10 Tips for Effective Management of a Remote Workforce

Written by Adriana Scali, Principal of LINK HR Inc.

The current pandemic has forced many organizations to continue business with a fully remote workforce and little time to prepare.  This was a seamless transition for some organizations who had the infrastructure and remote working guidelines already in place, but for many it has been a “learn as you go” process.

Our team has been assisting our clients with Remote Work policies and best practices, in addition to coaching Managers on how to manage staff virtually.  We have prepared a list of 10 Tips for Effective Management of a Remote Workforce which we share below.

For some organizations, this huge experiment may lead to permanent decisions about the workforce and commercial real estate… Remote work may be here to stay for a long time, or permanently, in one form or another.  So rather than approach this as a temporary challenge, think about how this may change your business in a positive way long-term.  As they say, “a challenge is an opportunity”  (Exciting, right?!)

  1. Start from a place of TRUST

If you were not micro-managing at the office, do not begin now.  Remote work requires Managers to ensure expectations are clearly communicated so that their employees know:

  • what is expected
  • how to do it
  • when to deliver by
  • how to ask for support
  • how to report on progress
  • how to communicate and share files
  • consequences for not meeting expectations

If a Manager provides these expectations up front, an employee is set-up for success!  A Manager than can take a step back and empower the employee with autonomy over his/her work.  Any performance issues that may arise can be managed proactively and without surprise to the employee.

  1. Focus on BUY-IN

Managers should involve their team when building project plans, task prioritization lists, and timelines.  This helps to obtain buy-in from staff resulting in accountability and efficient productivity. 

  1. Focus on PROGRESS and OUTPUT

Managers also need to focus on creating deliverables that focus on OUTPUT – units of work or other measurements that can be used – rather than focus on the TIME spent working.  When we focus on output, we can more easily track work and identify where bottlenecks or other roadblocks happen.

When an organization focuses on TIME, they are encouraging a culture of e-presenteeism without knowing it.  E-presenteeism (typically called “presenteeism” or “face time” in the office) presents itself when an employee feels they need to be available online at all hours.  As we all know, time in front of the screen does not equate to productivity.

The most effective way to manage output in a remote workforce is to be specific on how an employee will communicate their PROGRESS.  If you are like me, I hate following up with my staff and would rather hear from them without me asking.  So, I have set-up a schedule for how often I would like to be updated on progress and leave it to the employee to use the method they like best.  For example, one of my Consultants emails me an update at the end of each day whereas another updates a Project Plan and sends it to me on Fridays. 

  1. MANAGE poor performance without delay

If a Manager is focusing on Tips #1 – 3 as noted above, it will be easier to manage performance issues as they arise.  In addition, because expectations are communicated, there should be no surprises for the employee as they will already know about their deficits.

Start again from a place of TRUST – assume your direct report is doing their best and ask what you can do to help and support him or her.  Maybe the transition to remote working has been more challenging from him/her?  Perhaps they can benefit from further training on the new technology you have implemented?  No one wakes up in the morning wishing to fail and it is your job as a Manager to help them succeed. 

  1. INCREASE Communication & Opportunities to Collaborate

This point is so important!  Communication needs to increase when working remotely.  More often than not, communication decreases because we need to put that much more effort to connecting.  We can’t simply run into our colleagues at the coffee machine or swing by their desk or workstation.

It is important for Managers to specify the communication tools and channels the team should use for communication and collaboration.  We often see organizations with the best of intentions set up various tools and apps for communication and collaboration (Slack, WhatsApp, Teams, etc).  The result, however, is that employees do not know which tool to use for what. 

It is best to use up to 2-3 apps/tools only and be extremely specific with how to use each.  We work with our clients to prepare guidelines on this so that more important or confidential information is shared appropriately and required documentation is maintained.  We also help our clients promote safe and respectful communication through policies and practices.

To encourage peer-to-peer support and collaboration, I especially recommend that Managers set-up an online forum where employees can post their questions and anyone in the group can answer.  This also alleviates pressure from the Manager.

And remember to use Video functionality for calls and meetings.  Most of our communication happens through body language so ensure that you inform your team when video calls will be held so they can prepare ahead of time.

  1. Encourage SOCIAL TIME

Small talk is so important.  Asking about your employee’s weekend and what is going on at home is vital.  I cannot emphasize that enough because it is how we build relationships and trust!

Start your video call or team meetings with a few minutes to connect on a personal level.  You may wish to create a specific time to socialize, like a Virtual Water Cooler Breaktime or having lunch together on a Video Call.

  1. Use TECHNOLOGY to automate and facilitate workflow as much as possible

Many of us are using Zoom or another video conferencing more than we ever have before.  However, there are many other apps and tools that can help automate some of our tasks and assist with workflow.

In selecting and implementing these, a Manager needs to keep in mind the skills and confidence level of their direct reports in regard to the use of technology.

  1. Focus on WELL-BEING

For some, working from home blurs the lines between professional life and personal life.  They no longer have a commute which creates a boundary of sorts.  Managers need to keep their eye out for E-presenteeism as it will inevitably lead to burnout. 

Managers need to role-model healthy work practices that promote well-being. For example, share when you are taking a nature walk on your lunch break without your phone, and stick to your Tuesday 5 pm yoga class.  Your employees will respect you for this and will follow in your footsteps of creating health boundaries for oneself and the team.

Some of us are most productive in the morning and some of us in the evening. If possible, allow for flexibility in work schedules so that an employee can work when they are most productive.  The team however needs to be mindful of others’ schedules so it may be helpful to share everyone’s schedule, so the team knows when their peers are available. This flexibility is important for well-being.

To further support their team, Managers can share their Company’s EFAP Program information and work with Human Resources to provide resources on working from home (how to set-up an ergonomic workstation, how to remain focused, etc.)

  1. Do not forget about continuing to DEVELOP your people

Working remotely does not mean we stop learning.  Rather, we may need to learn new skills.  Ensure that you continue to provide learning opportunities for your team.

  1. CHECK-IN with your team

Don’t forget to ask: “How’s it going?” especially for those employees that are new to working from home.  And because employees will not always be honest, I recommend the use of an employee survey to obtain a pulse on the team.  A confidential survey that is no more than 10 questions long is always best and if anonymity can be retained, share the results with the team and identify any themes that have emerged from the results.  Empower the team to problem-solve solutions with you.

We’re all in this together and we’re here to help!

 

About Us

LINK HR Inc. is the outsourced Human Resources Department of small and mid-sized organizations in Ontario.    We are a team of certified HR Leaders that provide on-demand solutions for hiring and developing talent, managing performance and retention, and mitigating risk.  To find out more, visit us at www.linkhr.ca.

Disclaimer

This blog is made available for the purpose of providing general information or awareness, and not to provide specific information, legal advice, or interpretation of the law for any organization or reader. LINK HR Inc. has made every attempt to ensure the reliability of the information provided, however no warranty of accuracy, expressed or implied, is provided. If reference links are provided, readers should be aware that these website addresses may change over time.