Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Remote work was one giant experiment just a few years ago, but now it’s here to stay. Long after the height of the global pandemic, more than one-third of the nation’s workforce is doing their job at home, according to economic data from a recent American Time to Use Survey. But like managing employees in the office, leading workers in a remote environment takes time and effort.
I founded Duffy Group as one of the first fully remote companies in the early 1990s and have seen the model succeed with flying colors and fail miserably. Here are the five mistakes I see new remote teams making that will kill their success:
1. Undefined expectations and deliverables
The most productive employees deliver tangible and measurable outcomes for their companies. Yet some leaders do not set clear expectations for their teams, instead focusing on the time employees spend at their desks. Ensuring that employees know the objectives of the task at hand will help leaders measure worker productivity regardless of where individuals are doing the work.
Remote work is based on trust. Leaders who micromanage their remote teams can cast doubt over their employees’ performance, which could lead to low morale and poor productivity. It is critical to give employees autonomy by setting clear expectations and then challenging them to flex their muscles and perform at their highest levels.
3. Working independently, not as a team
Building the workforce of the future requires new ideas, novel solutions and creative problem-solving. This isn’t the work of one person — it requires teamwork. Done wrong, remote work can kill collaboration, sending staff members into their individual corners to complete given tasks. At Duffy Group, our recruiters meet weekly in huddle groups to share the wins and challenges of the week. Doing so strengthens connections with each other and keeps the team laser-focused on our company’s strategic goals.
4. Lack of engagement
A critical part of building a collaborative environment with remote or hybrid workers is ensuring they are engaged in their jobs. That means respecting their time by scheduling meetings that work for employees in many different time zones, requiring video cameras to remain on during Zoom meetings and encouraging a healthy dialogue among workers during virtual sessions, just as you would during a meeting at the office. To propel staff engagement to a higher level, empower team members with new tasks or assign them to lead projects. As leaders, get creative by allowing team members to build deeper connections outside work projects through company-sponsored coffee chats, happy hours and other events.
5. Minimal training and mentoring
It’s always surprising to me to see companies with robust training and mentoring programs for employees in the office do not extend that commitment to the virtual workplace. Learning new skills or assuming additional tasks in a remote setting can be difficult if you don’t have the right plan. Mentoring and training are an investment in employees’ professional development and a critical step in building a productive workforce.
At Duffy Group, we have perfected the art of keeping our team engaged by making a hefty investment — about $450,000 — in staff training and development each year. It’s designed to build a cohesive and high-performing culture that brings out the “intrapreneur” (no, that’s not a typo) in our team, allowing them to drive their businesses and take calculated risks to grow market sectors. We also have what we call a Pathways Program to grow staff for positions of greater responsibility, which, in turn, helps to grow our company’s business. Through training, coaching and mentoring, recruiters can hone their skills and leverage their business development expertise. I don’t share this to boast about Duffy Group but rather to inspire other leaders to seek ways to engage their remote teams.
Keep in mind that when it comes to engagement, information is power. We make transparency a priority with our remote team, hosting quarterly state-of-the-business meetings to share updates on financials and other confidential topics. Our practice leaders also consistently communicate with their direct reports during one-on-one calls about the business to ensure they have the resources to be successful and to review their personal development plans. And when there is an underperforming area of the business? During these situations, we take a team approach to addressing the problem that includes asking, “How can I make you more successful?”
6. Forgetting to celebrate
Celebrating wins, big and small, is essential to keeping employees energized. But for some companies, this simple task falls by the wayside when the team is not physically in the office. Our company has created “Feel Good Friday” to recognize staff members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. We participate in local philanthropic events, including virtual activities, where our out-of-state employees can donate their time and talents to give back and strengthen our communities. Think virtual food and fundraising drives. You’ll find that your employees return to their work refreshed and with a renewed sense of optimism.
It’s no surprise that the workplace is changing. Remote or hybrid schedules can be a deal-maker or breaker for hiring and retaining workers, as evidenced by findings from a recent survey in which 72% of workers said they would accept a lower-paying job if it offered the flexibility to work from home.
Rather than lament about these new dynamics, begin building a successful remote workplace. Done right, this can be a competitive advantage, improving workers’ productivity and job satisfaction. The key to success is designing a model that works for employees and companies alike.