The rise in number of employees working remotely shows no sign of slowing.

The New York Times reports that last year 43% of employed americans worked remotely at least some of the time. That’s up 4% since 2012.

Fast Company predicts that by 2020 the remote workforce will be 50% of working Americans. With these numbers, it’s increasingly likely that your HR team will soon be managing people remotely–if you aren’t already.

A remote staff presents some new challenges. First on the list might be how to make sure staff are productive and motivated, making the most of their time to get results?

While research shows that remote workers are naturally more productive, here’s some insight into how you can keep employee performance high when you’re working with a remote staff.

Keeping Employee Performance High

Ana J. Pana, HR Director of international translation services provider Day Translations, has the unique job of managing HR for a 100% remote staff. Employees and freelancers work from all corners of the world, their time zones putting them at odd hours to one another.

How does she make sure that performance remains high? “With constant, clear communication and constructive feedback,” she says.

“Instead of talking down to them we build them up and help turn their weaknesses into strengths, coming up with new policies to help them improve.”

She adds that employees respond to “recognition of when they do something good, and also asking them for feedback so they feel like they can contribute to the company’s growth.”

Communication is the definitive word here. Without physically sharing the same space, it isn’t easy to get a reading on relationship dynamics or morale–two things that can make or break productivity.

Constant, Clear Communication

To keep your remote staff together, you’ll need some pretty good communication tools.

Microsoft’s Skype is a standard option for free group chats. It’s notoriously buggy, though, so if you want a smoother alternative that’s specifically tailored to the needs of remote workers, try Asana instead.

The group chat is a great place for people to ask questions or throw out ideas throughout the day, or even to share the occasional joke to boost camaraderie.

Usually everyone checks in and greets each other in the morning, catching up on the day’s action items before splintering off into quieter, independent work time.

This is typically the most productive time an employee spends. In fact, in a nationwide survey of over 2,000 working professionals, 86% said they are most productive when working alone. This is perfect for remote working.

If everything is going smoothly, staff will be checking in with their supervisors at least once or twice per day on their own, but it never hurts to send them each an IM from time to time to see how they’re doing.

Building Up and Creating Strong Policies

Of course, you want to assume the best in your staff. That means treating them as skilled professionals. Keeping the tone of communications respectful and professional is paramount.

But employees also rely on HR to help them grow into their potential. And sometimes it takes new policies to encourage growth.

It might be necessary, for example, to require employees to have a workspace separate from their usual living space, with a comfortable office chair and a door that closes.

Or you might encourage staff to get up and walk around every 90 minutes, or do a 5 minute stretching routine before and after each shift. These kinds of HR policies are specific to remote workers, and help digital nomads stay healthy and productive.

Also consider that with a remote workforce, staff may be clocking in from other countries where different customs of etiquette apply. This will push cultural sensitivity to the forefront as an important topic of company conversation.

Make sure everybody’s on the same page so that the industrious and action-oriented aren’t brusquely stepping on the toes of the genteel and socially attuned, for instance.

Decide whether company policy is to be casually familiar, which might be more comfortable to your American staff, or to use honorifics instead of first names.

Recognition and Feedback

Allowing your staff to work remotely already demonstrates trust, which brings out good qualities in your workers. Take that a step further by entrusting your remote workers with more ownership over their positions or departments.

Treat your staff as experts. That doesn’t necessarily mean calling them experts, which, paradoxically, can come off as patronizing. But speak to them as you would to someone whose whose knowledge you respect and admire.

Expect that everyone is on task producing great results. Keep the bar high. And plan to recognize individuals and teams when they achieve. Most remote workers want to achieve.

Traditional forms of recognition might simply take different forms with a remote staff. A newsletter that announces employee of the month, for example, replaces an in-office announcement or bulletin board. But with a remote staff, make sure that everyone gets the memo.

And of course with a remote staff it’s important to be more available than ever for an employee to approach you with a concern. Make sure everyone knows what hours you are on the chat, and when they can email you instead.

It’s by making yourself receptive to employee’s voices that the staff feel empowered and heard. An employee who feels heard will more naturally step up their performance and work for company growth.

When they know that their opinions matter, and that their input is contributing to the direction the company takes, employees gain a deeper sense of loyalty to the company. Everybody benefits from that.

Into the Future of Remote Workers

As it turns out, managing HR for a remote staff bears all the same essentials as working together in-office. It sometimes just takes a different shape. And it’s all built on that one small but hugely important element: constant, clear communication.

If your staff starts branching off into the remote working world over the next few years, don’t worry. You may find that in a more digitally connected world, managing human resources–and human relationships–turns out to be easier than ever.

Start to put together some remote-specific policies, and organize your staff around a hub like Skype or Asana, even if they still work in the office. That way when your company starts moving in the remote direction, you already have the digital support system to manage the transition.

With a staff that’s motivated, productive, and performing at their top potential, it won’t even matter if you’re sharing the same workspace. Are you ready for the age of the remote worker?

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