By Amy Osmond Cook
Is your company working from home?
If so, you’re not alone. Studies show that the trend in remote work has increased by 44 percent in the past five years. Whether your company’s work from home arrangement was figured into your job from the beginning or in response to the latest COVID-19 health crisis, employment that offers a flexible schedule appeals to the majority of workers. In fact, 80 percent of employees admit they would turn down a job that didn’t offer a flexible work schedule.
While flexible schedules and remote work have their benefits, such as reducing work stress and allowing employees to spend time taking better care of their health, working from home does have its share of challenges. One big issue for managers is maintaining productivity amid a staff of flexible work schedules.
It’s not easy to balance the flexibility that a work-from-home environment offers employees with the need to ensure that they are being well utilized and productive to meet business objectives and serve customers well. But once you find a system that balances empowering employees to determine their own schedules and helping them make the most of their work time, you’ll discover the sweet spot of remote work that makes it so appealing to today’s workforce.
Here are a few ideas on how to strike the balance:
1.Require a minimum number of hours or a service level agreement from each employee.
Park of the appeal of remote work and flexible scheduling is that it helps retain valued employees and improve working conditions. We want employees to be happy with their jobs. In fact, a survey published by Global Newswire found that almost half of U.S. workers (42 percent) would change jobs if the new opportunity offered a remote work option. But revenue growth is still a major part of a company’s goals, and having tools in place to better track the time spent on billable work is essential.
If your company bills hourly, employees should have a minimum number of billable hours they need to fulfill. Professional services industries like legal services, for example, are already set up for this. If you don’t have this type of set-up, consider having a service level agreement to support this. Outside of this, allow employees to schedule time however they would like as long as client needs are being met.
2. Track KPIs through a robust technology platform.
Technologies such as Salesforce, TSheets, and Proworkflow link seamlessly to Quickbooks to ensure that you have the type of tracking necessary to avoid manual errors and can save time by automating.
One advantage of using time tracking tools is that it helps employees actually see where their time is going and adjust accordingly. “Staying focused should be a top priority, and tracking your time can help you achieve that,” says Fred Castagnac, a project management expert.
When you can see (literally) where your time is going, it also makes it easier to forecast and estimate for future projects and tasks. This ensures your sales team is offering a realistic estimate to clients for billable work.
3. Create relationships outside of work.
The most important thing about running a business remotely is to show your employees that you care about them legitimately and their personal well-being outside of how they perform in the business.
“How you treat your employees and the environment they work in day-to-day is reflected in their work and their interactions with your customers,” explains Tim Johnson, Forbes Council Member. “Effective executives should view their role as an opportunity to serve employees by helping them grow and learn while providing the support they need in what’s known as a humble or servant leadership style.”
Sometimes it’s easier to do this in an on-site environment where you can grab lunch together or hang out at the water cooler. But when that’s not possible, go out of your way to facilitate a fun environment. Company meeting themes, gift cards for a job well done, and spot bonus are all things that will keep your employees engaged in a remote environment.
4. Keep communication lines open.
We can communicate with our team in a variety of ways, but effective communication consistently remains one of the top essential factors needed to build a positive work culture, channel productivity, and encourage innovation. “Whether teams are in the same room or dispersed across the globe, good communication skills are crucial,” says Kristen Wells, business expert. “Employees must feel comfortable openly sharing ideas, working through options together and challenging each other.”
Sometimes employees have a hard time saying that they are too busy or not busy enough at work. This leads to them either being disengaged or stressed out. This is where open communication is pivotal. Encourage feedback, and be clear that you expect them to tell you how heavy their workload is.
5. Be willing to adjust to circumstances as they arise.
People who have been working in a remote work setting will tell you: Life seems so much louder when you are working from home. As you’re developing your business, be prepared to encounter a slew of things like employees caring for sick kids, taking calls while running errands, even taking a day off on the sly. But a big part of moving your business forward means acknowledging that life happens, and employees often need to respond to it. “Today, as companies increasingly need to become more dynamic, interconnected and flexible, soft skills are critical,” says Forbes contributor Jan Bruce.
In an Indeed.com survey, experts identified seven top soft skills companies seek. They are as follows:
Acting as a team player
Problem-solving and resourcefulness
“Every single one of these soft skills is critical to management success. Hard skills are great, but for managers, the soft skills are the most critical part of their success,” writes Suzanne Lucas. “Good managers who effectively practice soft skills create an environment that is conducive to better and more productive employees, and that’s any successful business’s goal.”
These are exciting times for your organization. And by creating a formula that incorporates measurable time management applications, better communication, and managing your team with a flexible, adaptable leadership style, you’ll find a winning balance between empowering flexibility and essential work productivity.