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Managing remote workers: What you need to know

Eve Davies-Greenwald Jan 31, 2019 10:45:00 AM

The business world is changing rapidly these days and that trend extends to hiring and management, particularly when talking about remote workers. In fact, in just a year experts predict that around half of the US and UK workforce will be remote. This means human resource leaders will need to design employee management methods that can address the unique requirements of a workforce that no longer fits into the traditional brick-and-mortar style. There's one problem, though. Nearly two-thirds of US hiring managers who participated in a 2018 Upwork survey said, “while they have the resources to hire remote workers, more than half (57 percent) don’t have policies in place to support remote working.” HR and leadership can get together to address this gap because remote work is here to stay due to its cost effective, productivity boosting appeal. 

It’s understandable that businesses are a bit behind. Large organizations take time to pivot, after all, and there has been a pervasive myth that "working from home" leads to employees slacking off or productivity declines. In reality, a Standford University study reported that remote workers were 13.5 percent more productive than in-office counterparts. But myth-busting isn't the only thing holding businesses back. With the rapid switch to telecommuting comes certain company challenges, including supervisory and security concerns, training, time management, employee engagement, productivity, compliance, and more. Then there are other matters, such as how to create a cohesive team when many team members are not physically present (and may never meet face-to-face). Some questions that still need to be answered include: Are there different rules to follow for in-house vs. remote workers? How can everyone’s talents be recognized and utilized fairly? And what's the secret recipe to managing virtual teams?

Managing remote employees

Currently, there are some key differences in how management deals with remote vs. in-house employees. Some of these are subtle, while others can negatively impact the team structure and individual employees. For example, a remote team might miss out on the benefit of daily interactions with co-workers and management, often not getting enough direction or not being informed why a project has changed, for example. Remote employees often feel disrespected by colleagues and they tend to get burnt out because of working more hours than others. If a remote worker is busy working on tasks, he or she may be neglected for days by a manager who assumes things are going well, or worse yet — micromanaged until he or she get fed up.

Employees who work on-site may become annoyed if they don’t know what a remote teammate is working on. They may feel it’s unfair that they are monitored by supervisors and have to commute to work, while the remote employees don’t deal with these aspects of work. Meetings and emails may be the only times that remote and on-site employees ever interact, and a lot of things can happen in between those events. 

Read more: Check out these tips for onboarding new employees

Streamlining employee management in split teams 

Technology affords many resources for effective management of remote workers as well as in-house workers, often referred to as a ‘split team’. But, this must be handled with consistency across the entire team. Some areas that are of particular importance include:

 

Communication

A study conducted by Zogby Analytics indicated that 38 percent of remote workers cite lack of information from management and another 39 percent say the timeliness of information are the leading obstacles of working from home. Things can change quickly when it comes to work projects and assigned tasks as priorities shift, often leaving remote team members as the last to find out. 

Communication should be made daily with all workers, whether they are in-house or remote. Management can take on this role by scheduling a daily recorded stand-up meeting with employees, and then sending the transcribed meeting notes out to everyone via email. Employees should be expected to send a daily update to their manager and team-mates. Collaboration tools like Slack, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and Zoom can be great ways to manage two-way conversations, project updates, and share documentation. And don't forget the importance of weekly check-ins. Thanks to the prevalence of technology, you can use video or Skype to set up virtual meetings to bring everyone together.

 

Productivity and Engagement

From an HR and management standpoint, it can be difficult to measure employee productivity, engagement with the company, or even their approach to teamwork when remote staff are mainly out of sight. Some try to paint a picture of remote workers lounging around in their pajamas, casually doing their work. Interestingly, it’s the nature of employees who choose remote careers to be self-motivated and driven to success. A Gallup Poll reports, “Remote workers log an average of four more hours per week than their on-site counterparts.” So too, those who work remotely have the same level of engagement in the company culture as their brick-and-mortar colleagues.

Staying in touch with employees by sharing the culture and vision with them. Feeling like they are part of the team can sometimes be as simple as providing them with corporate swagger, like t-shirts, mugs, and company office supplies; inviting them to participate in virtual corporate celebrations that recognize everyone’s contributions, and checking in often with all employees to see if they are reaching their goals. The use of a cloud-based project management system like Trello or Basecamp can help all employees to manage their time and tasks. 

Pro-tip: Don't forget to appreciate your remote workers with these tips

Professional Development 

Many employees can benefit from ongoing learning because it supports knowledge building and career advancement. Learning can also bring people together from wherever they work using online learning management systems. Even if a company manages it’s learning in a blended environment, with some hands-on training, this can be adapted and filmed so that all employees can benefit. Pay attention to what and how employees are learning on their own, then implement this in with current training and professional development opportunities. 

Compliance matters can be handled in much the same way with little extra effort required. Adding a digital copy of the employee handbook, policy documents, forms, and educational materials to a central learning portal can be a valuable resource for all employees. 

 

Employee Wellness

Another challenge that HR can address is the need for work-life balance and overall wellness in all employees. A study conducted by software service firm PGI discovered that 82 percent of telecommuters said they were less stressed, and 69 percent reported lower absenteeism rates. While these are good signs that remote work is good for one’s health, clear expectations are required for all employees but particularly for remote workers who may find it harder to disconnect from their jobs when working alone. Without being present on-site, remote staff may think they need to work harder to match the rest of the team when in fact, they might already be achieving all their goals.

HR can encourage both onsite and offsite workers to take advantage of the health and wellness perks, including regular use of the company’s group health insurance. While onsite employees may have access to a corporate gym, remote workers can be offered a gym membership paid for by the company. Wellness education can be shared with all employees to encourage them to eat and sleep well, end any bad habits, and get up from their workstations often to exercise. When it comes to health and wellness, all employees deserve equal support.

Times are changing

Managing a remote workforce alongside an in-house workforce is something that all companies must create policies around. The future is coming whether we're ready for it or not and effectively managing remote employees isn't a trend that can be avoided. Consistency and fairness, along with inclusion, should be the focus of split or fully remote teams. With the right tools, and the right attitudes, every member of your company can be both productive and happy, no matter what part of the world they're working from.

 

Topics: Talent Management, Team Effectiveness

Eve Davies-Greenwald

Written by Eve Davies-Greenwald

Marketing Manager