Trust and Technology Are Making Remote Work the New Normal

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Dec 24, 2019
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Remote work is quickly becoming the new normal. Hiring managers are using flexible work arrangements to address talent shortages in today’s competitive job market, and they expect to rely on remote workers even more in the future.

A distributed workforce that takes place outside the boundaries of a traditional office, across geographical areas and national borders, can be an ideal framework for employees and employers alike. That’s why so many innovative employers have already embraced distributed and hybrid workforces, including well-known brands like Amazon, Dell and Salesforce.

Whether they put together all-remote teams or stand up a hybrid workforce where offsite workers collaborate with colleagues in the office, company leaders increasingly support flexible work arrangements because they significantly broaden the talent pool and inspire staff loyalty. Both are critical advantages when the competition for skilled workers is fierce.

Making the change

That said, despite the growing acceptance of remote work, some companies aren’t prepared for the remote revolution, and HR professionals and managers transitioning to flexible work arrangements may be unsure of how to handle distributed teams. The good news is that plenty of organizations have already successfully made the change. So, if you’re thinking of expanding your remote team and aren’t sure how to approach it, you can learn from what others have experienced.

Having made the move to a distributed workforce myself, I learned that the foundational questions are these: Do you trust employees to do the right thing when no one is watching, and can you ensure that every employee receives a fair shake, regardless of where they work? There has to be a baseline level of trust before a distributed workforce strategy can succeed, and it goes both ways.

A remote team needs strong project management and performance management systems, so you have a process in place to ensure business objectives are achieved and performance is on track. That’s true of a traditional workplace, too, of course. But with a distributed team, it’s important to think through every aspect of people management — from onboarding to offboarding, and everything in between — and have a plan to support each employee touchpoint virtually.

Build relationships

Technology plays a major role in keeping any modern workplace on track. The same communication and collaboration platforms that allow co-workers to engage in projects and build relationships across office locations can enable teamwork for a distributed workforce too. For example, applications like Slack, Zoom, etc., facilitate communication and keep projects moving forward.

Video conferencing is a great way to get facetime with the team, even if time zones and international borders separate colleagues. Putting a face with a name helps build camaraderie across teams that rarely, if ever, meet in person. Periodic “all hands” meetings are an opportunity to reinforce company values and focus everyone on short- and long-term organizational goals.

A corporate intranet can also be an excellent tool for HR professionals who manage remote teams, providing a central repository for training and onboarding materials and benefits information. HR can use technology to build programs that celebrate personal and company milestones, recognize individual achievements and allow peers to acknowledge each other’s accomplishments.

Being your authentic self

One unexpected but incredibly rewarding benefit of a distributed workforce is how working remotely allows everyone to be their authentic selves. Remote workers tend not to create an “office persona,” so you get to know the real person. Traditional hierarchy structures recede outside the trappings of a traditional office — there are executives in a distributed workforce but no executive floor.

This has a democratizing effect, and employees typically feel free to ask more questions and participate in decision making. Interacting with colleagues from home (or wherever you choose to work) provides insight into who people really are. A glimpse of a movie poster, a shared laugh over a temporary interruption by a barking dog or curious child — this can all be remarkably humanizing.

Having made the office to home transition myself, I can attest to its empowering aspects and productivity benefits. But it is an adjustment, so it’s crucial to understand how it changes workplace dynamics. Speaking from my own experience as an HR professional and a remote worker, it changes them for the better.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.