Working remotely has been a way of life for most of America for the past years. Sure, there are those that are still going into the office, and there are those that have worked remotely for their entire careers, but for most of us, fully remote work is new. Read on to learn how a finance leader is coping with managing an engaged remote workforce successfully.
And while there have definitely been some upsides to fully remote work, such as a more relaxed wardrobe, more time with family, and the elimination of the commute, remote work has not been without its challenges and frustrations.
Whether it’s not having the right equipment at home, or maybe it’s the slow internet speed from the kids doing school online while we’re trying to participate in yet another Zoom call, or maybe your body just can’t handle sitting in that kitchen chair for eight hours for one more day.
Our guest on the CFO Weekly podcast this week is Mike Gilmartin. Mike is the Chief Financial Officer at M. Davis & Sons, an award-winning, fifth-generation industrial construction company that builds, installs, and services corporate and government facilities.
Mike and his team were thrown head-first into remote work along with the rest of us, and our discussion contained great advice on managing a remote workforce, changes you may need to make in order to accommodate a fully remote staff, and how to keep remote employees engaged.
The Challenges & Benefits of Remote Work
Obviously not every job can be done remotely. Mike and his team know this firsthand, as many of their employees are field-based, and it’s impossible for a construction site manager to do their job from behind a computer. But aside from some of the complications, there have been a lot of amazing benefits to a remote workforce, as well as some challenges.
“One of the biggest surprises of remote work was finding out that many of our processes and procedures needed upgrading," Gilmartin said.
Challenges of remote work include things like not having the right equipment, and that goes well beyond just having the laptop and monitor that you need. It means having the right chair to sit in all day long. It means whiteboards in order to brainstorm. It means having appropriate internet speed at home to be able to work effectively. Putting all of these things into place can be a challenge.
But while there are challenges, there also benefits. Not having a commute and getting to spend more time at home with family are obvious benefits. But the benefits go well beyond that, including things like streamlining technology and improving processes that were working fine before going remote but aren’t conducive to a remote work environment.
Managing Your Remote Team - Engaged Workforce
If you’ve found yourself managing a remote team for the first time, it can be daunting. How do you make sure that you’re staying in touch with all your direct reports and colleagues, while also allowing them to work effectively?
Mike had some great advice on how to manage these remote teams, including the following:
Make sure everybody has the right tools, including those beyond simply technology-based items.
Know when to mute everybody on a video call.
Pause for longer periods of time after asking questions, and wait for responses.
Encourage your team to collaborate with one another outside of your meeting on whatever video platform they’re using.
Ask people to make their faces visible as much as possible while on video-calls. It’s much easier to read body language that way.
Control email. We’re all flooded with emails now, and cutting down on that can be a huge benefit.
Keeping Your Remote Team Engaged
Plenty of people thrive in a remote work environment, but not everybody does. It can be a challenge keeping some employees engaged who might not be used to remote work or who find themselves becoming disengaged as they go about their work.
One way to keep your team engaged is to make sure they know what’s going on with the company as a whole. When you work remotely, you only see a small piece of the world, and you’re not getting the bigger picture that you’d get at the coffee pot or the lunchroom. So as much as you can, share what’s happening company-wide.
Also, take the chance to talk about other employees they might not get to see anymore. One of the things that we may not realize in this remote work environment is that so many of us took our colleagues for granted, and we’re longing for relationships with other people.
“Prior to the pandemic, I think they looked at each other as co-workers. Now I think they realize that these co-workers are also friends too,” Gilmartin said.
Helping Employees Stay Visible - Managing an Engaged Remote Workforce
Finally, how do you ensure that employees are staying visible to managers and that the work that they’re doing is getting noticed and appreciated? While it used to be easy to just pop your head over the wall and chat with someone, it takes much more effort to open a Zoom call or pick up the phone now.
Most good managers are going to know who is stepping up to the plate and who isn’t, but it never hurts to give those shoutouts. If you know someone is helping someone else, let everybody else know.
And in video calls, go around the room and give each person a chance to speak about their work life and maybe even their personal lives. Pay attention to what they’re saying during that time, and follow up with them later.
Remote work is challenging, but can also be incredibly beneficial for the team if the leadership is on board and committed to making it work.