Embracing a Remote Workforce to Improve Business

By Julie Huval, FSMPS, CPSM posted 05-26-2020 18:08

There are four areas challenging remote working:
  • Communication
  • Tracking productivity
  • Trust
  • Unified company culture
Miscommunication is a major hurdle in business (and life in general). Misaligned vocabulary, messy thinking, and sloppy language habits are the main culprits contributing to miscommunication. As business professionals, it takes effort and practice to boost our communication effectiveness. We must simplify our message (not everyone understands the science behind marketing like marketers do just like not everyone understands the science behind engineering as engineers do), align our thoughts ahead of time, and know our audience. I've been able to align my thoughts by writing down an outline of a technical marketing topic that I'm presenting to other company leadership. I start with communicating the end goal, frame the issue, and then discuss specifics. The audience is aware of what we are trying to accomplish and I've helped them get into the right mindset to have a collaborative conversation. It helps organize my logic and smooth out any messy thinking. Also, spending time with my audience has allowed me to adjust my language habits so I can communicate more effectively with them. In our current remote work environment I spend more time with people in one-on-one weekly meetings, attend virtual hangouts, and pick up the phone to make calls. 

Tracking Productivity
Tracking productivity in marketing used to seem like an uphill battle. However, remote work requires productivity to be reported so managers can help allocate resources and/or adjust deadlines. Plus, tracking productivity means measuring the quality (not quantity) of projects, making sure projects are reduced to bite-size pieces, accounting for the human element, and building autonomy. It boils down to measuring what matters and communicating the effort required to accomplish projects. I have felt overwhelmed at times in my career balancing between working on proposals, submitting for awards, reviewing internal communication pieces, building a company intranet, etc. I've since learned to take the desired goal for the company, build marketing initiatives around that goal, develop action items for those initiatives, and then report on the progress of the action items. This plan gets everyone on the same page and everything is transparent. 

Trust is easy to lose and hard to get back. Managing a remote workforce is based on trust. Antitrust is built from leaving out the "why", not allowing room for differences, reducing engagement, limiting transparency, and lack of communication. Leading with why is important to set the stage for trust. Employees want to know that the work they are doing is going towards a bigger picture. Especially in professional services. This industry is not set up as a factory and, therefore, employees need to see the work they are doing today has long term effects for the business and the communities we design and build. Trust is also built through asking, embracing, and celebrating differences. The variety of input that comes from people who think differently from various angles makes our companies stronger and more prepared for the future. Additionally, get team members involved in leading the company. If messaging is always coming from the top down then it is perceived that only the top matters. Get team members engaged! Being open and honest will help increase transparency. It also opens the door for diverse ideas and solutions. In a remote work environment it is important to over-communicate. And I encourage companies to use a variety of channels to communicate with employees because everyone learns/retains information differently.

Unified Company Culture
Defining your company culture includes understanding the company's purpose, having employee engagement, welcoming an environment of trust, and supporting continuous learning. Building and maintaining a company culture remotely may be an uphill battle if the company didn't have a great culture to start with (especially if people are enjoying being at home because they don't have to deal with office drama/their boss/that annoying co-worker). Having a remote workforce is the perfect time to clarifying the company's purpose because we are all focusing on the most important factors that keep our companies moving forward. Once you have that purpose written down in black-and-white then you can start to label the core values of the company. At my company we did an employee survey and asked for the 3 words that best described Beck Technology. From the word cloud that came out of those responses we landed on passion, innovation, and caring. Our core values were decided by employees and the leadership team ensures we are staying true to our core values throughout the company.

Having a remote workforce can mean a lot of added benefits to the company like reduced corporate office space, hiring the best candidates without the need for relocation, employees with a better work-life convergence, and focusing on what makes the company successful. I'd also encourage you to take these items and apply them to non-remote workforces, too. Improving communication, tracking productivity, building trust, and having a unified company culture is great for business regardless of where your desk is located. 

(I shared these insights with SMPS Colorado on May 13 via a webinar event. Thanks to @Nicole Fatchaline for the invite to speak.)