Working remotely was once a privilege reserved only for the few senior, trusted employees who made the grade.
Now, it has become standard in today’s job market to have a team of remote employees working from home offices all over the globe.
This is particularly true for industries that provide language or globalization services. In fact, looking at a translation business as an example provides excellent insights as to how the landscape of the modern workforce has changed from being location-based to being a global marketplace.
In the traditional office setup, the employee goes to work on assigned days in order to do their job. Working hours and days are often around 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.
The office environment contains everything the employee needs to do their job, from computers and telephones to printers, scanners, photocopiers and sundries.
Employees who work from home, but still for a company, have to find their own space to work within their house, whether a dedicated room, a desk tucked into another room or even from the comfort of their sofa or bed.
There are usually set expectations around working hours and the company often still provides the equipment necessary for the employee to carry out their role.
The employee may have to attend meetings from time to time, either via video conferencing or in person, so suitable business attire is often required as well.
For freelancers who are working from home, the setup is very different. They have to purchase everything they need themselves, from big items like laptops all the way down to printer paper and stamps.
Although their costs increase, so too does their freedom.
Freelancers can pick and choose their own hours. They can also work from wherever they choose – from home, from a coffee shop or even from overseas.
From an employer’s perspective, while having a remote workforce provides distinct advantages over having a staff all in one location, it also presents its own unique challenges.
How do you keep employees engaged and motivated in a virtual work environment?
If you and your team members have never met each other face-to-face, how can you foster relationships built on trust and cohesion?
Further, how will you and your employees (or your freelancers) be able to communicate if everyone is in a different time zone?
Although we are using the translation business as an example, the following tips can apply to any business with a virtual workforce.
Technology has advanced so much that it is easier than ever to maintain communication among people of any language and in any time zone.
While it requires adaptation to some new managerial styles and tools, fostering a productive and motivated remote workforce may be much easier than you think.
Read on to find out how.
The subject of communication comes up in probably every article or piece of content you’ve read about remote working. And with good reason!
Regular communication is the key to keeping your team members on the same page and connected.
However, even though we have a myriad of ways to communicate remotely, many companies still fail to utilize them correctly.
As such, it’s important to consider how communication differs when working from home vs the office.
Within the professional translation business industry, it is essential to utilize multiple technologies that will enhance communication among the entire staff.
This refers to communication between management and employees, as well as between members of the same team.
Translation agencies utilize tools like Time Doctor, Trello, Skype, Whatsapp and Mantis in their daily communications to keep workers around the globe connected and up to speed on what is happening within the organization.
While it may seem like overkill to have so many communication technologies in play at once, it is important to remember that we are talking about remote employees and translation professionals living in locations all over the world.
Not every technology works the same or as effectively in every country. In some locations, it may be cost-prohibitive for a remote worker to participate in Skype meetings, while for others it costs nothing.
Meanwhile, countries including the UAE, Morocco, Bangladesh and China have banned the use of Skype entirely, meaning that a locally acceptable alternative is absolutely essential.
Management should be sensitive to the fact that the world wide web can look very different in other countries, and Internet accessibility may not be as fast or efficient as it is at company headquarters.
This is especially true for workers who provide localization services in remote areas.
Providing multiple channels of communication will ensure that everyone can be involved and feel like they are part of the team, regardless of where they are located or what they are working on.
It is far better to over communicate than to leave employees hanging.
Sticking with the translation business model, it is easy to see how establishing a formal set of company values is essential to keep everyone on the same page.
After all, you are working with people from many different cultures. They will have differing views on everything from gender roles, to education, to wardrobe choices.
When a company’s employees are all located in one central region, it is much easier to establish core values that everyone will understand, but when multiple employees are working from home, it is essential to establish core values firmly from the beginning.
Values help to set clear boundaries and expectations across the board. They will not only help remote workers to understand your company’s ethics and code of conduct but also give them an understanding of where they fit in and how they should interact with everyone from customers to their fellow employees.
Core values are often decided by leadership, but it can be more advantageous to have input from your entire workforce to ensure that your core values accommodate their cultural concerns as well.
This can be accomplished by a series of questionnaires, virtual meetings, and other communication methods, so that everyone has a role in helping to shape them.
When translators are given an assignment and then don’t receive any inbound communication until the work is completed, they may begin to lose momentum towards the project’s goals.
Working at home can be an isolating experience for some people.
If your localization expert or language services professional is the type of person who needs regular contact with others to stay motivated, you can easily lose a top-notch employee just by a simple lack of consistent and frequent contact.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some freelance translators and other remote workers choose to work from home to avoid too many meetings and other forms of communication.
For many of these individuals, self-motivation comes more naturally, while constant contact can be draining. This is why it is so important to get to know your employees on a personal level.
How will you know what your team members need? Ask them!
Schedule private one-on-one meetings with each of your translation team members and find out about who they are – not just as employees, but as individuals. Virtual meetings are very important.
Ask them (politely and non-intrusively!) about their family, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes. Find out from them what their preferred method of communication is. Is it email, instant messaging, or video calls?
You will find over time that employees who can work and communicate in the way that is most comfortable for them are more likely to be motivated and productive team members.
In a traditional office setting, accolades and recognition usually happen more frequently than in the remote workplace.
Don’t make the mistake of only touching base on a project to offer criticism or revisions. This can quickly make a remote employee dread seeing messages from you.
Making a deliberate attempt to praise and recognize a job well done is something everyone will respond to positively. It will not only please your employee; it will provide them with the motivation to do even better on the next project.
This is a simple concept that we all understand, yet it is often overlooked.
Another thing that remote employees usually miss out on are the perks that come with working in a traditional office setting. Things like catered lunches or awards ceremonies don’t happen in the virtual workspace, so you will need to get creative and come up with other ways to show your appreciation.
The Tomedes translation business, for example, offers its remote translators discounts for things they may need. Most recently, the company negotiated a discount for memoQ’s newest translation software for their translators to take advantage of.
Perhaps you could arrange discounts of that nature, tailored to your own industry. Other perk ideas include gift certificates to a restaurant or spa near your worker’s home office, virtual gift cards, or special greetings/gifts on their birthday.
Even a surprise delivery of company swag or a box of sweets can go a long way in expressing your appreciation for a job well done.
Building a sense of teamwork by introducing remote workers to each other, even if they never meet in person, is another way to help strengthen bonds within your organization.
And it can do much to add levity and fun to the monotony of being surrounded by the same scenery day after day!
Here are a few ideas you might implement:
There are many ways to maintain motivation and boost productivity even if your staff is scattered to the four corners of the world.
While you probably don’t have time to implement every one of these strategies right away, if you start building on them month by month, you can expect to see morale and productivity improve across the board.
About the Author:
Louise Taylor is the head of content at Tomedes, a translation agency that works with employees who are based all over the planet. She has plenty of experience of the working from home vs office scenario, having worked in both home and office environments, as well as managing staff remotely in other countries.