Best Practices - Working Remotely
This three-part report discusses how to increase efficiency and productivity when working remotely. The first section examines additional best practices in working remotely and managing a remote team. The second section provides two case studies of companies with successful remote work teams. The third section highlights insights related to what workers are looking for in a remote office environment.
Additional Best Practices in Working Remotely
One additional best practice in working remotely and managing a remote team is making leadership accessible and responsive. It is also important to address digital safety and cybersecurity. This section describes each of these best practices and provides supporting evidence from at least two credible publications.
Accessible and Responsive Leadership
- According to Forbes, it is important that leaders managing a remote team be accessible and responsive in their communications with team members. To accomplish this, management should set clear schedules regarding when leadership can be reached. Team leaders should also make it clear how long an employee can expect to wait before getting a response to direct questions.
- Additionally, remote team leaders should take into account the wide spectrum of personalities behind their virtual workforce. When team members feel understood, it can make them more motivated and productive employees.
- This is a best practice because working in a remote setting creates distance by its very nature. On a practical level, workers are distanced physically and operationally. However, management can employ "values, trust, and interdependency" to "establish rapport and create empathy" so that remote workers feel less isolated from team leaders and one another.
- Remote offices can use a system of acronyms or tags to communicate leadership response times to specific questions or messages. According to the Harvard Business Review, "Companies such as Merck have created acronyms for their digital communications like 'Four Hour Response (4HR)' and 'No Need to Respond (NNTR)' that bring predictability and certainty to virtual conversations."
- Another Forbes article cites that 73% of remote team leaders check in personally with their subordinates at least once each week.
- Bloomberg reports that it is crucial remote team members know "where [they] can turn for help — both in regard to their work but also for emotional support." It suggests offering "self-service help portals" and "learning portals" as useful ways to make important information accessible in a remote office setting.
Digital Safety and Cybersecurity
- As a recent Forbes article explains, "remote work can give rise to information security breaches." These breaches can be via malware, hackers, scammers, or even family members who unintentionally view sensitive information.
- According to another Forbes article, "enterprise level ransomware was up 12% in 2019 [costing businesses] as much as $11.5 billion" in combined total losses. It recommends adherence to the data protection pragmatism that suggests keeping "three copies of... data stored on two different types of storage... with [the third copy] stored off-site."
- To illustrate why this is a best practice, one data protection company estimates that "ransomware threats" could "cost the global economy $6 trillion by 2021." Employees working out of a home office face an acute risk of malware attacks.
- USA Today suggests that remote workers take precautions like watching out for voice-spoofing attacks, updating computer system firewall and encryption settings, using a virtual private network (VPN), and always logging out when they are not using the computer to protect their virtual office from "hackers and scammers."
- One local news network warns remote workers that clicking on dangerous links could "allow a hacker to infiltrate their computer or network" and steal sensitive information like tax documents, social security numbers, and passwords.
- The Hill reports that hackers are taking advantage of the current COVID-19 crisis and "a new wave of cyberattacks [are] targeting Americans who are forced to work from home." Companies are advised to "provide security awareness training for remote workers."
Case Studies — Intuit and Zendesk
Intuit and Zendesk are two examples of companies with successful remote teams. This section provides details related to what these companies are doing in the context of remote work, why, and to what end. For the purposes of this research, "successful" is defined in terms of media and public consensus.
- Intuit is an accounting, financial services, and software company headquartered in Mountain View, CA that reports $6.78 billion in annual revenue. Its products and platforms include TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint.
- FlexJobs reports that 69% of positions at Intuit offer "remote work options." It also ranked the company #13 on its 2019 list of the top 100 companies with remote jobs. FlexJobs ranks the companies on this list according to "remote-friendliness" and employee satisfaction.
- Intuit is an example of a company that uses Slack as a collaborative tool for its remote work team. To quote one executive, Slack's platform helps "break down barriers" so that Intuit's remote team members can "work together seamlessly."
- A group manager at Intuit says that using a common platform results in "solving problems much faster" because "although [remote workers] are spread across the globe, Slack makes it like [everyone is] in the same room."
- The company uses app integrations like the software development platform GitHub, the project management software Jira Cloud, and the automation server Jenkins. Intuit also uses Slack to assist with onboarding and remote team training.
- According to its 2019 annual report, Intuit employs remote team members to supplement its staffing needs during times of notably high demand, such as tax season. These remote employees work with consumers to "provide customer service and technical support by telephone, e-mail, online and video chat, text messaging, [and within] online communities."
- Examples of positions that are often held by remote workers at Intuit are tax advisors, seasonal tax support team members, and CPA tax professionals.
- One result of its efforts in creating a successful remote team is that remote workers rate telecommuting with Intuit 4.2 stars out of five on Indeed. Specifically, they praise Intuit for its benefits and pay, company culture, and work-life balance.
- Intuit has also won several awards commending its work culture including Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, Glassdoor's Best Places to Work: Employee's Choice, and Fortune's Best Workplaces in Technology.
- Zendesk is a customer service platform and software company headquartered in San Francisco, CA that reports $598.7 million in annual revenue.
- According to FlexJobs, Zendesk "believes in a healthy work-life balance" with reasonable working hours and offers "remote work options" for 100% of its workforce. FlexJobs also ranked Zendesk #28 on its 2018 list of the 35 most flexible software companies. It considers factors like employee approval rates and whether team members would recommend the business to a friend when ranking the companies on this list.
- Zendesk is another example of a business that uses Slack to foster teamwork and collaboration within its remote work community. One team leader says that "90% of his team is dispersed around the world" and that Slack helps him "build camaraderie and trust" through daily check-ins, status updates, and collaborative problem solving.
- A remote team member at Zendesk says that using a common platform like Slack helps her "get answers for customers, escalate support requests, interact with... teammates and [management], and share sales decks" with greater efficiency.
- Zendesk uses app integrations like the incident response platform PagerDuty, Zoom, Google Drive, Slack's automated survey and report generator Geekbot, and Jira Cloud.
- The company also relies on a "videoconferencing-enabled virtual onboarding process" to train new hires and uses "self-service tools" that help remote workers answer common questions or troubleshoot IT problems.
- All remote team members at Zendesk must have a home office setup that includes high-speed internet, as well as a "quiet space free from distractions" and loud noises. As an added security measure, home office layouts must ensure that computer screens are not visible to others.
- According to its 2019 annual report, Zendesk is a company that values "balanc[ing] work with play." Remote work opportunities help Zendesk grow its team, which it describes as a "global and diverse group of individuals," while giving employees and contractors the freedom to develop a healthy work-life balance.
- Zendesk says that its corporate "culture [is] deeply dedicated to helping [its] staff keep work-life balance, [by offering] flexible hours... remote work... and progressive parental leave plans." As a result of its efforts to build a successful remote team and promote flexibility, employees rate Zendesk 4.2 stars out of five on Indeed, and 95% of workers have a favorable opinion of its corporate leadership.
What Workers Look for in a Remote Office
When working in a remote setting, employees look for scheduling flexibility and freedom from micromanagement, as well as a sense of community and engagement. This section describes each of these insights with supporting evidence from trusted media sources and statistical databases.
- According to ABC News, scheduling flexibility is a top reason that employees opt for remote work opportunities. Working from home allows individuals to "make their own hours, take time off for children's activities, or to go to the gym or walk the dog."
- To illustrate the relevance of this point, global research firm Gartner reports that telecommuting is most "attractive to employees who need greater flexibility" and that generational preferences are driving the demand for remote work options.
- For example, Gartner anticipates that the demand for remote work will "increase by 30%" over the next decade due in large part to Gen Z, the first generation of true digital natives, "fully entering the workforce."
- Pew Research states that millennial employees make up the largest portion of today's workforce at 35%. Remote work options with scheduling flexibility are particularly important to this demographic, and 68% say they would choose a job that offered remote work opportunities over one that did not.
- According to Forbes, more than 51% of working adults are looking for a company that offers flexibility options like remote work opportunities and flexible schedules.
- Business Insider says that remote workers often use their scheduling flexibility to foster healthy habits and practice self care, which can lead to greater work-life balance.
Freedom from Micromanagement
- According to Forbes, remote workers "feel more productive on any given day" than employees in a traditional office. Team leaders, however, worry that working from home can lead to less efficiency. Most cite "monitoring their employees’ productivity" as a major managerial concern.
- The Harvard Business Review calls it "digital dominance" when team leaders exhaust all available channels like email, phone, and messaging to excessively follow up with remote workers and request progress updates.
- This is relevant because micromanaging employees can "actually slow work down and create tension." The building resentment remote employees feel when team leaders overwhelm them with requests for progress updates at unreasonable intervals can corrode trust.
- ABC News reports that it can be easy for leadership to micromanage remote team members by "checking on them... too frequently." However, building trust between remote staff and team leaders can help balance this and give everyone a stronger "sense of security" that all parties are "working toward the same goal."
- Inc. notes that leaders managing a remote team have a tendency to micromanage to assuage anxieties caused by "a lack of facetime." To resolve this, it recommends instituting clear guidelines about how often team members are expected to give status reports and through which specific channels.
- In another article, Inc. suggests that team leaders "track weekly and quarterly goals" instead of total hours worked in an effort to minimize the tendency to micromanage remote employees.
Community and Engagement
- According to Forbes, personal relationships have a powerful effect on driving employee productivity in the workplace. However, virtual offices lack the "water cooler chitchat and lunchtime conversation" that tend to occur naturally in a traditional office setting.
- This is relevant because working from home can often feel lonely or isolating. ABC News reports that team leaders can combat this by fostering a sense of community and including features like "messaging channels that allow everyone to chime in on a fun discussion."
- Nearly a quarter of remote workers express concerns about isolation and collaboration in a virtual office. Specifically, they worry that the distancing from coworkers and leadership that is inherent to remote work could result in loneliness, lost opportunities, and limited resources.
- HuffPost reports that establishing social connections is a major aspect of a successful remote team. It explains that "communicat[ing] and maintain[ing] relationships with... co-workers should be [a] priority" to combat isolation.
- Forbes points out that it is important for team leaders to highlight milestones and "recognize team members for their effort and achievements." Remote meetings and video conferences should allow for team members to briefly share interesting information about the goings-on in their lives.
- Other suggestions regarding how to foster engagement in a remote work setting include hosting a virtual happy hour or office party, sharing pet photos, swapping recipe ideas, and posting entertaining memes.