Managing a Remote Workforce

Remote or flexible working – as opposed to the traditional office routine – is here to stay.

It is an inevitable consequence of globalization and technological development. When technology makes it possible for people to work more effectively from long range, or on the move, why would they want to commute to somewhere less convenient? And why would their employers want to tie up their own capital in buildings that are not capable of meeting the requirements of the modern workforce and are therefore condemned to be underused? It simply makes no sense.

Remote Working is Becoming the Norm

In a recent global survey on remote working that was conducted in 90 countries we found out that 48% of our respondents now work remotely for half their working week. The clear implication is that those who continue to work regularly from an office will soon be in a minority.

The trend also explains why Regus itself has grown so rapidly for the past few years, opening business centers and introducing new services to cater specifically to the expanding global population of flexible, mobile workers.

New Management Challenges

I do not claim that remote working is easy. In fact it is extremely difficult, makes much greater demands on management and requires a change of attitude at many levels of an organization.

Most of the problems arise from people’s perceptions of remote working rather than the practicalities. For instance, a Microsoft survey in Canada revealed that, whereas 60% of managers insisted that they themselves were more productive when working remotely, only 25% said the same about their employees.

By its very nature, flexible working means that much of a person’s best work will be performed unseen, whereas errors will still have consequences and be hard to conceal. In times of stress or under-performance, therefore, managers will want to keep a closer eye on employees who, for their part, will want to be seen to be doing their best.

In our survey, 55% of respondents said they believed effective management of remote workers was perfectly achievable, but only with additional management training and skills development.

It is good to know that businesses are bringing increasing rigor to the practice. Our survey shows that more than a third use specific efficiency-monitoring reporting systems for remote teams, while 43% of remote managers use video calls to communicate with their office teams—use of technology that is clearly more efficient than expensive travel.

Anyone who thinks effective management of remote workers is not achievable is simply wrong. No doubt there are lazy employees who take advantage, just as there are control-freak managers. But the job of senior management should be to eliminate any such impediments to progress while concentrating on efficiency and productivity, with an open, informed mind.

Managing a remote workforce is all about conquering fear and suspicion—which are never the best starting-points for effective management.

The job of management in these circumstances is to:

  • Identify the work that needs doing, then take the work to the right people, wherever they happen to be
  • Use the most appropriate technology and establish the processes that make it work more effectively
  • Provide the necessary training both for managers and employees
  • Keep every kind of communication channel open, including social media, video-conferencing, text and email

Above all, treat people as adults—with care and consideration. Give them the opportunity to earn your trust at the same time as they gain greater reward.

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