often points to in-person activities, such as employee lunches and team-building sessions. When you’re not in that workspace, positive company culture can suffer.

Seize the opportunity to define your culture beyond face-to-face gatherings. Lean into your company values and look at how you do business as company culture. Collective celebrations for achievements, regular team videoconferences and a digital platform for casual conversations can help bring employees together. And try not to overthink culture: Sometimes, it’s as simple as connecting face to face when you can’t meet live.

Ultimately, the transition may not be easy – but the outcomes can be rewarding. Transitioning to remote work presents an opportunity for your company to trust your people, practice adapting to the unexpected and showcase just how agile you can be. As you work through challenges, your organization can find itself positioned to thrive.

Brent Baldwin is executive vice president and commercial division manager at 
Commerce Bank. He can be reached at 
brent.baldwin@commercebank.com.

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