Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs

The pandemic has disrupted companies on a global scale and across many business sectors. Looking back at the events of 2020, companies were caught off guard as the need to quickly pivot to remote and hybrid working conditions exposed a plethora of issues. Businesses discovered that their supply chains were not as robust as they had thought, and their internal communication processes were lacking, making working outside the traditional office environment difficult.

This, amongst multiple other issues caused various learning curves for businesses to overcome. However, there were lessons to be learned from companies that have been pioneering a remote and hybrid working model since well before the pandemic hit.

For a good part of my career, I’ve managed teams that have adopted various workstyles, including remote members and “hyflex”. Before the pandemic, one-third of our team was remote part-time, and another third worked remotely full-time.

Through this experience I’ve found that there is more to managing remote workforces than just seeing your co-workers through a screen, and that there many challenges to remote working versus those in the office.

With remote and hybrid work here to stay for the foreseeable future, and likely to become part of the new normal for businesses, I’m sharing four top tips on how to best manage a distributed workforce.

Reevaluate your existing practices for hiring and onboarding

With a new year in full swing, people will likely be looking at their financial situations, and assessing their goals for 2021, including new job prospects. With potential candidates looking for new opportunities, right now is a great time to look at your current hiring and onboarding processes and consider a reboot to your company’s approach.

Hiring, onboarding, training, and managing remote employees presents very different challenges to on-site workers, so existing processes will need to be adapted and new practices adopted.

As we enter the ‘work from anywhere model’, employers should focus on creating more successful workplace teams. This includes promoting wellness for the entire workplace, regardless of location, and reducing stress-inducing pain points. Make sure that new hires are provided with the right tools and equipment needed to do their job. Team camaraderie should also be a top priority, especially for teams that aren’t able to meet in person. It’s essential to ensure that during the onboarding process, new hires are acclimated into the company and its culture. Using video and other visual formats can help showcase this as well as introduce team members, and help integrate new teammates so they feel integrated in an authentic way. It’s also helpful to schedule regular check-in’s so the new employee feels comfortable and welcomed.

White it can be daunting to hire someone that you haven't had the opportunity to meet in-person, there are benefits to hiring remotely. With location no longer a factor, not only do candidates have more options in their job search, but so do you. With office locations no longer a confinement, the talent pool is expanded, so there’s more opportunity to find the perfect hire for your company. Take advantage of that, and remember that maintaining effective communication and collaboration is key.

Ensure your work space is optimised for collaboration.

Day-to-day operations as well as the long term success of your company hinge on the crucial technology investments and decisions you make. You rely on technology for your teams to communicate with each other, with customers, organise billing, create presentations- the list is endless. Problems with these systems or technical issues could cause big headaches, which are only amplified with staff logging on remotely. Therefore, it’s vital that you have the right systems in place, not only from an operations viewpoint, but also for team collaboration and creativity.

If your company space isn’t set up properly for remote or hybrid collaboration, consider it wasted space, and a missed opportunity for your business to better integrate all workers. Now is the time for leaders to start thinking about ensuring that their current office spaces are optimised for in-office, remote and hybrid workforces.

This could mean adjusting any conference room setups so they’re more conducive for internal brainstorms or hybrid presentations. Something as simple as using larger whiteboards that can be seen on camera, or using video conferencing technology that has clear picture and sound so those who aren’t physically present still feel in the loop and are heard, could make all the difference to better team collaboration, no matter where people are working from.

Although you can plug in from anywhere, remember to also unplug.

In our State of Remote Work Survey, we found that employees are working about 26 hours a month more than usual (nearly an extra day each week). This is a concern, as it could likely lead to employee burnout in the not too distant future. With the ability to work from anywhere, it’s important to remember that with that flexibility, companies should also be reminding employees that they can unplug and switch off at the end of the work day.

It’s best to lead by example in this case. Make sure that you actively encourage your team to log off and take the time needed to recharge - and remember you should be doing the same. Also consider connecting with HR, team leads and individual employees to remind them that PTO is available for a reason. It’s best to be as flexible as possible to meet your team’s specific needs, so consider whether any additional policies can be implemented to achieve better work / life balances. With the workforce changing, we need to rethink how we’re leading our employees and setting them up for success in the new normal.

Consider what other support you can provide employees.

In our survey we found 45% of office workers would be willing to take a pay cut in order to continue working from home in the long-term, showing just how important flexible and remote work has become. This means finding solutions that work for your employees long-term is just as important as those that work for the business, something that can require a careful balancing act for those managing virtual teams.

Our survey also found that 74% of employees believe their company should pay for, or provide, office technology equipment for home working; and 50% think they should also provide office furniture- like desks and ergonomic chairs. Going even further, 50% of employees believe their companies should contribute to WiFi and phone bills, and 48% think that electricity bills for home workers should also be supported.

While all these desires would be difficult for a business to balance, it’s worth listening to what your teams need and ask them how you can best support them while remote. Whether it’s investing in a new platform, providing more HR support or offering flexible hours, additional solutions should be considered in order to keep staff happy and productive in their new working environments.

Remember that as a leader, it’s your responsibility to be an example of best practice, and you have the power to be the driving force to creating an environment that is optimal for the era of remote and hybrid work of the future for your business.

Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs

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