What Everyone Should Know About Remote Workforce Management

The labor force today is clamoring about the benefits of a remote workforce. Whether it's low overhead or access to a global talent pool, there are many advantages. But do these perks outweigh the proven benefits of having a localized team working out of the same building? And if you do decide to build a remote workforce for your company, how do you manage your personnel?

A quick search of any job board will show that the number of remote positions is growing but still amount to only a small fraction of open positions. This observation could be interpreted as a sign that on-location work environments are still the way to go. However, once you understand the inner workings telecommuting, you'll see why so many people consider it the future of business. A 2018 study showed that 70% of professionals worldwide spend at least one day each week working remotely.

If you've always worked in a traditional office environment, the thought of rarely seeing your team in person can seem berserk. There are indeed reasons to want teams all in the same place, especially when it's time to brainstorm or host a company picnic.

Technology has made it possible to communicate with people hundreds of miles away effectively. Anyone with a smartphone can participate in a video chat. Enterprise-ready instant messaging systems are now secure, reliable, and robust in features. Other than shaking someone's hand or share a sandwich, there are few everyday business activities that can't be done through the internet.

That being said, managing a remote workforce requires a unique set of skills. Since you do not have a constant view of what your employees are doing, different practices are necessary to maintain relationships and accountability. Here are a few best practices when managing a digitally connected team.

Invest in Quality Communications Tools

With a remote workforce, you may not need to build a massive building to house the operations of your company. You do, however, need to provide quality digital communications tools. This toolbox might include a professional instant messaging app, such as Slack or Skype for Business. Some companies require employees to maintain their own PC, while others furnish laptops to help support security and efficiency.

Some employees like to work from home, but others thrive in a more professional setting. Consider offering co-working memberships to employees. By providing membership to a co-working space, you give your team access to amenities like quiet conference rooms, networking events, and business-level internet connections.  

Make Expectations Crystal Clear

With a distributed team, setting the right expectations for every single task is crucial. It's not enough to pick up the phone and offer verbal instructions. A clear list of deliverables and deadlines must be saved online available to everyone involved. TandemHR advises "If the employee does not meet these expectations, remember to record the details and discuss them with the employee. If expectations are not met regularly, perhaps a remote work situation is not ideal for them."

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Focus on Results-Based Projects

When you have a team that clocks in and out of the office every day, it can be tempting to associate good work with long hours. If you see employees at their desks from morning till night, there's a good chance they are working. With a team that telecommutes, you can't draw these same conclusions. Therefore it is crucial to structure projects around specific expected results, rather than dictate the number of hours that should be spent.

Instead of asking your team to spend eight hours working on website updates, tell them that you expect the entire site to be updated as soon as possible. If the project is finished quickly, then employees can move on to other priorities. Emily Morgan wrote on HuffPost, "Remote workers will not base their value in clocking in and out, but in the results they are able to produce.  They have the ability to develop their own scenarios to tackle the demands of their job because of this value shift."

Be Intentional About Building Relationships

Some people can build digital rapport more easily than others. It's crucial to build elements into your management structure that help everyone feel like a part of the team. Advise supervisors to bring up fun, non-work related topics at least once per week to help people feel personally connected. Think of it as the virtual "water cooler" conversation.

Dr. Kim Turnage, co-author of the book Managing to Make a Difference, says building relationships and a positive culture must on the very first day: “Ensure there is both a team onboarding activity and time that the new employee spends with each team member one-on-one,” she says. “We have found that a structured get-to-know-you exercise can help facilitate and jump-start relationships.”