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Top 11 Ways to Encourage Remote Team Productivity
Prior to a global pandemic, there was a lot of skepticism around the ability to be productive in a remote work environment. The studies are in and they are numerous: not only are remote workers productive, but they are often more productive than in person office workers.
It is important to recognize that hours worked and productivity aren’t positively correlated. A Stanford study showed that, contrary to popular belief, working longer days actually has the opposite effect on productivity. The study found that productivity declined steeply after 50 hours of work a week and that someone working 70 hours might as well only work 55, they would get the same amount done.
Though some people admit to working more hours while at home, even those that are working less are still getting work done and completed on time. The bonus? People are overall happier when they can work remotely at least part of the time.
One study in particular by Great Place to Work had a massive sample size of more than 800,000 employees! This is a significant number that showed some pretty impressive results. Remote workers didn’t need a study to show that they could be just as productive at home and that it boosts their overall happiness which has a direct effect on the quality of work, but it certainly helps make the case!
When you consider that the average American commutes 27 minutes each way and spends upwards of $5000 a year on expenses related to that commute, it is easy to see the benefits of cutting it out even some of the time. Not only can you save money, but there is some significant time recovered. If you work 5 days a week, that works out to over 14,000 minutes, 234 hours, or nearly 10 days in your car!
What would you do with an extra 10 days a year?
Productivity doesn’t just happen by handing over a laptop and telling people to do whatever they want, so how can you ensure that your remote team is actually working? Here are 11 ways to encourage your remote team to be more productive:
1. Stop Micromanaging and Build Trust Instead
If you want to boost remote team productivity, the first thing that has to go is the idea that someone will only work if they are on location with a manager hovering over them. When you micromanage someone, it sends the message that you don’t trust them to get the work done on their own.
Trust is absolutely foundational if you’re going to have a productive and healthy remote team. There are a number of ways to promote trust and accountability in the workplace (virtual or physical) and micromanaging isn’t one of them. If you are looking for some specific ideas on how to build trust and encourage accountability, check out this Teamly blog.
2. Use Technology
Insert shameless plug for our own project and team management tool.
In all seriousness, having a one stop shop for all the tools your team will need serves to streamline the process, creates consistency, and virtually (see what I did there?) eliminates confusion. Functions such as team chat, task management, hour tracking, and even screen recording for tutorials use to require multiple programs and logins. Now, with a couple of clicks, your team can be exactly where they need to be and with the tools they need to get the job done.
3. Keep It Simple, Stupid
The good old K.I.S.S. principle.
Engineer Kelly Johnson is often credited for coining the phrase and it speaks for itself: keep your processes and design as simple as possible to increase the chances that it will be embraced and utilized.
Following up the technology recommendation, it is important that you keep your remote engagement systems simple. Using just one platform for all your purposes means that there will be no question on what technology will be used for virtual meetings, where you can find documents, or where to find important team notices and updates.
4. Regular Check In’s and Progress Updates
Let’s say that you have 10 people on your team and once a week you have a 2 hour long meeting to get everyone on the same page and provide project updates.
It is just a 2 hour meeting, right? Wrong.
That meeting cost 2 hours from each of those 10 people. Using some very basic math skills, we can conclude that the 2 hour meeting actually cost 20 hours of potentially productive work time. This is not to say that weekly meetings are a waste of time, it could be the best way for your team or project to connect, but the point is to be conscious of the true time cost when you must gather everyone in one place at the same time.
Perhaps your weekly meeting could be cut in half and, instead, your team utilizes the automatic check in functions of your project management program (like Teamly). In doing this, a person could simply jot down a couple notes about the progression of their project, post it in a common place, and those with an interest or who are part of this project can check in and respond if necessary.
The bonus of this system is that it is more considerate of everyone’s time. If you decide that check-ins are to be done by 12:00pm on Friday, they can be submitted at any point before that time that works best for the individual. This may also stagger responses to allow them to be better digested by the team. A mid day deadline gives the afternoon for responses or inquiries.
5. Less Meetings for Better Meetings
We know that meetings can be a time suck but they can also be absolutely necessary to your team so how can we make meetings better and more productive? First off, you need to ensure that you are prepared. Virtual meetings are full of distractions, most of them involving minor but common tech issues.
You are on mute.
Host a tutorial or a dry run to ensure that everyone is comfortable on your platform. Set the standards for how you expect people to interact. Do they…
- Raise their hand?
- Type in the chat?
- Save questions in a shared document?
- Take notes or is there a designated note taker?
This may seem basic but remember the K.I.S.S. principle? By setting the standard early and being clear, people will feel more confident when they participate. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Meetings as well as 15 Tips to Skyrocket Meeting Participation for some more great tips to design virtual meetings that your team will want to participate in.
6. Focus on Well-being
Well-being, which includes physical and mental health, were once seen as the sole responsibility of individuals. Thankfully, workplaces are starting to recognize that they also play a part in fostering a healthy environment for the people they employ. Not only is taking care of people the right thing to do, the kickback is mutually beneficial! Studies show that organizations that prioritize team well-being have:
- Reduced costs associated with sick days
- Increased revenue due to increase quality and pride in work
- Higher public opinions of the organization, teams share positive reputation
- Increased morale which directly correlated with motivation
Wellbeing is now on the radar of 68% of HR leaders according to The Future Workplace 2021 HR Sentiment survey. Though many businesses were late to the game and needed a global pandemic to initiate action, better late than never right?
7. Set Expectations
Some things go without saying… other things just need to be said.
The key to effectively leading a remote team is to be clear about your expectations, even if they may seem obvious to you. Setting expectations can be as simple as having regular office hours, a list of acceptable formats and fonts for documents, a shared calendar system, a standard response time for emails, or a list of processes and procedures for common workplace activities.
The last (almost) two years have been filled with uncertainty, fostering an environment where people feel they fully understand what is expected of them will offer a sense of security and comfort which will also help performance.
It is important that leadership demonstrate these expectations, “do as I say, not as I do” may work for toddlers, but not fully capable adults. Set your expectations and then be the active example of them in action. If you expect people to check in on a message board at the end of the day, you can start the thread.
8. Create a Culture of Accountability and Responsibility
Aside from ditching micromanaging habits, there are a number of ways to encourage accountability… though it may take some patience and practice.
We know from studies that people are more than capable of working independently but we often fail to recognize that working independently is a skill and some people have never had the chance to practise, let alone master it.
Start with leading by example. If you say you are going to do something, then do it! It is also helpful to announce via internal message board your intentions and to go back and update later with the results.
Mondays mark the beginning of the week for most workplaces and are a great time for a check in. Encourage people to use your project management platform (Teamly) to write down what they plan on accomplishing for the week.
This does not need to be an exhaustive list, it can be as simple as:
- tying up loose ends of a project
- completing and submitting a report
- clearing out your inbox
- finish the first draft of a proposal
Encourage your team to start small with 3 priorities, max. There will be more but start by writing down 3 things you wish to have done by the end of the week, chances are that these 3 things will be the items that people are looking for accountability on. When Friday rolls around, set a notification to draw attention back to the board. Life happens, not everything will get done all the time but offer encouragement when someone sets out to finish a task and it is actually completed. Take time to reflect on the ones that were not completed and why – was the deadline unreasonable? Did something else come up? Whatever the reason, learn from it and try again next week.
Try encouraging your team to include a personal item on this list like:
- Finish reading a book
- Check out the new trail
- Take the kids for a bike ride
- Walk the dog 4 out of 7 days this week
Not only will this help you get to know your team better, but it shows that you actually care about their personal goal and not just what they can invest in the organization.
9. Embrace an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Traditional employment often sets up an organizational hierarchy that can act as a barrier for good ideas. While there is certainly a place for management and upper management, fostering an environment where your team feels comfortable contributing no matter what their seniority is will work out for everyone.
Enter the entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are known for their work ethic, motivation, and innovation. They tend to be creative people that see problems as a challenge worth tackling. While not every person is cut out to go it on their own, if you allow your team to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset within the security of a team, everyone wins.
Leave space for and encourage people to bring forward ideas for project improvements, everything from how we send emails, deal with clients, or solve a particular problem. People will be even more encouraged to speak up when they recognize that you truly value their thoughts and ideas and put them in action. They won’t all work out but there is value in experimentation.
10. Time Tracking for Outcomes
How you track time will greatly depend on your organization, the type of projects you take on, and your priorities. Let’s start by looking at time differently, focusing instead on outcomes as opposed to tracking every minute just for the sake of it.
Remember the harm of micromanagement? Tracking time just for the sake of it can be harmful for team morale and erode trust. Instead, tracking time as it relates to specific projects and tasks for billing clients or better understanding time commitments of specific projects to better account for them in future should be your goal.
11. Promote Community
When many people went online (willingly or not) at the start of the pandemic, perks such as at home food delivery or movie subscriptions were much appreciated and helped with productivity. Once the novelty of those types of perks wore off, people were left yearning for what they truly wanted… camaraderie.
We are social beings and we depend on one another, even introverts need community! You can foster a professional environment and recognize that your team is getting more than a paycheck out of you. People need to feel needed and that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves.
Take the time to take an inventory of what your team cares about.
Maybe everyone has pets and you can encourage people to change their avatar picture to their pet once a week and 5$ will be donated to a local shelter, kind of like a virtual casual friday… but with fur. Maybe you have a lot of parents so you create a separate chat channel and offer drop in virtual games or kids movies once a month so that the kids are entertained and the parents can get to know each other.
There are a million ways to promote a sense of community among your team. You may be surprised by the suggestions if you just ask.
We know that people are capable of working productively from just about everywhere. Implementing any of these tips will serve to build trust and offer encouragement so that your remote team will feel supported and inspired to do their best work, wherever they are!