Before the pandemic, remote work was often viewed as a “nice-to-have” perk for employees. Now, it’s evolved into more of a requirement for doing business and retaining talent in the post-COVID world. According to a Mercer study, 70% of businesses are planning to adopt a hybrid model while 97% of workers want some form of remote work.
Remote work arrangements are likely here to stay, at least in some form, despite the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and an eventual return to physical workspaces for many. However, the success of such an arrangement depends on how the decision is informed and how well it is handled by business leaders. Remote working presents unique management challenges since work isn’t done in a physical office and employees are geographically dispersed with no way for management to manually oversee the work being done.
Consequently, the way a remote workforce is managed has serious implications for the successful execution of business processes. Poor management will result in reduced productivity, low morale, and disengaged or dissatisfied employees. On the contrary, properly and thoughtfully managing a remote workforce can result in high levels of engagement and productivity.
To help solve some of the unique challenges presented by remote work, here are some tips for business leaders looking to manage a remote workforce temporarily or permanently.
Set Clear Expectations from the Start
Communication and governance are very important in the physical workplace and even more important when dealing with remote employees. To ensure the success of a remote workforce, business leaders must clearly outline and communicate expectations in terms of codes of conduct, deliverables, roles/responsibilities, processes, and business objectives. There should be no room for ambiguity when it comes to remote work standards or protocols.
Ensure Frequent and Regular Communication
There’s no substitute for regular communication when operating in a remote work arrangement. Organizations should provide adequate forums for remote employees to easily connect with colleagues and management via calls, video conferencing, and instant messaging whenever they have questions or concerns.
Likewise, business leaders can invest in the latest collaboration tools in addition to regularly holding conference call meetings or one-on-one chats to stay up-to-date with employees. Employees and business leaders can also update their work calendars/schedules on a centralized application or platform so that everyone knows when every other person is available.
Avoid the Temptation to Micromanage
Since there’s no easy way to physically observe employees working remotely, some managers tend to mistrust their workforce and apply excessive oversight. Rather than worry over the possibility that remote employees aren’t working when or how they should be, business leaders should trust that they are getting the job done.
Incessantly checking up on remote employees and (virtually) looking over their shoulders will negatively impact morale, culture, and productivity in the long run. As long as companies hire the right employees and provide them with the right resources, leadership, and processes, a remote workforce can perform as well (or even better) than on-site teams.
Business leaders can still monitor progress and provide remote employees with the necessary support by scheduling a set time for staff meetings and brief daily check-ins with project managers to identify roadblocks, communication/collaboration bottlenecks, and assess progress.
Deploy the Right Technology
There’s no way to successfully manage remote employees without deploying and providing access to the right technology. Some of these technologies include:
- Video conferencing or communication apps
- Collaboration tools/suites
- Client management systems
- Remote access software
- Intranet and file-sharing software
- Workforce analytics solutions
Some technologies, like Humanyze’s workplace strategy solution, can help uncover optimal collaboration styles and workplace needs of teams, departments, and locations across the organization so business leaders can make tailored, data-driven decisions that empower your workforce to succeed – whether remote, hybrid, or in-person.
Good business leaders maintain an open-door policy for on-site workers. The same should also apply to remote employees. Being available (across multiple digital channels and time zones) to receive inquiries and feedback from remote workers engenders a sense of loyalty, solidarity, and belonging. When employees know that they can always reach management to discuss issues and solicit advice on pressing concerns, they are empowered to become productive.
Other tips for successfully managing a remote workforce include:
- Regularly scheduling one-on-one calls to keep remote employees engaged and motivated
- Discussing plans for employees personal and professional development
- Regularly collating, analyzing and incorporating employee feedback and suggestions
- Creating virtual opportunities for cross-team interactions and foster employee connections across the organization
- Celebrating the successful completion of project milestones and incentivizing high-performing remote employees
Effectively managing a remote workforce requires business leaders to create effective communication and collaboration channels and have a solid plan for preventing burnout. They also need to create a culture of accountability and transparency and put in place innovative ways to track productivity.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all plan for managing a remote workforce, the above guidelines will help organizations achieve a highly engaged and productive remote workforce.