A Flexible Work Environment Does Not Require Big Changes

Written by Sam Derby, PHR, SHRM-CP | Dec 11, 2018

Remote Workers

Remote and flexible work environments are a growing trend in today’s economy. According to a report by FlexJobs.com, 43 percent of the U.S. workforce currently performs some of their work remotely. This is up from 23 percent just three years ago.

Whether your company has a handful of workers moving to a flexible environment or entire teams working remotely, you may be concerned about how this trend will affect your company’s productivity and culture.

We certainly heard more questions about remote work environments in 2018 than ever before, and we expect those questions to increase in 2019 as technology continues to make it easier for teams to maintain a positive and productive work environment even if they are not sharing the same physical space.

What’s important to remember is that shifting to a remote work environment does not mean wholesale changes to how your managers direct the actions of employees.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that managers need to supervise an employee completely differently if there is a change in the work environment. That is not the case. Instead, HR leaders should consider making small changes to ensure that your teams remain productive and that your company culture is maintained.

The key is looking at each employee’s motivations and strengths/weaknesses to determine what small changes to make. You can also apply this approach to evaluating job applicants to determine if they are the right fit for your changing work environment.

How to Maintain Productivity in a Remote Work Environment

Companies make the shift to remote work environments for different reasons, such as:

  • Offering added benefits to employees to work from home or in a remote office setting.
  • Increasing retention and reducing unwanted turnover by working with each employee’s needs.
  • Adjusting to the rhythm of a workday that may not fit within a traditional 9:00-5:00 window.
  • Reducing costs by reducing the footprint of the company’s physical office space.

The concern for many managers is whether their employees will still be productive if they are not physically supervised.

To break through that misconception in a work setting, evaluate the motivations of employees in a remote work environment. Then, strategize small changes that optimize the working relationship between the manager and employee.

  • If an employee needs face-to-face time with their manager to remain motivated, then suggest that managers initiate phone calls or regular check-ins throughout the day.
  • If an employee feeds off the energy of their co-workers to be productive, then suggest that managers schedule regular team meetings via video conference.
  • If an employee is motivated by reporting their work and logging times, implement a work tracking tool that allows employees to “show their work.”

How to Maintain Company Culture in a Remote Work Environment

In addition to maintaining and growing productivity, you may also concerned about protecting the company culture. This highlights another misconception that we have encountered: company culture completely changes after shifting to a flexible work environment.

When we talk to clients about their culture in a remote environment, we always stress the importance of communication. Communication is a critical component of maintaining the company culture you created. First, though, you need to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each employee and manager to understand the best methods of communication.

- For example, some employees work best with limited supervision. They do not need to be micromanaged; therefore, they do not need their manager to communicate with them every hour of every day to check on their work. A scheduled check-in once per day -- or even once per week -- will suffice.

- On the other extreme, some employees need their manager to check in with them on a regular basis to stay motivated. In the absence of communication, they could become de-motivated, negatively impacting the company culture.

As an HR leader, your role is to give managers tools that will support the transition for employees. This requires being aware of small changes to maintain the culture, the most effective means of communication between managers and employees, and proactive steps to bridge any gaps in communication.

It’s essential to be attentive to the motivations of each employee and aligning those motivations with the manager’s managerial style to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

How to Determine if Candidates Fit a Remote Work Environment

As you transition to a remote work environment, you will want to ensure that candidates who apply for positions in your company are a good fit for a remote setting.

Your goal should be to gather as much information about their motivations and emotional intelligence competencies to understand whether they are a good fit for the role.

However, we do not recommend that you base your hiring decision on whether they are a good fit for a remote environment.

Again, managing an employee in a remote work environment only requires small changes. Instead, focus on the candidate’s highest motivators. Do they need a personal connection or regular communication with their manager? Then, if you decide to hire the employee, find ways to help the manager make that connection work in a remote environment.

Overall, the more you are aware of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in the context of a remote work environment, the better you are able to help managers optimize the relationship with the candidate when they become an employee. By taking this approach, you will be able to increase productivity and maintain your company culture.

As more companies transition to remote work environments, we look forward to working with your company to provide support addressing the latest challenges in the changing workplace.


About the Author

Sam Derby

As the Manager of HR Services for ZERORISK HR, Sam consults on the use of the ZERORISK Hiring Systemâ„¢ and provides HR training. Sam holds her designation as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) as well as a Society of Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP). Prior to joining ZERORISK HR, Sam worked in the healthcare industry and focused on recruiting and training.


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