You don’t need employee loyalty as much with a remote workforce when times are good.
When everything is going great, when people are making money, when everyone is happy, then loyalty is a non-issue. If a valued employee leaves your company during the good times, it doesn’t feel like a betrayal. You wish them well and then find a replacement.
When times are tough, though? That’s when loyalty really matters. So how do you create loyalty with a remote workforce?
It’s hard enough to create loyalty when everyone works under one roof. People form emotional attachments with one another when they spend a lot of time together.
What about when everyone is remote?
At Route4Me, we’ve got an exceptionally loyal workforce. And we’ve been 100% remote for over a decade.
How do we do it?
The 4 principles I list below guide our day-to-day operations. Our people respond well to these. Yours will too.
1. Give What You Want to Get
Do you care about the difficulties your employees face?
If you don’t, then I assure you of this: when the going gets tough for your business, they won’t care about your struggles.
They will abandon ship without a second thought, and leave you to face the storms alone.
Loyalty goes both ways. If you want loyalty, you’ve got to give loyalty.
If you want people to stick with you when the going gets tough, you’ve gotta prove to them that you’ll have their back when life is tough for them.
In a moment, I’ll expand on ways to show loyalty. In general though, being loyal boils down to caring. You have to care. Not pretend to care; really care.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
When people work in an office, the baseline expectations are obvious.
Most people are obviously in the office by 9. Most people obviously leave a little after 5. Most people obviously do their work between those hours.
They are surrounded by work and by people doing work. Distractions present at home are absent from the office.
As a result, employees seldom need to be reminded of your baseline expectations.
In contrast, when people work at home, none of those non-verbal, visual cues are present. People at home are distracted by TVs, kitchens, beds, pets, family, children, friends, hobbies, you name it.
There is no obvious “start” or “end” to their work day. The boundaries between “work time” and “time off” are blurry at best.
That means, you must set explicit expectations for work performance.
When should people be at their desk? How long should they be there each day? How long are breaks?
Furthermore, you must measure what you expect. If you expect your hourly people to be sitting at their desk working from 9-5, then you better measure it.
State your expectations. Measure and enforce them. Create a “no-surprises” situation for your employees. People respond well when they perceive they are being treated fairly.
That alone isn’t enough to create loyalty. But it eliminates one of the biggest sources of disloyalty.
3. Share the Pain
The transition from “work at the office” to “work at home” is not an unambiguous blessing for everyone.
For some people, working from home is not a welcome change. They hate it. “Going to work” used to be their only escape from a difficult home life. Now, they are stuck at home 24/7 in a toxic environment.
Or maybe they just lack the space to work. They may not have their own office space. They may have insufficient technical skill or internet equipment.
They may have responsibilities while at home that they can escape at the office.
All of these personal challenges become business challenges with a 100% remote workforce. Those problems are your problems now.
So make the decision right now that you are going to help.
Do they need better internet equipment? Help them with it. Do they need more flexibility in their schedule? Help them with it. Do they need office furniture so they can avoid repetitive stress injuries? Help them with it.
With a 100% remote force, your office expenses don’t magically disappear. They just shift elsewhere.
In general, your employees will only think about the money you save by not having an office. They will not think about the money they save by not commuting.
If they perceive you are suddenly making lots more money, (because you have no office), at the same time they are enduring hardship, you will generate animosity.
So nip that animosity in the bud. Share in the hardships that are part of working from home.
4. Tell the Truth
When the lockdowns started in March, we told our employees that revenue could take an unexpected hit. Nobody saw the lockdowns coming. We weren’t prepared for it. Nobody was.
We didn’t pretend everything was fine. We told our people we were in a fight.
Afterwards, I had 10 employees come and offer to take pay cuts if doing so would help the company get through.
Now why would they do that? Because they love working for us.
These people have already been through many battles with us. They feel valued. We’ve made it a point to be transparent. And transparency pays off.
See, shared suffering creates loyalty. Shared success doesn’t. Keep that in mind when you are tempted to lie to your employees about how well, (or poorly), the company is doing.
People love the feeling of winning, especially when they helped create those wins. And the best feelings come when you work together to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
However, if your people don’t know you’re in a battle, then they can’t share in the overwhelming pleasures of success.
If the company is doing well, tell them. And let them share in the success.
And if the company is in the middle of a battle, tell them as well.
Let them share in the struggle.
People are experts at detecting B.S. So don’t B.S. your people. Care about them in ways they can feel. Share their struggle and victories. Give what you expect to get.
Do that, and they will be there for you when the chips are down.
George Shchegolev is VP of Operations and Co-Founder. of Route4Me