businesswoman working remotely
Blog | 08.10.2020

The Future of Work Lies with a Remote Workforce. Here’s What You Need to Be Successful

No one predicted the important role workforce management would take on this year, but it has become a new normal for businesses around the world. This sudden shift to remote work has resulted in new challenges and pain points for management teams, but none of them are insurmountable. Here’s what we’ve learned so far and what best practices are emerging in remote workforce management.

Top Four Challenges of a Managing a Remote Workforce

MIT recently surveyed more than 400 HR leaders and employees about the challenges of the newly remote work environment and the actions their organizations are taking to address these challenges. Data analysis grouped their responses and found that:

  • 47 percent are dealing with the need to communicate frequently and well.
  • 29 percent recognize the need to provide emotional and social support.
  • 24 percent are concerned about maintaining productivity and engagement.

Let’s take a closer look at the implications of these challenges.

1. Maintaining employee productivity and engagement

Research has shown the fear of reduced productivity to be the primary reason why so many organizations have slow-walked the concept of remote working. However, as 2020 forced remote working to the fore, research has uncovered an additional concern: it’s not just getting some employees to maintain their productivity, but to get others to unplug from work responsibilities before disengagement and burnout set in.

2. Lack of face-to-face supervision

The lack of nonverbal cues and other supplementary information we gather in face-to-face interaction is hard not just for managers but for employees; this lack reinforces the feeling of isolation and instability. Also missed is the effortless, real-time information exchange that takes place in person.

3. Difficulties in communication

With a remote workforce, it’s just much more time-consuming, and often complicated, for workers and managers to get the information they need to do their jobs. This leads to frustration, lowered patience with others, and damage to team cohesiveness. It becomes easy for employees and managers to feel disconnected from each other and from the whole organization.

4. Emotional and social needs

In addition to fears about COVID-19 or losing their jobs leading to high levels of stress and anxiety, many employees miss the informal companionship of the office setting. This can lead to employees feeling less like they belong, which can damage retention.

Best Practices for Managing a Remote Workforce

Now here are four areas of best practice that companies are implementing in today’s remote workforce management.

1. Maintain daily interaction.

According to the MIT survey, the most effective step a manager can take to battle isolation is to check in regularly to see how their employees are doing both personally and professionally. It’s important the contact be scheduled and regular, and that employees know this is the time they can consult with you and be heard.
To mimic face-to-face interactions, hold video meetings and encourage all attendees to use their cameras. On the other hand, it’s true that “Zoom fatigue” is becoming a growing concern. Fight it by ensuring every meeting is necessary, has an agenda, includes only necessary attendees, and sticks to the time allotted. You can even take the step of limiting the number of hours allotted to meetings in one week.

2. Establish team communication through multiple channels.

Regular team communication must also be zealously upheld and encouraged. As is reasonable, companies should make the most of the latest collaboration software solutions. Managers can also establish guidelines such as quick video calls for emerging issues, IMing for urgent needs, or sending emails for routine updates, and should keep an eye on team communication to ensure information is being shared. End-of-week team check-ins are good for analyzing team progress and setting priorities for the upcoming week.

3. Structure goals and accountability.

A key for managing remote workers is to focus on outcomes and goals instead of rigid time monitoring. Expectations must be set, not just for work goals and deadlines, but for operational matters like hours of availability and the appropriate window for responding to emails or phone calls. Establish goals and productivity targets; once a week, discuss the progress toward these goals as well as any obstacles. Provide feedback and a culture of objective accountability. Developing accountability also develops trust, whether it’s the manager trusting that the employee is doing their job or the employee trusting the manager to be transparent about needs and expectations.

Removing the managerial focus from time to effort and output has another benefit. Research has consistently shown that remote workers log more hours than their onsite counterparts. One popular way to help employees establish a better work-life balance is to allow them to adjust their schedules to accommodate personal obligations.

4. Offer encouragement and emotional support.

Employees look to their managers to know how to react to difficult circumstances, and the right managerial support can reduce feelings of isolation. Don’t forget to simply talk to employees: ask questions, listen to their concerns, and demonstrate confidence in their abilities. When the opportunity arises to celebrate individual and team milestones, remember that positive reinforcement can have a significant psychological impact; recognize that their success becomes the company’s success. This increases employees’ sense of achievement, which encourages engagement.

In addition, encourage social interaction by providing opportunities for teams to interact socially in a non-work context. This could be the first five minutes of team meetings, virtual lunch groups, or “water cooler chat rooms.” As they reduce isolation, these unstructured conversations can reveal experiences and ideas that might have otherwise gone unsaid — and help team members build rapport on a personal level.

The Best Solution for Remote Workforce Management

While no software solution can replace a manager’s gift for human connection, it can effortlessly open a window into employee work behavior and output, workload distribution, even distractions and disengagement. Sapience develops this window from objective data collected unobtrusively from every work device and makes it available in easily understood dashboards for managers and employees. It makes a manager’s job easier by educating employees about their own trends, tracking productivity, and displaying the routes employees take to achieving their goals. And it works the same way for all employees, no matter their location. To learn more, contact us today.