Companies of every size are faced with a reality once reserved for "future of work" strategies and conversations in the board room. That reality is now.
As more Gen Zers enter the labor market, remote work is predicted to become the norm. In fact, by 2028, 73 percent of all teams will have remote employees, according to UpWork's 2019 Future Workforce Report.
Another eye-opening report that came across my desk is the 2018 Global State of Remote. It's been found that 56 percent of employers worldwide currently offer either a completely remote workplace or a hybrid form of remote work.
As distributed workforces grow and employees start spending less time in-office, leaders must learn to create and lead complex, human-centered workplaces....virtually.
To better understand such an approach, I reached out to Frank Weishaupt for perspective on the business of managing a remote workforce. He should know, he's the CEO of Owl Labs--a video conferencing hardware startup where 1 in 3 employees work remotely, and the company that published the findings behind last year's Global State of Remote report.
Frank has managed remote teams, sometimes exceeding 100 employees, with employees distributed across different time zones and continents, for the majority of his career. He clearly has a unique insight into virtual leadership.
7 strategies for creating a human-centered virtual workplace
Frank found that, whenever remote employees were unsatisfied with their role, the feedback he would consistently hear from them involved feelings of isolation or micromanagement.
He also found that the folks at his corporate HQ didn't have enough empathy for the struggles remote employees faced and took things like communication and collaboration for granted. So, as Frank tells me, he started collecting the best practices to help remote and co-located teammates work together more effectively.
To that end, if you're looking for a foundational approach to building and leading a virtual workforce, Frank points the way with 7 must-have practices.
1. Train managers to not micromanage.
When employees aren't directly visible, it's natural for managers to question if they're slacking off and revert to micromanagement, which can kill employee morale. Creating a management training program centered around communication, compromise and workstyle acceptance will give your managers the tools they need to avoid micromanagement tendencies.
2. Promote a culture of employee autonomy and trust.
Trust is the foundation of a successful virtual workplace and without it, remote work policies cannot and will not work. Although, it may be difficult to trust new employees, instilling this trust from the start can make employees feel valued.
3. Create virtual mentor and professional development programs.
Instead of foregoing the benefits of a mentorship program simply because your employees aren't physically in the office, create a program that matches remote employees with a virtual mentor and encourages monthly video chats--bonus points if your program pairs mentees with mentors that also work remotely. Also, keep in mind that remote employees miss out on in-office learning opportunities, so investing in online tools such as LinkedIn Learning, Skillcrush, and General Assembly will allow everyone to pursue their professional development goals.
4. Use technologies that promote the equalization of remote and in-office employees.
Have you ever remotely joined a meeting only to discover the technology isn't working and now you can't participate because you can't see or hear anything? There's nothing more isolating than feeling like an afterthought, so invest in remote-friendly technologies--like Slack, Trello, Zoom and 360° smart video conferencing hardware--to demonstrate that every employee's success is a priority, regardless of location.
5. Establish clear channels of communication for remote employees.
Just like traditional, in-office employees, remote employees should know exactly how to get ahold of the C-suite or human resources if they ever have questions, concerns or complaints.
6. Regularly share accomplishments of all employees regardless of location.
This simple practice of regularly recognizing your employees' good work can prevent remote employees from feeling invisible, isolated or underappreciated -- feelings that may impact remote employee retention.
7. Hold in-person meetings once a quarter.
At the end of the day, no matter how much technology we use to communicate, humans are social creatures and we crave in-person interaction. Whether an employee retreat, yearly town hall or holiday party, getting everyone together under one roof at least once per quarter will create a sense of community, promote team bonding and boost employee morale. These in-person meetings are an excellent place to showcase those employee accomplishments previously mentioned.