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What Enterprise Leaders Need to Do to Manage Remote Workers

December 03, 2020 Employee Experience
David Roe
By David Roe

It has become clear to anyone working in an organization that depends on digital tools that this new way of working is going to continue long after the coronavirus pandemic that spawned it disappears.

It has also become clear that the old way of doing things is no longer going to work. According to recent research from Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, almost 42 percent of the U.S. labor force is now working from home full time. Another 33 percent are not working, and the remaining 26 percent are working from their business premises. In sum, the U.S. has become a remote economy, he said.

From a business perspective, the stigma associated with working from home has disappeared. Working remotely is now common, albeit under unusual and often difficult conditions. In earlier research, Bloom pointed out that if you looked at these employees by earnings in 2019 as an indicator of their contribution to the country’s GDP, at-home workers now account for more than two-thirds of economic activity. Remote work has become an important economic and social resource and needs to be managed as such.

Maintain Productivity in Remote Work

To manage remote workplaces and workforces effectively, the principal objective is to maintain the same level of productivity that is present in the digital, remote workplace. To do that, managers must ensure that business operations are running efficiently and smoothly, said Nathan Sebastian, content marketer with GoodFirms based out of Washington D.C.

There are several widely accepted "combinations of on-site and remote working" that entrepreneurs can select from, based on their industry and company’s current requirements. With some trial and error, they can begin scaling the model that keeps their financial wheels turning while maintaining work culture, he said. Some combinations are:

  • Mostly on-premise with limited remote work, where employees primarily work from centralized headquarters. In some exceptional situations, work from home is allowed with the number of remote hours varying from company to company. This gives employees some freedom to select where they would like to work from, be it the office, their home, a coffee shop, or co-working space.
  • Complete remote work without a centralized office, allowing businesses to have team members distributed across the world with different time zones. This model can be suitable for entrepreneurs in the early stages of their venture, enabling them to function without physical office space.

Depending on the workforce strength and the model that the company zeroes in on, business can plan for essential investments, such as universal broadband internet, cloud infrastructure, monitoring software, business communication software and digital skills education.

“Companies must find innovative ways to meet the challenges in managing remote workers,” Sebastian said. “Having a full suite of collaboration tools facilitating video conferencing, file sharing, reminders, team channels, screen sharing, note-taking, shared tasks, to-dos have almost become the need of the hour.”

It also helps to have structured, documented team meetings regularly to access and review key goals at given points in time.

Related Article: Companies Grapple With the Return to Office Decision

Key Differences Between Remote and On-Site Work

Freddie Laker, co-founder of Chameleon Collective, a totally remote hybrid consulting and marketing company, said managing remote work and culture is much like managing teams in the physical workplace. However, he said there are some essentials to get right:

  • Fanatical adoption of and commitment to video conferencing. Although this may seem like a nice-to-have feature, it is a critical factor in success. Human beings, ultimately, feel more connected when they can see each other.
  • Collaborative office productivity software like Google’s G-Suite or Microsoft Office 365.
  • A company-wide business chat platform.

"Remote workers need to be over-communicative in letting their peers and managers understand their output,” he said. “When this is implemented properly it will help foster trust among employees and a shared sense of accountability and accomplishment.”

Team members can also then build strong personal relationships by collaborating and have increased respect for their co-workers through a deeper understanding of what they do via over-communication.

Related Article: Remote Work: What We've Lost and What We've Gained

Key Factors to Consider in Permanent Remote Work

The ongoing pandemic caused many businesses to shift to remote work and as it continues, what was thought originally as a temporary necessity is being perceived by many as a permanent fixture, said Chris Muktar, founder of WikiJob.co.uk, a UK-based careers site. There are five factors to consider when plotting the future:

  1. Required roles: Some roles have been diminished, changed or eliminated altogether in the move from a traditional workplace to a remote one. Evaluate which roles are still relevant and adjust accordingly. New processes may also bring the emergence of new roles that will need to be taken into consideration.
  2. Workforce size: Once roles are defined, determine the number of personnel to effectively execute business processes. Also, since a remote workforce reduces or even eliminates physical limitations, the recruitment pool will be exponentially diversified, giving access to more talent and the possibility of one person being equipped to handle multiple roles.
  3. Required tools: With the barrier of physical limitations lifted, new tools will be required. The most common example is Zoom as a teleconferencing tool. Physical elements, such as biometric timekeeping, will also need to be replaced with software alternatives. Based on a company’s security needs, they may still require a physical location but there are also cloud-based alternatives.
  4. Budget limitations: Define the needed budget. Not having fixed costs from a physical location can open possibilities for other areas, such as upgrading software tools, hiring more talent or expanding marketing strategy.
  5. Remote options: Camaraderie and workplace culture can be affected by the type of remote workplace chosen. Three common models are: a completely remote workplace where everyone is online, a partially remote workplace where some are at the physical office and others work remotely, and an optionally remote workplace where the employees are given the option to work from both the office and remotely.

Whichever option chosen, the dynamic will differ so employee engagement is a must. Also consider employee preferences. A good number still prefer to work from an office, if given the option.

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