Why and how to transition to a virtual workplace

Despite the trepidation of many top execs, employees working remotely are more engaged and productive. The technologies are already in place, so use them. Here are four tips to get started.

For some jobs, you must be in a certain place at a certain time.

If you’re building planes, you must be in the production hangar. For many jobs, however, if you have an internet connection, you can work anywhere and with a lot of schedule flexibility.

Yet executives continue to mount an epic fight against working remotely. It’s wrongheaded.

Working virtually has many compelling advantages: It reduces overhead costs, and it’s more sustainable. It’s highly valued by millennials, the largest generation in the workforce (and others, too), and virtual employees are more productive.

Consider the success of ConnectSolutions, the private-cloud solutions provider for Adobe Connect. When the company surveyed its remote workforce , it found 77 percent reported greater productivity, and 53 percent were less likely to take time off, even when sick. On average, over half of employees reported having less work-related stress and more time to spend with family, and they were more likely to stay with the company.

When we were contemplating changing Decision Toolbox to a virtual company, the biggest selling point was that it promotes employee engagement, which benefits both employees and employers. Organizations that give employees what they want outperform those that don’t. Companies with highly engaged employees produce 250 percent better performance-related business outcomes, according to PWC’s 2015 Employee Engagement Landscape Study.

So, why are top executives digging in their heels? It often comes down to closed-mindedness.

Executives think they can’t measure what they can’t see, but you’re already collaborating virtually when you email or IM other executives; they might be in the office next door or in another city. The technology for virtual collaboration exists and you’re already using it.

Still, it takes effort to make virtual connections work. Here are some tips.

1. Hire with an entrepreneurial mindset. Recruit self-starting professionals who have a passion for excellence. “Self-discipline is essential, and the right employees know how to micromanage themselves better than you ever could. They have experience tracking metrics, and in fact, they see it as an opportunity to strut their stuff and display their results, rather than as a way to be watched over by ‘big brother.'” Look for passion on résumés in the form of awards, advanced degrees and leadership roles.

2. Operate with respect. Developed by Dr. Jack Wiley, chief scientific officer for Engage2Excel, the RESPECT framework (Recognition, Exciting Work, Security, Pay, Education and career growth, good working Conditions, and Trust) is based on three decades of research into what employees really want. It’s a two-way street: When employees feel respected and valued, they perform better. You’ll get the results you want, and your employees can maintain a healthy work/life balance.

3. Remember that the “why” is more important than the “what.” Make sure your company mission focuses less on what you do and more on why you do it. People are motivated by being part of something that’s bigger than themselves, something that is going to make a difference in the world. For our team of recruiters, it feels good wrapping up a day knowing you helped a client find the right candidate or the perfect job, and that feeling is a potent motivator to do well.

4. Stay connected. Promote virtual interaction so that no employee is an island, which can be tricky as you grow. This is where real creativity comes in. Our recruitment partners are organized into small “pods.” These groups hold regular pod calls to share issues, ideas and insights. Additionally, we have weekly team meetings, virtual watercoolers and chat rooms, internal newsletters, unique onboarding and training processes, and annual all-staff meetings—all designed to keep employees connected and engaged.

Virtualophobes are simply out of reasons to resist, and the benefits are too yummy to pass up. To compete for the top talent in today’s market, you have to offer remote options.

Kim Shepherd is CEO of Decision Toolbox. A version of this post first appeared on Inc.

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