Allowing employees to work remotely can offer a number of benefits to a company and its employees. It may also pose challenges, such as motivating the team and maintaining productivity. Learning about a remote workforce and its management can help managers overcome such challenges, and smoothly transition to a remote work culture. In this article, we discuss the benefits of having a remote workforce and share tips and tools for its effective management.
What is a remote workforce?
A remote workforce refers to those employees of an organization that work from an off-site location. They may work from their home, a co-working space or some other location outside their company’s traditional office. Members of a remote workforce may use their own infrastructure or have a workspace provided by the company. A company may have all or a few of its employees working remotely. The term “remote workforce” generally indicates that an organization has several remote workers.
What’s the difference between a remote and a mobile team?
A remote team is one that works from a location other than a company’s traditional office. A mobile team is a type of remote team that works in the field or keeps moving from one location to another. For example, service electricians and plumbers who spend most of their work hours at customer sites are mobile employees. Unlike other remote workers, mobile team members may have to report to the company’s office at the start and end of their shifts.
What are the benefits of having a remote workforce?
Having a remote workforce offers several benefits to organizations and employees. Some of the major benefits are as follows:
1. Higher productivity
Remote workers don’t have to commute to work. This saves them time and energy. Working remotely also removes office politics from work and gives employees better control over the work environment. As a result, employees tend to be happier and healthier. They are likely to take fewer sick leaves. Since a remote working culture emphasizes work over location, employees develop a natural tendency to focus more on performance. All these factors can help increase the overall productivity of an organization.
2. Cost savings
Having a remote workforce doesn’t require companies to lease and maintain large office spaces. This saves them money on rent, equipment, utilities and office supplies. Companies that have a completely remote workforce may only need a small space for performing administrative tasks.
3. Larger hiring pool
If your employees are to report to work regularly at your company’s office, you can hire only from those candidates who are available for work in your location and working hours. Remote working removes these limitations because employees can work from anywhere as per their convenience. This expands your hiring pool and enables you to hire people from across the world.
4. Lower employee turnover
Due to flexibility and autonomy they get, employees may consider moving from traditional offices to organizations where they get to work remotely. Hence, allowing employees to work remotely can help you retain them longer. Lower employee turnover can save you the efforts and costs of hiring and training new employees. It also helps in smooth execution of existing projects and business operations.
5. Lower disruptions
Seasonal factors like rain and snowfall may result in lower employee turnout, and natural disasters like earthquakes and cyclones may force complete shutdown of offices. Having a remote workforce prevents organizations from such disruptions. It provides business continuity because a workforce spread across different geographical locations is less likely to be simultaneously affected by the same factor.
6. Reduces carbon footprint
Having a remote workforce promotes sustainability by allowing employees to work from their own location. It reduces the environmental impact caused by daily commutation to work. It also helps save electricity by eliminating the need to install large HVAC systems and on-premise data centers.
7. Good for employees
Working remotely gives employees more choice over when and how they accomplish the given tasks. They don’t have to drive on busy roads or use public transport to get to work. This saves them time and money, and gives them an opportunity to achieve a happy work-life balance.
What are the best ways to manage a remote team?
A remote workforce can be highly productive if managed properly. Here are some useful tips to effectively manage a remote team:
1. Set clear expectations
Establish a set of guidelines for the team, and assign clear responsibilities for each individual member. Ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of company goals, work schedules and important aspects of the project. Consider preparing and sharing a common document employees can refer to when in doubt.
2. Focus on the outcome
Once you define goals and responsibilities, allow the members to execute the tasks as per their own planning and convenience. Avoid the tendency to micromanage each and every small aspect of the job. Let them know why it’s important for the company to achieve a given outcome. It can help the employees connect emotionally to the company’s goals.
3. Establish communication guidelines
Set clear guidelines with regards to the mode and frequency of communication. You may want to keep the number of team meetings to minimum if the team is working in different time zones. Consider communicating asynchronously, for example through emails, instant messaging and comments. Let the members know the preferred time and means of reaching out to their manager. If a project requires regular sharing of information between peers, establish a standard channel of communication to ensure smooth flow of information.
4. Establish workflow processes
Establishing standard workflow processes can significantly improve employees’ productivity. When employees have clear expectations on issues like when they can expect to get the work assigned, how much time they have to complete the given tasks and how to submit the completed tasks, they can plan their schedule better. Consider deploying a simple and agile project management system that can track the status of work at individual and team levels.
5. Support your team
Make the employees feel good about what they are doing. In a remote team, it may be challenging to track individual members’ well-being. You can use review tools and feedback forms to learn about members’ concerns and understand what areas require improvement. Wherever possible, provide the required resources and support to accomplish the given responsibilities. Showing empathy and appreciation can keep the team emotionally connected. Star ratings and employee spotlights can be great ways to boost employee morale.
6. Provide necessary training
Even if you hire people that are talented and self-learners, it often helps to provide some training to your remote workforce. You can achieve this through online conferences, videos and documents. For example, you can upload a training video on the company’s server, and share the link through email. When new members join, you can tell them about your company and the work culture, and virtually introduce them to the team.
7. Schedule regular check-ins
Depending on the project and team culture, it’s essential to schedule daily or less frequent check-ins at individual and team levels. It gives the members an opportunity to share their concerns and helps you build rapport with your team. In addition to project updates, consider talking about their well-being and how they’re doing. Keep the sessions interactive, and give a patient listening to your team members. When organizing a team meeting, schedule it at a time convenient for most of the members, and announce it well in advance.
8. Make use of technology
Digital tools and technologies can increase the efficiency of your team and facilitate its easy management. They can help you automate repetitive tasks and collaborate with your team. Video conferencing and screen sharing applications are some examples of digital tools used in remote work management. If you are providing or recommending any tool to your team members, consider documenting its importance and explain how to use it.
9. Encourage social interactions
You can conduct remote social interactions to help your team bond better. For example, you can host a virtual dinner party, where members have dinner together from their own locations. Other common remote activities include recognition sessions, game nights and virtual happy hours.
10. Embrace diversity and differences
A remote workforce may include people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. They may have different perspectives, personalities and working styles. It’s essential to create an environment where people respect others’ opinions and work together to achieve a common objective.
What tools can you use for remote team management?
Here are some examples of digital tools and applications you can use to manage different aspects of remote working:
- Communication tools, such as email, chat, instant messaging and VoIP (voice over internet protocol)
- Unified communication tools that combine voice, text and video into a single system
- Meeting and presentation tools, such as video-conferencing, screen sharing, online whiteboard and mind mapping
- Project management tools that enable team members to collaborate, share documents and track changes in real time
- Security tools, such as antivirus, data encryption, VPN (virtual private network) online backup and password manager
- Cloud storage and file sharing apps
- Social collaboration apps
- Automation and productivity tools