Insights

6 Tips to Better Engage Your Remote Workforce

A Human-Centered Approach

The sudden and wholesale shift to remote work will have a lasting impact, accelerating a trend towards flexible working policies already on the rise in many office-based businesses. This week, Perkins Eastman explores the obstacles of remote work and provides tips on how to engage a physically-separated workforce.


Even before the global shutdown, an estimated five million employees in the United States (3.6%) worked from home at least half-time. Now, as a result of the global health crisis, Workplace Analytics estimates a 25–30% increase in employees working from home multiple days a week by the end of the year.

Gallup Analytics study found that employees working remotely 60–80% of the time see optimal employee engagement, productivity, creativity, and morale. But even with proven success, remote work is often met with skepticism and resistance from those in leadership positions. Contradicting the Gallup study, many cite a lack of employee engagement, productivity, and loss of control as a rationale against remote work.

The good news: being required to adopt remote working as a result of the coronavirus provides an opportunity to explore these obstacles.

Design leaders and employees across Perkins Eastman offer helpful solutions to companies struggling with this new circumstance. They show how human-centered, evidence-based strategies can help foster a successful remote workforce.

1 | Strengthen Team Identity

Virtual “happy hours” and coffee dates, shared message boards, and friendly competitions can build trust and support social connection. Jeanne Wilson, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior and theory with The College of William and Mary, says that teams with a strong group identity have greater perceived proximity.

Marissa Alvidrez, a studio coordinator at Perkins Eastman, has implemented some of these strategies in recent weeks.

“The idea is to keep everyone more involved, to create a fun and safe space that allows everyone a voice to share and participate. On our Microsoft Teams page, I try to find a topic that is relatable to everyone and ask for their perspective or personal experience. Most days I’ll get great responses with a long stream of replies.”

“Our happy hours have become my pride and joy!” Marissa continues, “THis week we are playing games such as trivia, Pictionary, and a scavenger hunt. Since this is the only time we can all come together I try to keep everyone engaged with themes to add to the fun. Without the chance to socialize in the office, I’ve realized it’s important to cultivate social interaction beyond work. Happy Hour isn’t about discussing work, it’s a time to relax and bond.”

 

2 | Build a Common Goal

Working toward a common goal enhances group identity. Teams should formalize both their shared mission and individual responsibilities, and establish expectations for the method and frequency of communications.

Director of Design Strategy, Rebecca Milne, notes:

“Communication is really the foundation of strong teamwork and even more crucial when you are working remotely. It is important for all teams to create their own ‘communication guide’ — clear expectations that outline the particulars of how team members can expect to interact.”

3 | Check In

At a recent virtual round-table discussion, Perkins Eastman’s Workplace and Design Strategy team sat down with clients to discuss the current state of the workplace in general. Feedback included an increase in empathy among staff. Checking in with workers, their families, and their living situation in the wake of the coronavirus has brought new camaraderie among offices.

The Perkins Eastman Marketing and Communications teams have both moved their once-weekly meetings to several shorter meetings. These shorter, and more frequent connections provide the opportunity to touch base, align and prioritize schedules, and better understand how to provide assistance.

Director of Marketing, Tracey Colabella, sees checking in as a way to adapt going forward:

“This situation has been so fluid that we found we needed to replace our casual, in-office interactions with a daily call to pick up on changing deadlines or schedules, new requests to be fulfilled, and so forth. With time, these interactions have became a space to share coping strategies, neighborhood highlights, recipes, and mask mayhem.”

Tracey adds, “In recent weeks, as we have settled into a ‘new normal,’ we have been able to reduce the number of calls while still IM’ing throughout the day to chat or touch base.”

 

4 | Gather Data

When maintaining a remote workforce, we need to consider the various situations of our remote workers. What are their home lives like? Do they have access to a home office? What technology is available to them? Do they have additional family care obligations?

Surveys are a great method to understand individual needs on a large scale. A questionnaire about remote working when crafting and implementing a remote work policy can inform leadership of workers’ essentials. Perkins Eastman has implemented a survey to update leadership on our staff’s remote work habits. The results are helping to influence our policy decisions in real time.

Scott Fallick, Associate Director of Design Strategy at Perkins Eastman, helped to craft the remote work survey, and believes empathy above all else makes remote work successful:

“Empathy, now more than ever, is the cornerstone of successful remote working. When we are remote, it can be difficult to sense when someone is having a tough day or dealing with other life circumstances. This is why it’s so important to frequently lend patience, flexibility, and support.”

Scott adds, “Empathy allows everyone to communicate, focus, and recharge in ways that best support the individual and the collective. The Design Strategy team has worked remotely to varying degrees for the past few years and continually adapts to adhere to this principle.”

5 | Make Working From Home Work For You

Flexibility is at the foundation of remote work. Making room for more flexibility during this time might result in new and better dynamics for your workforce. The absence of commute time, surplus of meetings, new expectations regarding family and childcare, and an overhaul of pre-coronavirus routines are allowing workers to reflect on their new schedules.

Instead of a rigid 9–5 work day, allow remote workers to flexibly adapt their work schedule to their own personal preferences. For example, many are finding back-to-back meetings draining, leaving little time for “heads-down” critical thinking. In response, some offices are considering “meeting-free” days to ensure workers continue to have valuable time to focus.

Katie Gluckselig, Senior Design Strategist, utilizes flex-time to balance her work and family responsibilities:

“We are all working with new constraints in our personal and professional lives. It is important to stay flexible, recognize limitations, and adjust expectations accordingly. If you have small children at home, it might not be realistic to maintain your regular working hours.”

She adds, “I find that my best hours for focused work happen before 9 a.m. and over the weekends. I have smaller chunks of time available during business hours, so I use that time to connect with my team members and work on collaborative projects.”

6 | Make Your Home Office Feel Like Home

For those used to separating work time at the office with personal time at home, finding motivation without the dynamic office environment can be difficult.

Design Strategist Lindsay Fischer, hired explicitly as a remote worker at Perkins Eastman, is a veteran at fostering creativity and motivation during the work day.

“Being comfortable goes a long way in helping me stay focused and productive. While I find it helpful to have monitor raisers and an ergonomic chair at my desk, other items like fresh flowers, candles, task lighting, a pitcher of cold water, and good speakers help me blend the feeling of home and work.”

Lindsay adds, “to spur creative thought, I move around the house throughout the day, taking advantage of a comfy chair or sofa, which I don’t typically have access to at the office. This can make a long work day seem much more manageable.”

At Perkins Eastman, we are reflecting on the insights gained from remote work during COVID-19 and the coronavirus. We are experimenting with new ideas, and crafting new policies to include remote work in the future. To welcome the future of remote working, we are sharing our strategies and are also curious to learn what you’ve employed to engage your own remote workforce.

The video above, by Alexandra Alepohoritis, is a compilation of snapshots illustrating our Washington D.C. studio’s working from home experience.

Learn more about our Workplace practice area