The way you manage a remote workforce will have long-term implications for your business and its growth potential. If you do a poor job, morale and productivity will suffer; if you’re successful, a remote workforce can build employee loyalty and boost engagement. Here are some tips to help you tackle the challenges of managing remote employees, plus the pros and cons of having a remote workforce.
Managing remote workers requires finesse from employers, as companies face unique challenges when employees are not together in a physical office. However, with a solid plan and effective communication, businesses with remote workers can overcome these obstacles.
“There are challenges for small businesses, but they aren’t insurmountable,” Moe Vela, a board member at TransparentBusiness, said. “Business owners have to keep the office cohesion intact, create a collaborative environment that’s effective, prevent employee burnout, and have accountability and transparency.” [Read related article: Communication Technology and Inclusion Will Shape the Future of Remote Work]
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for managing remote workers, but there are some standard guidelines businesses should consider. Here are three of the big ones, provided by Adam Hickman, former content manager at Gallup and the author of studies on remote workforces.
Successful managers can identify the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the individuals who work for them. They then leverage that information to nurture and motivate each individual employee. That same insight and management style must be applied to how they work remotely.
“If you’ve got 12 team members, that’s 12 different sets of needs you have to meet,” Hickman said. “If you want performance, make sure they are engaged.”
That also applies to the hours they work. If one employee prefers to work in the early hours of the day, encourage it; if another is more of a night owl, allow that, he said. If the work is getting done, treat employees as the individuals they are.
The need for excellent communication is even more important when employees work remotely. For remote work to be a success, everyone has to know what is expected of them – the scope of the work, the deliverables and the deadlines. There should be no room for ambiguity.
Managers should encourage their employees to reach out through chat tools, video conferencing solutions or a telephone call if they have any questions or concerns. Communication should be frequent as well; regularly hold meetings, one-on-one chats and conference calls to keep your team engaged.
You won’t be able to watch over your employees when they work remotely as you could if they were in the office, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting the job done. If you can’t trust them, ask yourself why you hired them in the first place or what happened that caused you to lose trust in them.
“You’ve got to ditch trust issues,” Hickman said. “If you don’t, then you start to become a remote micromanager.”
It’s challenging to manage a remote workforce, but identifying individual needs, increasing communication and trusting your employees can help.
Here are some of the many benefits of remote work for both business owners and employees:
Small business owners who adopt a remote work environment save money on the overhead associated with having a physical office. For example, there are no expenses for rent, equipment, furniture, office supplies or utilities. According to research from Global Workplace Analytics, close to 6 in 10 employers polled cited cost savings as a big benefit of telecommuting. [Read related article: Best Remote Working Tools to Help Your Team Stay Connected]
When employees don’t spend hours commuting to work and have less office politics to deal with, they tend to be happier – and more productive. According to a survey conducted by FlexJobs, 65 percent of remote workers said they were more productive when working from home.
It can be expensive to replace employees who have left your business, in terms of both the cost of hiring a replacement and lost productivity. Remote work often boosts job satisfaction, which means employees stay with firms longer. That can save companies $10,000 to $30,000 per employee, according to Global Workplace Analytics.
Hiring can be a big challenge for business owners, especially when your pool of potential candidates is limited by your location and hours of operation. Remote work removes some of those limitations, so business owners have a wider pool of candidates to consider.
Some people dread their commute because of the traffic; others hate the risk of illness from public transportation. Either way, most employees don’t like commuting.
In a PwC survey, 83 percent of office workers said they want to work at home at least one day per week, and 55 percent of employers said they expect their workers to remain remote at least part of the time going forward.
When employees work from home, they often have more freedom to work how they want to. Sure, there are Zoom meetings to attend, but in large part, there is flexibility in how and when employees get work done.
Health is top of mind right now; it’s the reason remote work became so common. Remote workers don’t have to get on crowded buses or trains, or interact with others in lobbies, elevators and offices. When employees are at home, they avoid the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and other contagious illnesses.
Despite these benefits, there are also some potential downsides of telework. Therefore, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons to ensure remote work is right for your business.
One of the big knocks on remote work is that collaboration suffers. A big worry is that if a team can’t jump into the conference room to hash out an idea, innovation will come to a halt. That is a real risk, but it doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. By using video conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration tools, business owners can prevent collaboration from suffering.
One of the reasons employees stay with companies is the people they work with. They value the feeling that they’re part of a team and appreciate being a respected team member. It’s more difficult to achieve that feeling when everyone is working from home. Sure, you can have virtual chats and instant messaging groups, but it’s not the same as in-person team building. For some employees, that lack of in-person interaction could hurt morale and productivity. [Read related article: How to Keep Remote Workers Engaged in a Virtual Team]
Many business owners have long been resistant to remote work environments because it means they must give up some control. They have to trust their employees to get the job done without constant assistance from the boss. If you’ve hired the right employee, it’s not a problem. But in some situations, giving up control could negatively affect your business. [Check out our review of InterGuard, the best employee monitoring software for remote teams.]
Although many employees value the autonomy that often comes with remote work, others prefer extra guidance and the company of others. Indeed, sometimes working from home is too isolating for remote employees, particularly for those who live alone.
The isolation can also hurt team building and relationships with colleagues. If you have minimal contact with your supervisor or co-workers, it’s easy to feel like you’re not part of a team.
To work from home successfully, you have to know when to shut it off. It’s easy to work more than is expected when the lines between home and work are blurred. A Chubb survey of remote workers found that 42 percent of men and 32 percent of women were working at least two extra hours a week. As a result, even though workers are technically spending more time at home, they often feel more pressure to prove their productivity and may actually be taking less time for family and self-care. [Read related article: Working From Home Increases Productivity]
There are downsides of remote work for both employers and employees, including challenges with collaboration, communication, work-life balance and trust.
Remote and hybrid work isn’t going anywhere. In fact, for many workers, it’s considered a must-have when looking for a job. So, if you want to recruit and retain top talent, it’s important to offer hybrid work opportunities when it makes sense for the role. However, effectively managing a remote workforce to ensure your employees are productive and engaged is critical. The tips above can help you do just that.