Every company had to swiftly adjust and adapt to the extraordinary conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Seemingly overnight, much of the workforce transitioned their roles from being in-office, to remote teams and work-from-home positions. This sudden change certainly came with its challenges. However, many business leaders realized significant gains in productivity, retention, and engagement from their remote team members. As the immediate danger of the pandemic subsides, business leaders looking to implement fully remote or hybrid work environments must promote and model actions and behaviors that encourage autonomy and team self-sufficiency.
Benefits of remote work environments
Remote work offers mutual benefits to both employers and team members in a number of key areas.
Over the course of the pandemic, researchers at the Harvard Business Review got the opportunity to replicate a 2013 study that surveyed the productivity of knowledge workers. By using the same survey questions and interviewing participants with comparable backgrounds, they found a few key productivity gains.
Remote team members took more ownership over their schedules. They felt they maintained more focus on work that matters, spent more time with customers and external stakeholders, and 12 percent less time in meetings. Additionally, they were more engaged with their day-to-day tasks.
Turnover is expensive, and filling roles can be a time consuming process. It’s typically much easier and more cost effective to keep employees rather than to onboard new team members.
Over 54 percent of surveyed team members expressed that they would change jobs for one with more flexibility. By simply offering a remote work agreement, studies found there was a 12 percent reduction in turnover.
Team members that are in control of their work day are often more engaged with their company and their work. During the pandemic, study respondents viewed their work as more worthwhile. Tasks that were previously considered to be exhausting dropped from 27 percent to 12 percent. Additionally, workers with more autonomy offered higher quality work and less absenteeism.
Remote and flexible work from home jobs are highly desired in the modern workforce. Beyond no commute, flexible hours to complete home care tasks and improved work-life balance are reported key benefits for team members. Nearly 54 percent of employees say they would consider switching roles to one that offers additional flexibility.
Offering remote work and flexibility as a team member benefit opens up organizations to a much wider talent pool. If employees can work from anywhere, businesses can source top talent from across the nation.
Office collaboration and innovation
Though working remotely offers significant benefits to both team members and organizations, maintaining a distributed workforce can be challenging for industries and functions that require constant innovation.
On the whole, overall productivity has increased but innovation has slightly fallen in select remote organizations. The switch to a remote working environment has resulted in leaders and team members often feeling more disconnected.
However, taking a few key steps to better structure a remote working culture has helped to alleviate some of those disconnects. For example, offering a variety of digital collaboration tools, providing remote work training, and establishing methods of connecting with teams on a regular basis are excellent steps to encourage innovation in a remote workplace.
Above all, listening to team members and embracing their feedback helps to guide decisions about how to best support them in their efforts.
Modelling behaviors to promote distributed team autonomy
In general, culture will often define the values and behaviors of a company. As leaders set out to empower their remote team members, it’s important to implement an approach to reinforce desired behaviors and enable transparent dialogues. There are several techniques available to help change both behaviors and mindsets to encourage remote team autonomy. Techniques such as “nudging” can help to change mindsets and in turn, encourage healthy organizational habits.
For example, leadership that regularly shares project retrospectives across the company will likely “nudge” other team members to participate and share their own learnings.
Building a culture of performance and autonomy
According to a 2017 Human Capital Trends study from Deloitte, 79 percent of executives said performance management was a top priority. In many organizations, performance is a function of culture and is sourced from team members, team leaders, and company executives.
Each level of an organization is responsible for helping to build that culture of performance. However, modelling desired behaviors often starts with company and team leaders, and it is crucial for leaders to be the first to demonstrate appropriate conduct.
Building trust is key for remote team leaders. Sharing the purpose of initiatives and providing transparency and support to teams are a great way to start building that culture of trust.
Inspire confidence with team members by reinforcing positive behaviors. Be open to both receiving and offering feedback. Recognize team members for their work to
Mistakes happen, and chances are the team member feels awful about their error. However, mistakes are teaching opportunities and can offer lessons that allow team members to become more self-sufficient. Use this opportunity to provide support and empathy.
4. Professional Development
Give remote teams opportunities to grow and develop their skills. Rather than dictating how exactly someone should complete a task, encourage additional learning by giving them the resources and guidance to encourage learning.
It’s easy for leaders to quickly become overbooked. Teams take cues from their leaders, so it’s important to set an example and put aside time for uninterrupted work. Boundaries during the workday are crucial, and it’s up to organizational leaders to model what those appropriate boundaries are. Setting the standard for accessibility, rather than immediate availability, is one way to allow time for uninterrupted focus.
Personal care is a top priority. However, if leadership doesn’t take time off for wellness, remote teams may also be reluctant to do so. Leaders that share when they are taking their time off communicate that wellness is valued, and that it’s acceptable for team members to take time for themselves.
Developing a culture that encourages autonomy in a remote environment can be a challenge, but it often starts with leadership. By modeling these behaviors, leaders set an example for their teams and give a structure for company culture. Though it may be difficult at first, the leaders that take the time to implement these practices for themselves are often rewarded with a more productive and engaged workforce.