Five Principles for Managing and Motivating A Remote Workforce

October 23rd, 2019 By Emily Hill

A collage of Aira Agent selfies that make up a silhouette of the United States. Many have their headsets on as they do during their shift.

It’s official: studies show that people need community, recognition, and relationships. As they live the reality of this both groundbreaking and completely unexpected insight, managers across business sectors are continually seeking innovative ways to engage an increasingly remote workforce. At Aira, more than 90% of our team is completely remote, and the remainder tends to work from home on days when the traffic is bad on “the five.” There is no magic formula, but these five principles make up the base of our secret sauce.

For your team, this may sound, look, and feel different but, no matter the path, the first step to successfully manage a remote team is for the leadership to be committed in taking the steps necessary to maintain this space.

1. Culture starts at the top

Though always true, it is particularly important when your team is remote that individuals in a position of power foster an inclusive culture. With a remote team, the unplanned casual interactions that grow relationships over time are missing. Therefore, separated by the digital divide, every single interaction between team members must be one that brings the team closer together.

At Aira, this principle is often experienced by a commitment to maintaining space in the physical environment. For us, this sounds like setting up a sound system in the office to allow people on the phone to participate as if they’re in the room, as well as having leadership prepared to act as a mouthpiece for their teams when other technologies fail. It looks like insisting that all attendees to a meeting are present, prepared, camera on if applicable, and notifications silenced in order to be fully attentive. And it feels like a structured meeting that shifts focus back and forth between the room and the phone for comments, concerns, and questions – as well as ensuring that all attendees have been preemptively provided with relevant materials; such as videos that are important to the conversation but which may not translate well between spaces.

For your team, this may sound, look, and feel different but, no matter the path, the first step to successfully manage a remote team is for the leadership to be committed in taking the steps necessary to maintain this space.

2. Communication is key

Unlike a new online relationship, there is no such thing as over-sharing when you work on a primarily remote team. When coworkers can’t walk by your desk and notice a picture of your new puppy or your boss can’t see that you were working hard on that report until you ran into a huge wall of writer’s block, a remote team needs to find other methods of filling in the gaps. Text-based communication is a good start but has many limits and is never a replacement for a two-way conversation held in real-time.

For a service-oriented company like Aira, communication is incredibly important in all aspects, from building relationships between team members to shipping new product releases and everything in between. Through much trial and error, we have found processes that work well for us, such as including communication plans in timelines, channels for transparent conversations, plentiful opportunities for collaboration, and dedicated outlets for casual conversation. Separating these diverse and important areas ensures that expectations are clear as to where individuals should turn to contribute or to be informed.

As with everything, this principle shines through in the details, such as including the time zone in every calendar invitation or introducing participants at the beginning of a meeting. When everyone on the team knows who, what, where, when, why, and how, then you have the basic building blocks for executing the mission.

3. Foster a positive community

Whatever you do, do not fall into the trap of micromanaging a remote team. Micromanagement explicitly conveys a lack of trust. Relationships of any type rely on trust, and the relationship between a remote team and manager is no different. Instead, spend the time to foster a community built on mutual trust and respect, where positive encouragement reigns, and assistance is given when asked.

Communities of all types require regular maintenance. Frustrations will always happen, and remote teams deserve to know the proper channels to escalate those concerns and feel heard – just as they would in a physical work environment. In a remote workspace, the entire team must be committed to communicating with respect, support one another when the job gets tough, and be willing to give each other a break.

Investing time in maintaining a positive community and working to build trust between teams will have an exponential impact on your work environment. This is particularly true in a sector where the customer’s experience is little more than an aggregate of the service they have received from your team. The same applies to any company that hopes to keep the people they hire. Fostering an enjoyable work environment is a leading indicator of an engaged and satisfied workforce. After all, as Americans, we spend half of our waking hours every week at work. With that much of a time investment, we may as well enjoy the culture of our workplace.

4. Bring your whole self to work

Though changing rapidly in some sectors, there is an assumption that people who work from home are less engaged and more distracted than people who work in a traditional office environment. Anecdotally, this extrovert is quite the opposite and much more productive working at home than in a highly distracting open-concept office. However, when your home and your work share the same space it can be challenging to focus, and therefore having boundaries becomes even more critical.

At Aira, everyone is encouraged to live by the motto of “work hard and take time off.” Expectations are the same whether a person works from home or the office and those are: to produce great work; don’t come to work sick (although it turns out that cold viruses are just as contagious online as they are in-person); monitor burn out levels and take time off.

People turn to remote work for a variety of reasons: for some people, it may be for the convenience factor, while for others, it may be a necessity. Whatever their reasons, all team members should be encouraged to share parts of their personal life, if they so choose, within the boundaries of a professional working relationship; and expectations of work and performance throughout the team should be equitable.

5. Simple Truth in Recognition

The explosion of SAAS tools to assist in employee recognition points to an age-old truth: people like receiving compliments and feel appreciated when recognized for their hard work. To live out these five principles, we publicly acknowledge jobs well done and privately correct areas of opportunity. We have found that recognition is particularly important for a remote team because it demonstrates that their efforts were noticed and appreciated.

We celebrate progress. Perfection would be impossible to achieve in our sector, so instead, we focus on the development of a person’s skills and celebrate progress along the way. This celebration can be as simple – yet meaningful – as greeting individuals joining the team, to calling out successes and triumphs publicly. With the focus being on development and progress rather than perfection, more opportunities for recognition and celebration present themselves, and a positive environment of support can be maintained.

All five of these guiding principles require consistent effort as we collectively strive to build Aira into a company of remote workers that celebrates and recognizes progress, encourages an inclusive environment, communicates well, builds one another up in a positive way, and is supported by leadership at all levels. The result is that no matter where a person is, they know that the team is stronger for their presence and better for their participation.

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