How Innovative Companies Empower Their Remote Workers



April 25, 2017 | comments

Lessons For Real Estate Leaders

In some ways, real estate has been ahead of the new trend in remote work. Agents simply can’t do their job if restricted to an office and normal business hours, so real estate professionals have been among the first to embrace new mobile technology.

But it’s one thing to equip a mobile workforce and quite another to effectively manage them. How do you empower and motivate people you don’t often see?

In recent years, some of America’s most innovative companies have poured millions into developing best practices for their remote workforce. These strategies have resulted in tremendous employee retention and company growth, and are worth adopting for real estate teams.

Drawing from their successes, here are three lessons you can apply to managing your team.


1. Empower Through Autonomy

There are companies that require their remote workers to behave exactly as if they are in the office and adhere to the same schedule. Though this kind of strict control is fairly rare in real estate, there can be an unstated attitude that unless agents are putting in a specific number of hours at specific times, they’re not really working.

Explicitly tell your agents that they control their schedules and their outcomes, and this will inspire them to do their best work. With the freedom to pursue new ideas, people naturally make the decisions that help them grow.

Basecamp, a leading project management software company, has literally written the book on remote work. The 17-year-old company encourages its employees to work from anywhere in the world and to work whenever they want. Almost paradoxically, Basecamp has recognized that successfully empowering their remote employees means that people will work too hard, and actively advocates for a 40-hour work week to help employees maintain a good work/life balance.


2. Demonstrate That You Care

Remote employees are more likely to thrive when they know that their company cares about them as workers and has a culture in place that intentionally supports their success.

Automattic, the company behind the WordPress website platform, allows their 250 employees to work from wherever they choose. They now collaborate from more than 50 different countries. Not only does Automattic help each of their employees outfit a productive home office, but if an employee is unable to set up a usable space, the company will pay a monthly fee toward a local co-workspace. Additionally, the company provides a number of digital tools for their employees to use for collaborating and connecting with coworkers.

Automattic shows this kind of care for their employees because they want to make sure that each employee will, in turn, prioritize the care given to their customers. To instill this from the beginning, each new hire spends their first three weeks working customer support. Each year after that they will spend one week in support — regardless of how long they’ve worked at the company or their position.


3. Encourage Innovation

The story goes that manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford once hired an efficiency expert to assess his workers. The consultant reported to Ford that there was the man who always seemed to be sitting back with his feet propped on his desk.

“Oh don’t worry about him,” Ford said. “Last year while he was sitting like that, he thought of an idea that saved us millions of dollars.”

The story may be apocryphal but the principle is true.

It’s been shown time and again that companies greatly benefit from their employees’ good ideas. Since employees have the institutional knowledge and experience to recognize truly breakthrough innovations, they are the people most likely to come up with innovative ideas.

Google took this idea so seriously that they instituted a program called “20% time.” In their 2004 IPO letter, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote,

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google.”

Among the products that have come out of 20% time are Google News, Gmail, and the massively profitable AdSense.

Your agents out in the field are in the best position to see what is and isn’t working. Since they’re the ones who experience the challenges, they’re also the ones who can come up with the solutions. Tell your agents you want to hear their ideas — not only will knowing that you value their input motivate your agents and give them a sense of purpose, but they are likely the innovators you need to keep your business growing.


Turn Your Agents’ Flexibility And Autonomy Into An Advantage

To truly empower your dispersed team, make sure they clearly understand what’s expected of them, then give them the freedom to try new approaches — even though you know some of the ideas are bound to fail. When they do discover something that works, improve productivity, boost morale, and further encourage innovation by finding ways to share their success with your other agents.

When agents are empowered to work remotely and given permission to solve their problems creatively, it frees you up as their leader. You won’t need to constantly monitor them to make sure they’re following all the rules. Instead, you can measure their performance against the metric that matters most: results.

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