Getting the most out of a remote workforce

Long-term off-site employees present challenges – and opportunities
By Melany Gallant
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/20/2015

Remote work is an increasing trend that brings with it numerous challenges and rewards. While a 2012 MIT Sloan Executive Education study reported significant frustration among virtual team members, it also found remote teams can function even more successfully than their co-located counterparts by providing attention to certain principles of good management.  

Here are some tips for managers to help get the most out of remote workers.


Manage by objectives: When it comes to managing remote staff, the big question all managers want to know is “Are they working or goofing off?” To ensure high-quality work is consistently delivered, spend time setting expectations with employees. 


Engage remote employees in setting SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound). When goal-setting is a collaborative process, employees are more likely to fulfill their responsibilities because there is a clear sense of ownership between the work being done and the expected output. 


Connect individual work to organizational priorities: A challenge of working remotely is the potential disconnect from the bigger picture — the organizational strategy, as well as long- and short-term priorities. Taking extra effort to make sure remote employees see how their work supports your organization’s overall objectives will pay off in increased employee engagement and productivity. 


Think the process through: Shared processes for working together are important for reducing misunderstanding, miscommunication and misalignment. Discuss and establish best practices for work hours, sharing documents, monitoring progress and handling issues. 


Some flexibility and tweaking should be expected, especially in the early stages, in order to establish mutually beneficial work processes.


Use technology to enhance communication: There are many tools available for facilitating project management, communication and collaboration, and they aren’t too expensive. 


For example, an online performance management tool enables remote workers to keep notes and update milestones, which can be viewed and commented on by managers. Video conferencing tools can make up for a lack of face-to-face communication. Instant messaging tools can facilitate instant and real-time connections between colleagues.


Build space for social interaction: Consciously compensate for the lack of daily informal communication that builds the interpersonal relations critical to effective teams. Consider spending a few minutes at the beginning of meetings to allow employees to “check in” with each other on non-work-related topics. 


If your organization is able, finding the budget for an occasional trip to headquarters or a team conference will pay dividends in team productivity.


Insist on good meeting etiquette: Bear in mind differing time zones as well as potential language differences when establishing a meeting. This is where video conferencing is preferred over teleconferences, especially when cross-departmental or nebulous projects are on the agenda.


Remember to pause regularly to include remote participants in the conversation. Speak slowly and make use of shared documents or slides to assist team members in following along.  


The future of work

With online access to information and collaboration tools so widespread for today’s businesses, more and more of them are beginning to see remote work can in fact increase corporate productivity and competitiveness. So it’s important for organizations to build the right parameters between employees and leaders.


At the end of the day, managers will need to adapt certain management practices to make up for a lack of face-time with remote employees. And remote employees need to adapt so their managers and colleagues have more insight into the work they’re doing. 


Whether an organization is located within one office, multiple locations or dispersed, it will only get to where it wants to go if everyone has set clear, achievable goals that are linked directly to organizational goals. Clear goal alignment is needed to maintain high levels of employee engagement and a commitment to achieving results.


Melany Gallant is a certified human capital strategist and public relations manager at Halogen Software in Ottawa. For more information, visit www.halogensoftware.com.



Telework a significant job perk
If an organization still isn’t onboard with remote work options, it’s in the minority: A full 79 per cent of workers currently work outside the office at least one day per week, according to a 2015 global survey of 2,759 people.

And workers are even willing to change jobs in order to get work-from-home privileges. More than one-half (60 per cent) say they would resign their position to get a job at the same salary level that allowed them to work from home, found the PGi Global Telework Survey.
 
Even workers who currently telecommute say they would prefer to have the option to do so more often; one-half said they would like to be able to work from home more frequently. The ideal frequency would be two to three days per week, according to respondents. 

And not having to cope with a long commute time must be tempting for the 50 per cent of workers who spend 45 minutes to one hour commuting every day.

“PGi’s survey findings illustrate a rising, global shift in knowledge worker demands: ‘Let us work flexibly or we’ll go somewhere that does,’” says Sean O’Brien, PGi executive vice-president of strategy and communications. 

“With constant connectivity through mobile devices, WiFi and cloud-based communications… being away from the physical office is no longer a barrier to successfully getting work done. In fact, the survey reveals that flexible work offers tangible benefits for both employees and their employers.”

Top five company-issued technologies for flex workers
1. laptop computers
2. email
3. virtual private network (VPN) software
4. unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) software
5. corporate intranet

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