November 1, 2018

Creating A Happy Remote Workplace

by Daniel Turner

TCG was built on the idea that telecommuting is more productive and leads to happier employees than a typical office-set workforce. However, building a remote workforce that keeps employees happy is fraught with challenges. In August’s edition of the Evergreen Journal, published by the Tugboat Institute, I wrote about some of the difficult lessons we’ve learned about engaging a remote workforce over the course of 24 years. Some of those lessons include:

  • Rethinking HR Structure: Why is it that HR is asked to do two things that are seemingly at odds with one another – keep employees happy while also defending the company against those same employees? When I thought about HR at TCG in this way, I decided to split HR’s role in two (actually in three), with a position that focuses on the contractual and legal aspects of having employees and a position that focuses only on keeping employees happy (and one for a recruiter, who answers to Operations, instead of to HR). So far this has been very successful, with our employees using our “Employee Happiness” representative to discuss issues they’re having at work that are then reported back to Executive Management for us to help resolve through process change. Having a representative focused solely on the employees allows us to proactively manage discontent, instead of only being able to address it when it’s too late.
  • Support Non-Telecommuters: Telecommuting helps the environment, true, but why stop there? TCG supports non-car travel for our on-site employees by matching Metro costs, providing memberships to Capital Bikeshare, and buying shoes twice per year for those who walk to work. These types of incentives help our employees directly contribute to our purpose as well as (we hope) providing a sense of personal fulfillment, whether by helping the environment or just getting some exercise.
  • Promote Employee Gatherings: A remote workforce – whether telecommuting or on client site – can make it difficult to build camaraderie and teamwork. To mitigate this, we sponsor charitable and social gatherings that bring our employees together. Each month any group of six or more TCGers can get up to $1,000 to hang out and do, well, anything (within reason). That’s how we’ve ended up with groups of employees sharing a culturally-interesting dinner, going to sporting events, playing paintball, learning to scuba dive, drinking wine and painting, going to an escape room, and volunteering with local charities. Our employees forging relationships outside of work has helped them (and us) to build a rapport within the company, allowing easier communication between teams when transitioning employees to new contracts, or welcoming new employees into the company. We don’t have to build teamwork and trust on the fly because it’s already been established outside of work.

The steps we’ve taken have helped us to keep our employees happy. Those happy employees are more likely to stay with us (which is why we have less turnover than the industry average) and work harder for our customers. If you’d like to learn more about these and other strategies for keeping a remote workforce happy, check out my article or get in touch with us. We love to talk about it.