As an employer, how do you attract top talent looking for more flexibility and freedom in their work? Easy, give them what they want! Figuring out just what that is and how to strategically implement change – not so easy. With innovative technologies advancing at an exhausting pace, employers are standing up and taking notice in order to cash in on the global trend of remote work environments. Job seekers both young and old are discovering more meaningful, purposeful, yet flexible career opportunities.

Research shows that one benefit of a well-managed remote workforce is decreased employee turnover. Employee autonomy and flexible work schedules are revolutionizing how work is done, and employees are being rewarded with a better work-life balance. Most remote-first organizations offer their employees supportive services in a fully transparent and collaborative atmosphere. Unfortunately, there are organizations out there that fail to address important challenges that come with managing a remote workforce.

Long hours of self-isolation and disconnection can have a negative effect on an employee’s mental health. “Unaddressed depression in the workplace can cause employee morale to suffer and makes your employees feel alone or isolated. For remote employees, these feelings of isolation may already be amplified.” (Just Works) It is important that employers consider the larger challenge of employee burnout and how to ensure that all staff is properly motivated and incentivized. Creating a space for remote employees to feel safe and supported is critical for long term growth.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Executive Coach and Downtown Works member Erin Rocchio. Erin is a firm believer in creating a world in which we are better to ourselves and each other. She brings her knowledge and wisdom to business leaders across the country and was generous enough to collaborate with me in this week’s blog.

So how can employers begin to build a productive and healthy remote workforce…here are a few things to keep top of mind…

Flexibility Not Liability

Burnout is real people. In my experience, remote workers are some of the most driven, passionate, and hard-working employees in an entire organization. Productivity and purpose are a great combination, but if left unchecked, can have unforeseen negative effects on longevity.

Erin was quick to weigh in on this trending topic…

By in large, data continues to show that some flexibility in where employees do their work (i.e. remote at least part-time), boosts engagement and performance. That said, remote workers run the risk of burning themselves out when a few factors collide…

  1. They don’t have enough boundaries between their work time and their personal time.
  2. They aren’t connecting with their teams and colleagues frequently enough to build a sense of shared community.
  3. They have insufficient personal habits to renew their energy (physical, mental, emotional) when they aren’t working.
  4. Their work doesn’t have a direct link to a mission or purpose they find personally meaningful.

When one or more of these factors pile on, remote workers can feel adrift, isolated, and exhausted. When remote workers are left to flounder without managerial support or connection to purpose and team, they can suffer the very real personal effects of workplace burnout, including decreased engagement and performance.

Culture Trumps EVERYTHING

For me, culture is everything! I recently graduated a Startup Bootcamp hosted by the Torrey Project for social entrepreneurs building multi-stakeholder focused businesses. During one of our Saturday sessions, led by culture expert Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky, we took a deep dive into the concept of workplace culture. What are the primary cultural motivators that drive behavior? I asked Erin what she believes motivates remote employees. Here’s what she said…

In my experience, remote employees can be particularly motivated by job autonomy, or the freedom to meet their job goals when/how it works best for them (assuming they meet critical deadlines). Project-based work is well suited to this type of arrangement versus meetings-based roles.

Also, company cultures that acknowledge employees as whole people – with loved ones to care for, hobbies to enjoy, commitments outside of work – are most attractive to remote workers who give their full attention to their jobs AND their external lives. When companies can find the sweet spot of flexibility, trust, and appreciation for their remote workers, those employees tend to be highly engaged and give more of themselves to their jobs in the long run.

Create a Psychological Safety Net

Trust must be earned – it is never given. Building a culture where remote staff feel supported and “safe” to create and be comfortable being themselves takes time. In my experience, productivity skyrockets when everyone feels safe sharing their talents, feelings, and natural gifts with the organization whole-heartedly.

Finally, let’s hear from Erin on the topic of how employers can create a psychological safety net for remote workers.

Leaders of remote teams must be extra attentive to the engagement, wellbeing, and trust of their employees. One important way of building psychological safety is to ensure each remote team member has time with you, their boss, on a regular and frequent cadence. In those 1:1 meetings, try to leverage video technology (like Zoom or Skype) to build a personal connection. Make sure your agenda includes space for your remote worker to bring forward what’s most important to them but also makes time for each of these components at least monthly:

  1. Project updates, challenges, and other tactical issues
  2. Strategic or innovative thinking about how to make work better or grow the business
  3. Personal/Career Development

When remote workers feel seen and heard as whole people, the value and care you feel towards them will translate into real teaming and performance.

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