High-Performance Lessons Learned From The Remote Workforce Revolution

By Patty Crabtree

Startling statistic: In August, 2021, 4.3 million workers quit their jobs because they were looking for something better or they did not want to return to working back in the office again. The media have dubbed it The Great Resignation.

Why the exodus? Because the remote work environment created by the pandemic is a two-edged sword: employers can recruit employees from far afield, but your employees can seek or be lured away by employers who offer greater flexibility.

Let’s go back in time to those disruptive days of March 2020 when the pandemic pushed the work world into a new era. Some companies successfully transformed into a remote work environment almost overnight. But others reasoned this was just going to be a few weeks so they would wait and see. Then it became a few months. Soon reality set in and almost every business had to create a hybrid work environment that embraced remote workers.

Now for many, a remote workforce has become a way of life. There is no going back. Soon we’re going to have two years of this journey in our rear-view mirror. What are the lessons to be learned? Those who are embracing this change will be ahead of the game. But those who are fighting it are going to see challenges with retaining employees and recruiting the best staff for their team.

Manage By Outcome, Not Hours

Before the pandemic, more and more companies were already starting to develop remote work environments and were allowing certain employees to work from home on a regular basis. They saw the benefits and increased performance. Then the pandemic pushed us into fully embracing this flexibility out of a need versus a want. This also moved us into a new understanding of how to create a high-performance work force.

Managing for high performance is hard. There is an old business joke about a man who asked a CEO, “How many people work at your company?”

“About half,” replies the CEO.

The humor illustrated how much unproductive time employees typically spend at an office. The management challenge is to maximize productivity for the hours the employees work. Or is it?

Here is the real question: do you measure hours versus outcomes? If you define the outcomes for a position, do you care, aside from labor laws, when they work and how they work? Granted there are a few positions that may not have this level of flexibility, but many jobs do. As long as they’re getting the outcomes accomplished in a timely basis, an employer has the opportunity to leverage the higher productivity a hybrid work force can deliver.

During the pandemic, the work environment evolved and employees have experienced the opportunity of a better balance based on more flexibility. The challenge now is to embrace this remote work revolution that had been gaining speed well before the pandemic and was accelerated by the work-from-home mandates.

Naturally, many employers want their employees back in the office. These employers miss the good old days of easier access and camaraderie.

But do you really want to fight progress? One reason so many companies are embracing the hybrid revolution is the advantages of attracting the best talent. There are no longer geographic restrictions on where you can draw the best talent from to join your team.

Not Every Company Was This Fortunate

At the end of 2019, one mortgage company decided to eliminate its home office and go 100% virtual. The company already had some remote staff, but it developed a game plan to close down the office to get everybody working from home. The company came up with the systems, purchased the hardware to allow everyone to work from home, and created a plan to ensure its culture stayed strong. Events like five-minute morning stretch breaks leading the team through some simple exercises to keep the body moving. Virtual meetings would start with a quick round robin of how everyone’s week was going before they would jump into the business part of the agenda. The company was creative and did multiple team building exercises like virtual scavenger hunts and escape rooms.

Did it pay off? When the world went into lockdown, its business exploded. By being ahead of the curve the company was ready to take advantage of the real estate boom. Were they just lucky? As the famous scientist Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

The Great Opportunity

Managing a hybrid or fully remote workforce takes a different focus. I use the word intentional here. A more intentional focus on the nuances of a diverse work environment is important to continue a healthy, successful workforce. Over time, this intentional focus will become second nature but in the beginning it is an intentional effort.

Wise employers are not hanging on to the comfort zone of the old structure they had pre-pandemic. The path of wisdom is to choose a structure that will stay ahead of the curve.

Were employees really producing to the level they could, or are they producing better in a remote environment away from the distractions of an office? Many studies indicate remote workers actually have a greater productivity than those in the office. There’s less water cooler talk, less hanging out in the hallways, and more focus on getting the work done and moving on to the next action item.

Many companies have successful track records with remote work. When a company I worked with created a remote work environment back in 2006, we achieved more and more productivity from our remote staff. From reduced distractions to better systems, staff performed higher each year.

Commuting to and from work can be a huge productivity drain and a distraction to one’s day. Think about all those who were walking into the office frustrated, unwinding with a cup of coffee and venting about the person who cut them off. Instead of the driving hassles, remote staff can take a short walk from the kitchen to the home office. They can feel more energized at the start of the day, have a better focus and achieve more success. They also experience a better life-work balance which brings more engagement.

Developing strong systems not only helps monitor productivity but also communicates expectations to staff. Workflow tracking systems ensure that effective assignments are happening and timelines are being met. People know exactly what’s expected of them, and your leaders are able to monitor employee progress helping it along the way.
Higher productivity leads to greater profitability.

Other Tools Are Key

Have you also built recognition into those systems so that it’s visible? People can share their successes with others through their day-to-day interactions without even having to share it. It’s there in front of you displayed in the system. Who is leading the charge? Just check the system. It is a great motivator to keep things on track or even ahead of schedule along with celebrating success.

Team building is critical in any type of work environment, and that is especially true with a distributed workforce. So, how do you encourage connection among your groups? One option is to consider is to have an element of team building built into your team meeting agendas. Set aside a few minutes in the beginning to have everybody share what’s going on or their successes for the week, or even something minor and personal such as what is their favorite vacation spot, or what dish do they like to bring to a potluck? Get creative with the team building questions.

Now Is The Time To Hire Differently

There are some other important questions to consider.

Have you included a work-style assessment as part of your hiring process? Do you have a tool to help you understand somebody’s personality and how that fits in with the team? Do you have a library of interview questions available to help understand how somebody will thrive in your hybrid work environment?

Once you find that right candidate, does your onboarding process create a connection along with a specific job training for a new hire? Are there team building events included in your onboarding process? Have you formalized the onboarding into a schedule of events, meetings, and trainings that guides that new employee through the process and ensures they make those connections that are so critical across the organization?

Here is the bottom line: Developing a successful and lasting hybrid workforce takes some effort. From enhancing your culture to implementing better systems, this intentional focus will bring positive results and keep you as an employer of choice.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2021

Patty Crabtree is a Senior Consultant at Lighthouse Consulting Services with 25 years of operations and finance leadership experience. Her phone number is 310-453-6556, ext. 410 and her email is pattyc@lighthouseconsulting.com.

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style & personality assessments for new hires & staff development. LCS can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching and offer a variety of workshops – team building, interpersonal communication, stress & time management, sales & customer service training and negotiation skills as well as our full-service Business Consulting Division.  To order the books, “Cracking the Personality Code”, “Cracking the Business Code” and “Cracking the High-Performance Team Code”, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

If you are open to a conversation about how our in-depth work style and personality assessment could help your team, including pricing and the science behind the tests, please contact us at 310-453-6556, extension 403.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, Santa Monica, CA, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com.