Building a remote work plan that works for your business and your employees
For many businesses across the globe, quickly conceived work-from-home programs have offered an operational lifeline during the pandemic. They have kept companies afloat, and helped employees remain safe during difficult times. They have also served as a kind of vast, ad hoc experiment on the potential of telecommuting to create more dynamic and flexible teams.
But the fact is, a truly successful remote work strategy cannot be reactionary. Instead, it must look well beyond immediate circumstances, taking into consideration an organization’s long-term structural goals, the preferences and needs of employees, the culture each company aims to nurture, and customer expectations.
At DHL, we know something about managing a geographically diverse workforce. In our Express business unit, more than 110,000 DHL employees across 220 countries and territories work in offices, transportation hubs, warehouses, and on the ground making deliveries every day. Many now also work from home. Our experience promoting collaboration across various locations and business functions gives us a unique insight into the biggest challenges behind virtual work: How do you consistently connect employees, empower team leaders, and deliver results when your people aren’t always in the same place?
Here are some key ideas on building a comprehensive remote work strategy that will bring your employees together, even when they are far apart:
Seek Employee Feedback and Coordination
To understand how virtual work can best integrate into your company’s long-term plans, and how it can boost productivity and innovation, you need to hear from your employees – and to coordinate closely with them through the development and deployment of your strategy. As part of the DHL Express Future of Work initiative, for instance, we received feedback from more than 14,000 employees to gauge remote work preferences and expectations, and to obtain input for maximum success. By reaching out directly to team members and leaders and engaging in a real dialogue, we have a better understanding of how to balance virtual work experiences with in-person touchpoints for every employee.
Our model is a hybrid remote work plan, designed to provide virtual options for many of our employees. It preserves direct engagement through specific in-person meetings, trainings, team-building and employee recognition events, as well as select community service activities. The hybrid approach begins from the very start of an employee’s onboarding, through a combination of digital training, mentoring, remote work and in-person meetings. The goal is to engage and support team members through multiple channels, connecting them with each other, with their managers, and with our mission.
For your company, the approach will reflect your specific business circumstances, organizational requirements, customer needs, and goals. The point is to determine what works best for your employees and your overall business plan at the same time.
Prioritize Innovation and Engagement
While remote work provides employees and companies with flexibility, it can come at a cost. If not well-planned, telecommuting can start to blur the lines between work and personal spheres for your team members. It can erode productivity, leaving employees less connected and less engaged. The fact is, remote work programs don’t diminish the need for workplace structures and programs; they simply change the formulation. To boost engagement, significant planning and resources need to be assigned to the task of re-imagining how you communicate, mentor and inspire employees.
At DHL Express, we are constantly exploring new ways to connect our teams. Some of our latest ideas include:
- A program of living room conversations with company leaders, where employees can engage in casual, virtual chats with management about mobile work experiences and virtual support needs.
- The company’s first virtual Employee Appreciation Week, involving all employees in the Americas region, with a variety of daily themes sponsored by regional board members that were tied to physical and mental health & wellbeing, and closing with a virtual dance party where colleagues could come together, along with their families, and safely share a few hours of fun and good music together.
- Temporarily replacing its annual soccer and cheerleading championship, the Americas Cup, with the launch of Festiv-ALL. This new concept reaches an even broader DHL population that combines virtual and live aspects, giving employees the chance to compete against each other in gaming, cooking, music, dance or social responsibility efforts, and offering everyone an exciting new way to “Get in the Game.”
- 10-year celebration of DHL’s Certified International Specialist (CIS) Global Learning and Development program, which included awards, a self-posting film festival, a 3D virtual event space and a series of in-depth calls / Q&As held with executive leaders at DHL that focuses on getting to know them better.
- An ongoing company-wide e-newsletter detailing stories of employees and how they are living DHL Express values through remote work.
- A series of virtual events celebrating the diversity of our employees.
Focus on Best Practices for Leadership
Keeping employees motivated and connected must start at the top. That means your company needs to provide leaders with guidance and training to make sure they are offering the kind of support, direct interactions, and feedback that their teams need to thrive. For remote and hybrid-remote work systems to succeed, strong teams depend on strong team leaders who keep the lines of communication humming and open. Our approach has been to create a best practices checklist for leaders that covers each area of management, from team set-up to performance reviews, professional development, employee recognition and ongoing communication.
Invest in Technology and Training
The right technology is obviously essential to remote work success, and your company’s business functions will determine your needs. In general, strong mobile systems require more than just collaboration software and videoconferencing and chat programs. You need a reliable network interface that allows employees to easily manage documents and data. Of course, the technology for virtual collaboration will only work if your employees are up to speed. That’s where comprehensive training and ongoing support come in. Consider implementing a regular IT tips and support e-newsletter across your organization.
For many companies like DHL, remote work will certainly be a big part of the future. But that future can only be realized through careful planning, the right investments, and a commitment to employee-centered practices.
Published: February 2021