Before the Internet age, working remotely was akin to “playing hooky.” Managers were uncomfortable not being able to see employees, and everything was about face-to-face. But with changes in the global business environment, and the need to find talent wherever it is geographically, the number of people working beyond the office walls has grown. So have the challenges of managing today’s workforce.
Here are some essential points for managing your remote employees:
Gain insight into individual employee situations by understanding why
Remote workers have become commonplace for a variety of reasons. Understanding why your workers are remotely located, and how this affects them, can help you become a better leader and ultimately improve productivity.
In an article for CLOmedia.com, Dan Pontefract explains three common reasons why your employees are working remotely:
Your firm may decide that outsourcing is a viable strategy to cut costs and improve production. If so, you’ll soon be managing remote workers. Pontefract points out that this trend can cause the ratio of in-house and outsourced employees to flip, which means how you approach each project and individual worker will vary.
Another common scenario is telecommuting to reduce long commutes, or for other employee convenience reasons. This is a popular option of remote working today, because technological advancements have allowed a wider range of positions to be completed outside the office. Managers can use telecommuting as an incentive to retain top-tier employees. With telecommuting, leaders can also attract talented employees wherever they may be geographically, not just within a certain radius of the office.
3. M&A activity
The third situation that could turn you into a remote leader is a merger or acquisition. If your firm combines with another, you could take charge of their staff in a different part of the world. Should this happen, remember to address the multiple cultures, time zones and work-life issues to help employees acclimate to the change.
Ask the right questions
With these reasons in mind, you can ask yourself a few important questions to determine if your current methods are compatible with a remote workforce.
According to Pontefract, three smart questions to ask include:
- Are you using technology?
Features such as auto-email and instant messaging can help you set times to connect with remote workers, even if you aren’t available at that specific moment.
- Is everyone kept in the loop?
When a project is ongoing, is everyone included in communications? Even remote workers? Make sure the process is always open to all who are involved to prevent confusion.
- Are you using face-to-face contact?
Most importantly, reach out to every worker for a face-to-face meeting – even those away from the office. Use technology and video chat options to be a visible and vocal leader.
Communicate often and remain engaged using different technologies
The biggest initial issue with remote leadership is a lack of communication. In an article for LinkedIn, management-consulting expert Suchitra Mishra writes that you can avoid problems by staying engaged with your workforce.
For example, avoid isolating team members. Instead, use technology to bring people together whenever possible. Ensure that all relevant staff members attend each meeting and don’t be afraid to reach out on a regular basis, even if it is just to make small talk.
That can be achieved via computers, mobile devices, and software applications. Potential strategies include:
- Cloud computing – Dropbox, Google Drive and other cloud computing applications allow you to share and store data online. Then, you can acquire that information on other devices or allow remote workers access to facilitate their workdays.
- Video conferencing – With video conferencing, you can hold meetings regardless of where the attendees are located. Services like Go To Meeting make it easy to connect people spread across the globe.
- Video chat – On a more informal note, video chats can help managers stay in touch with remote workers. For example, you can Skype your employees each morning to discuss the upcoming workday and go over key duties and deadlines.
If you feel that issues could arise with your remote leadership, remember the value in project management training. The composition of today’s workforce is evolving, and managers must grow as well, using new technologies like mobile devices, software applications, and improved communication skills.
© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@MeritCD.com.