77% of remote workers report that they are more productive than when they worked in physical offices. Most of this is from the fact that working remotely frees people from the noise, chatty coworkers, miscellaneous requests that constantly interrupt people in offices.
However, fewer distractions alone are not enough to make significant improvements in employee performance.
Another survey found that, while remote employees are overall more motivated than in-office employees, 56% of them say that, to be more effective, management needs to learn to adapt to the unique needs of remote teams.
Unless intentionally accounted for, remote teams tend to lack full access to the resources and conversations that they need to complete their tasks as efficiently as possible. Here are four productivity strategies that will help you resolve this issue and boost your employees’ performance.
1) Set Strict Expectations and Deadlines
The biggest productivity killer on remote teams is miscommunication. If people are confused regarding what they need to do, you’re much more likely to have issues on a remote or mixed team than a collocated one. Coworkers sitting in an office together chat about their projects and are much more likely to notice if someone is off-track versus remote colleagues who have less transparency into each other’s work.
As a result, leaders of remote teams must invest extra effort to keep their employees focused on the right things. According to Julie Wilson, the founder of the Future of Learning Institute at Harvard, managing remote team requires leaders to “double down on the fundamentals of good management.”
To keep your team productive, you must focus on setting clear expectations. Here’s how:
- At the start of every project, explain how it impacts the company, what the characteristics of a successful outcome are, and any other guidelines you want them to follow.
- Set deadlines for the project’s final completion along with a few milestones along the way.
- Check-in with employees at each milestone. If they appeared to have misinterpreted your directions or are behind, coach them on how to implement productivity strategies to get back on the right track.
- When every project is complete, have your team share what they think went well, what went poorly, and how they can improve moving forward. This can be done via email, chat, a wiki, or a meeting.
Additionally, make sure your team knows you’re available to answer questions if needed. Responding to all messages quickly ensures that confusion doesn’t kill your employees’ productivity.
2) Create an Environment that Fosters Friendships
Research shows that employee friendships boost productivity in several ways including:
- They make fewer errors
- They turn to one another for help which helps them resolve challenges faster and with better outcomes
- They give each other more informal feedback so that they’re constantly improving
- They have lower stress levels
- And are more committed employees
Remote teams often miss out on these benefits since the random chatter that sparks friendships often doesn’t occur naturally on remote teams. If you want to maximize your team’s productivity, you must strive to create an environment where people feel comfortable engaging in casual conversations.
Here are a couple of ways to do that:
Create chat channels for random, fun topics
On remote teams, starting conversations about everyday things often feels forced because most lines of communication are project-focused. Creating channels for fun topics takes the awkwardness out of complaining about the results of last night’s game, sharing silly pet pictures, or engaging in other random conversations that help coworkers form personal relationships.
Here are some ideas for chat channels:
- Health + Fitness
The channel topics should be based on your team’s personalities and can change per request and/or you can a better understanding of their interests. For example, I used to work on a mixed team where a lot of our team - both in-office and remote - traveled frequently and we had a Slack channel where people would chat about bizarre new stories in the cities they were in. It helped us share laughter and gain a better understanding of the places our team members were.
Start your meetings on a positive note
This no-fuss meeting starter helps your employees get to know each other and it’s simple. At the beginning of your team meetings, have everyone share the best thing that’s happened to them since the last time you met.
People’s highlights tend to be an accurate representation of what they enjoy and value so, this is an effective way to get your remote workers to reveal their whole selves.
If you have a shy team, you can encourage them to reach out to one another by bringing up the similarities between people during one-on-one meetings and letting them know that others on the team want to form a strong relationship with them.
Require Everyone to Be Kept in the Loop
On remote teams, it’s common for people to not put any effort into forming friendships because they feel disconnected from the rest of their colleagues. To prevent this from occurring, create strict policies on transparency and communication.
Your policies regarding what to share and with how many members of the team should be documented in an internal space along with examples. To make it easier to keep team sub-groups in the loop, create message channels and email distribution lists and include them in your communication policies.
3) Give Employees Access to Online Learning Programs
Subsidizing your remote team’s professional development is one of the most effective strategies to boost their productivity.
Surveys have found that employees who have access to ongoing professional development opportunities are 15% more engaged than those who don’t. Engagement plays a critical role in employee productivity and investing in learning resources is one of the few guaranteed ways to improve it.
Plus, the new skills your team learns enhances their ability to produce great results and take on increasingly more challenging projects.
Subsidizing memberships to online learning platforms is a great option for remote teams because it saves your company training development costs and lets your employees focus on courses that are relevant to them.
Here are some robust platforms that offer subscriptions to businesses.
- LinkedIn Learning - This platform offers courses on a wide range of professional skills from HR to Adobe apps to software developments.
- Udemy - Udemy offers a similar selection as LinkedIn learning except it’s geared slightly more toward technical professionals than business ones.
- Udacity - Udacity is perfect for tech and analytics teams who want to enhance their skills by learning new programming languages, data science skills, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.
In addition to giving your team access to a platform with a broad array of courses, you should also invite them to request specialized options such as certifications and conference passes. Engage in ongoing discussions with your teams to ensure your learning budget is going toward the things that have the greatest impact on their productivity.
4) Host Bi-Monthly 1:1 Coaching Sessions
One of the roadblocks that prevent remote workers from improving their productivity is the lack of real-time interactions that they have with their managers.
An Indeed survey of remote workers found that 37% feel like they are not very visible and lack access to leadership. This can negatively impact productivity decreasing engagement and limiting the amount of constructive feedback employees receive.
To resolve this, schedule bi-monthly coaching sessions with each of your remote workers. Focus your meetings on addressing areas of improvement and helping your team overcome any challenges that are slowing them down.
Here are some topics that will help you drive a productive discussion:
- What did they do well on their last project? What could they have done better? Give them actionable ideas for improvement.
- What tasks are consuming the majority of their time? Are those the right things? If not, discuss how to shift their focus to more important activities.
- What are the most difficult steps in the projects they’re working on? Is there anything you can do to make their job easier?
- What types of projects do they enjoy the most? Which ones do they dislike the most? This can help you assign work that excites your team and fits best with each of their strengths.
During these meetings, you should also invite your team members to bring up their own conversation topics whether it’s to propose new project ideas or spend your entire session brainstorming the best way to tackle a difficult project.
Ultimately, the key to leading a high-performing remote team is giving them the guidance, environment, and resources they need to be productive.
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About the author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.