In the SIPA webinar a couple weeks ago on managing remote working with Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, and Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media—see the whole SIPA webinar library here—they spoke about the importance of keeping employees engaged in meetings.
"We have a video conferencing system," Fink said. "Frequency of cameras being disabled [by remote employees] has become an issue that we've tried to address. We are encouraging people to use the video component. Audio is one element, but video another; it really enhances it. What collaborative tools are in place to support work goals? We've installed some large screens in conference rooms. There's a marked difference in how that person participates. And how the people feel; it feels like that person was in the meeting room. It really does make a significant difference."
Farley agreed. "Do they have good relationships and how do they fit in with colleagues and the overall ecosystem. Making sure your company is equipped with the right kind of tools to stay connected is critical. Also, they might be not as organized out of the office atmosphere. Are they prepared for the distractions of home? We do require that you've made child care arrangements."
Access also likes to have the employees come to the office at different times throughout the year. "We do different trainings, awards dinners, meetings." Fink said Money-Media requires 2-4 week-long trips to the office during the year. It also gives those employees a chance to take advantage of the video set-up they have and access to interviewees.
Farley cautions that there are times remote working may not be best. "If an employee is new in their role, do they understand our system? Have they interfaced with accounting, production? It's six months before we would consider someone for a remote work." She then repeated something she heard and liked: "The least fair thing you can do is treat everyone the same. Why would it be fair to treat a top performer like a low level person? Look at each individual and each opportunity."
In a 2017 interview, Cassandra Farrington, CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, expanded further on the positives and negatives of remote employees. She said that her company spent its first several years "in exactly the kind of virtual workforce environment favored today." But then something changed. "It was a great fit for our early needs for attracting the best talent and managing expenses. [But then,] it became painfully clear that we would be able to move faster and more effectively with more face-to-face and less electronic communication.
"The camaraderie, the idea generation, and the sense of 'team' which has accompanied the move into an office have been well worth it. And, we still maintain a highly flexible work schedule to meet the work-life balance needs of our team. We have about 20-25 hours a week when everyone is expected to be working from the office. The rest of the time, as I tell my team, I couldn't care if you are working from the surface of the moon, so long as the work is getting done to high effectiveness."
I asked Farrington by email a couple months ago if it was still working. "Yes, the system continues to work very well for us," she wrote back. "Our team feels like they get a good bit of the flexibility that comes with a work-from-home job, yet also reap most of the benefits of having an office to go to and a team to work closely with."
Farley urges remote employees to remain visibile. "You're not in the office everyday so it is incumbent on you to be visible. Advice: be more visible, over-communicate. Dan has people not using the video system. This is an opportunity to be more connected. Speak up in meetings. Sitting there and being captive is not good for you. Stay engaged with your team."
Again, check out the abundant SIPA Webinar library, including the one on remote working, here.