How to increase remote team productivity in virtual offices

What many workers assumed would be a temporary remote work situation is now looking to last much longer. Speaking to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Mari Ann Snow, CEO of Remote Nation, said “This is a crisis work-from-home scenario that we’re all dealing with. Work and life are colliding in ways that we have never seen before.” No wonder a survey from SHRM found that “71 percent of organizations are struggling to adapt to remote work, especially in the areas of productivity and communication…” In this unprecedented and challenging situation, how can you maintain the productivity of your remote team?

Remote work offers many benefits, but it also creates unique challenges, especially when switching an entire in-office workforce to remote wasn’t exactly in the 2020 business plan. Remote workers can easily feel isolated and disconnected from their co-workers. They may not have the ideal work equipment. Communication can break down even while distractions pile up.

Managers must make a concerted effort to understand the needs of their remote team to help preserve productivity, motivation, and worker sanity. Here are nine tips to do just that.

1. Keep the business mission statement front and center

It can be easy for workers to lose sight of the company’s mission statement, especially when so many distractions abound. It’s more important than ever that you remind your remote team of why you do what you do and why your mission is so valuable.

2. Create clear, understandable priorities

For many companies, their 2020 business goals have flown out the window. Big projects might be nixed or changed, or you may have had to pivot your entire business model. With so much uncertainty in the air, it’s important that you create clear priorities for your remote team. A clear set of priorities will help reduce the clutter of less important tasks and allow your team to make faster progress on what really matters.

3. Buy your workers the right equipment

It may seem obvious, but the right tools can dramatically help increase a worker’s productivity. Don’t assume your workers have everything they need at their home office. Ask them and be willing to invest in the right tools. If your worker is sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop, think of how much more they could get done with a desk, high-quality chair, large monitor, speedy internet, ergonomic keyboard, and a great pair of noise-canceling headphones.

4. Invest in team management software

It might have been easy to follow along with what everyone on your team was doing when you all shared an office. Not so much when everyone is at home. One of the greatest risks of remote work is the potential for miscommunications. You can create much more visibility for your team by investing in team management software or project management software (which sometimes overlap).

These software tools let you create and assign projects to your employees and track their progress. Team members can share files, send messages, and collaborate in real-time through the software.

Top team management software options include:

5. Focus on goals rather than time in the office

Not every remote worker can be at their desk for eight hours a day, especially if they have to care for children or other family members. Instead of sticking to a traditional work schedule, shift your focus to goal completion. It may be that your most productive workers can complete their work in several sprints throughout the day, while others prefer to work more slowly but consistently for a longer amount of time. It doesn’t really matter how much time your employees spend on a project as long as they get it done with a high level of quality. (Here’s how to align your remote team to a shared goal.)

One caveat is that it’s a good idea to require workers to be available during certain hours each day so that you and other employees can reliably communicate with them and you can hold meetings.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Speaking to SHRM about how to create remote work success, Mark Royal, a senior director for Korn Ferry, said: “Communication is critical and should be frequent, candid, consistent and tailored to be personal.”

Without frequent communication, remote workers can easily feel disconnected from you and from their other team members. Make sure that doesn’t happen by scheduling regular video conference calls with the entire team. Zoom work meetings during the COVID pandemic may have entered meme territory, but they are nevertheless important. Video calls allow your team members to actually see each other and talk directly. It can also be a great way for workers to catch up with each other and maintain strong relationships. (Check out these eight steps to a more engaging online meeting.)

7. Check in with your employees

Good communication doesn’t just mean keeping your remote team connected. You must also make more of an effort to regularly reach out to your workers. Not only is this a great way for you to offer critical feedback, but it’s an even better chance for you to listen and offer solutions to the challenges your employees are facing. Unless you ask, you may never know an employee is confused about an assignment or is a single parent trying to school young children.

Ask questions about how your employees are working, how they’re connecting, and what is standing in their way. Aside from check-in calls, you should also consider sending out anonymous surveys to your remote team to garner honest feedback.

8. Share focus apps

Some workers naturally find their groove in a remote setting, while others struggle, especially with so many distractions at their fingertips.A 2019 survey by Airtasker found that remote employees lost 27 minutes per day on distractions (which, interestingly, was actually less than office workers). For your team members who can’t help jumping onto Facebook every ten minutes, offer them some great focus apps. These apps work in different ways, but they can all help keep your employees on track.

Some top focus apps include:

9. Celebrate your remote team

One of the best ways to improve the productivity of your remote team is to keep morale high. An easy way to do that is to celebrate your workers for all their amazing accomplishments. Make it a point to highlight worker achievements on your video calls or to offer sincere praise in your check-ins. At a time of heightened tension and stress, words of support are needed more than ever.

Treat your workers to perks to celebrate their success. Send gift cards or bottles of wine. Have lunch delivered to their homes or give them a Friday afternoon off. You can even throw a remote trivia competition party. Your efforts will be noticed and appreciated.

You’ve got this

Your workers aren’t the only ones having to adapt to remote work life. The transition can be challenging for managers, too. But you’ve got this. With a little extra work and creativity, you can maintain or even increase the productivity of your remote team. To start, find out what’s working and what’s not for your team. At Poll Everywhere, we give you the tools to create surveys and polls that will provide the insight you need to continually improve your own performance and the performance of your team.