What Is Remote Work Management?
Remote workforce management refers to leading and managing remote employees. It includes hiring and onboarding remote employees, tracking progress, defining tasks and responsibilities, assigning tasks, solving issues, and listening to concerns or questions.
The goal of remote workforce management is to have a highly productive remote team that delivers results and improves overall company performance.
Most companies that have a remote workforce tend to rely on remote management software solutions to help them with their remote workforce management. These solutions typically include visibility of tasks, team dashboards, company intranet, and messaging apps, among other features.
Pros & Cons of a Remote Management System
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many organizational leaders were skeptical about implementing remote work models. Remote work models were mostly seen among tech companies—Software-as-a-Service, eCommerce—and marketing firms.
Following the situation created by the pandemic, most businesses have warmed up to the idea of remote work as a viable work model, which has led various companies to announce permanent remote work for its employees (more on this later).
Remote Work Advantages
Contrary to popular belief that those who work remotely (especially from home) don’t work enough, research has found that workers tend to be more productive when they work remotely.
A 2020 survey from FlexJobs found that 95% of respondents say that their productivity has been higher or the same working from home, and 51% report being more productive when working remotely.
Similarly, a recent report by Global Workplace Analytics titled “The Business Case for Remote Work” found that workers lose 35 minutes less a day when working from home vs the office; which translates into increased productivity.
According to the report, remote work increased productivity by the equivalent of 16 workdays a year.
More remote work + productivity statistics can be found here.
Larger Talent Pool
Talent is a company’s most important resource.
Research from Gensler argues that by 2030, there will be a global talent shortage of 85 million people; this means that companies will have to work hard to differentiate themselves from the competition in order to attract and retain the best talent.
And the best talent isn’t always geographically located near company headquarters. Remote work can help companies with their talent efforts in two key ways. The first is to attract and retain more talent; the second is to provide them access with a larger talent pool.
A Zapier Remote Work Report found that 57% of workers say that remote work is one of the perks they value the most. That number increases to 68% among Millennials, who stated that the possibility of remote work increases their interest in a potential employer. Remote work can not only help companies attract talent, but more importantly, it can help retain them.
Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work found that 1 in 2 people won’t return to jobs that don’t offer remote work after COVID-19. The same report found that 23% of full-time employees are willing to take a pay cut of over 10% in order to work from home at least some of the time
Remote work also provides companies with access to a larger talent pool. When geographic location is taken out of the equation, companies overcome one common challenge in recruiting: finding the right candidate locally, or finding a candidate that’s willing to relocate.
Hiring from a larger talent pool can also help a company improve its diversity and inclusion efforts.
Remote work provides the opportunity to hire:
- Employees from different ethic and educational backgrounds.
- They can hire employees from different countries.
- They can hire employees with disabilities that prevents them from independently getting to and from work or that makes it harder for them to stick to a fixed schedule (i.e. people that need regular treatments for chronic conditions).
- They can hire caretakers and working mothers.
Global Workplace’s Analytics’ “The Business Case for Remote Work” report argues that companies can save up to $500 billion a year by implementing a remote work model.
Below are some of the ways remote work helps companies save costs:
- Increased productivity and output from employees.
- Reduced overhead costs (real estate, maintenance, office supplies, food-based perks like coffee and free snacks).
- Reduced absenteeism.
- Reduced turnover.
Not only do companies experience cost savings with remote work, but employees do too. Below are some ways employees save money while working remotely:
- No commute, or reduced commute.
- No gas money or parking costs for those who commute by car.
- Food: by working remotely, workers are less likely to eat out for lunch.
- Childcare: parents who work from home are less likely to need to rely on a full-time daycare solution.
Time is among the valuable assets a person can have.
By allowing employees to work remotely, companies are giving them the gift of time. Simply by taking commuting out of the question, some workers may be able to gain as much as 3 hours a day. Time that they can spend:
- With family or friends.
- Working out.
- Learning something new.
This can help improve employee wellbeing, as well as company satisfaction and employee morale.
Remote Work Disadvantages
Can be Challenging to Coordinate
While remote work can increase productivity, it can make it harder for managers to coordinate and for teams to collaborate. This holds especially true among teams that are distributed across different time zones. As a result, leaders may find it harder to schedule meetings and discussions at times that are convenient for all.
Beyond scheduling meetings, different time zones can make it harder for everyone to respond in a timely manner. This can affect project timelines and collaboration between employees.
Still, while it is challenging, it is certainly not impossible.
One common issue cited by remote workers and remote managers is communication issues. These issues arise from a variety of factors, including:
- Lack of body language.
- Response times.
- No being able to identify tone (this is especially challenging when using messaging apps).
- Choppy signal.
While these challenges are common; they are fairly easy to overcome. The most important thing is to set clear expectations from the get-go.
Pro tips to solve common communication issues:
- Some companies have found that encouraging the use of emojis, memes, and gifs can help remote team members identify the tone of a message, which can help prevent misunderstandings.
- Encouraging the use of video during virtual meetings can improve communication by providing all attendees with access to everyone’s body language and facial cues.
- If you have a distributed team, it’s important to set clear guidelines about response times and how workers are expected to communicate with one another.
Information Security Issues
This is actually one of the main reasons why some companies have been hesitant to embrace the remote work model.
Cybersecurity has become a top priority for businesses over the past several years in their efforts to protect intellectual property and sensitive client information.
When workers are working from company headquarters, it’s easier to ensure cybersecurity. When they’re working from home, it’s quite challenging, as the company doesn’t have control over the network and in some cases the devices being used.
To ensure the cybersecurity needs of your organization, you need to have the right infrastructure, tools, and protocols in place, as well as train employees on how to securely use technologies.
Below are some ways to protect your company’s intellectual property and sensitive information when working remotely:
- Provide workers with company-owned devices.
- Encourage the use of VPNs and multi-factor authentication.
- Make it mandatory for employees to always use secure networks when working.
- Create and enforce password policies.
- Provide cybersecurity training.
- Encrypt company files and important information.
Companies that Are Embracing a Remote-first Business Model
Both employers and employees stand to benefit from a remote work approach, regardless of industry.
Organizations leading the shift towards remote-based work include:
- Capital One
- Lambda School
Remote Management Best Practices
If your company is planning on making the shift towards permanent remote work, it’s imperative that companies plan the move strategically to ensure a seamless transition for all involved.
Here are some steps managers can take to ensure that remote work is implemented successfully throughout an organization.
Choose the Right Remote Management Tools
The success of any remote team will require access to the right tools and resources that ensure worker productivity, effective communication, and project collaboration.
Remote Management Software
Remote management software helps teams stay on top of projects, communications, and tasks. Some of the most commonly used management software platforms include:
- Microsoft SharePoint
- G Suite
Given that effective communication is key for remote work to be effective, companies also tend to rely on communication specific platforms, including:
- Microsoft Teams.
Some remote workers will have no issues working from home. Others might find that working from home isn’t effective for them.
When managing a remote team, it’s important that companies ensure that workers have access to optimal work environments, depending on individual needs.
For example, some companies that allow for remote work typically offer the following:
- A stipend for workers to set up their home office
- A stipend for workers to get a FlexSpace membership
- They sponsor a workspace location (coworking space or virtual office).
The Right Equipment
All remote workers should have access to the right equipment to carry out their tasks successfully. Whether company sponsored or individually acquired, managers need to make sure that remote workers have the right equipment at home or in their workspace of choice.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Laptop and operating system needs
- Internet speed needs.
Set Clear Expectations
To make remote work work for your organization, it’s important that managers set clear expectations and protocols.
- Set clear expectations about how remote teams will communicate.
- Set clear expectations regarding response time and time differences.
- Clearly define tasks and lay out expectations for deadlines.
- Set clear expectations of how information, documents, and files will be shared.
- Set clear protocols about how workers should share/communicate their availability.
- Set clear rules and guidelines about how different apps and software should be used.
Make Check-ins a Regular Part of Work
Whether you do it via a video call, email, or chat, make sure that you’re regularly checking up on remote employees.
Some mangers do this daily, others every other day, and some weekly. These check-ins can happen individually or in group calls. The ultimate goal is to open communication channels so that remote workers can share information, project status, and ask questions should there be any.
Encourage Social Interactions
Office life has a social element to it. This social element is important for remote employees as well. When going into the office is not an option, managers can encourage social interactions by way of:
- Virtual happy hours.
- Allowing for the first few minutes of meetings to be dedicated to casual talk and catching up.
- Virtual pizza or themed parties.
- Virtual workouts.
These activities can not only help strengthen the bond between remote employees, but they can also help reduce isolation improve corporate culture, and create a sense of belonging.
Encourage Workers to Power Off
Most remote workers feel that they need to be available 24/7. Therefore, it’s important that managers remind remote employees of the importance of powering off from work.
Even if you allow remote employees to have a full flexible schedule, encourage them to disconnect from work fully from time to time, otherwise workers are at an increased risk of burnout.
Encourage Flexible Working
Part of the appeal of working remotely is giving workers more control over how, where, and when they work. Rather than requiring a strict schedule, normalize flexible schedules within the organization.
At the end of the day, the important thing is for workers to get their work done. Whether they do that during regular business hours, late at night, or early in the morning shouldn’t matter as much. What some companies are doing is requiring remote workers to overlap some of their working hours with regular business hours.
We’ve said it before and we will say it again:
Communication is key for remote teams to succeed.
This is why managers need to make sure that they have a strong feedback loop with all remote employees. Having a strong feedback loop is necessary for:
- Problem solving in a timely matter
- Ensure worker happiness
- Track progress
- Avoid isolation
- Employee morale.
Remote Management Skills
Working remotely and managing a remote workforce requires different skills than the ones typically used in the office.
Top Remote Management Skills
- Empathy and caring
- Excellent communication
- Trust (there is no place for micromanaging in remote work)
- Relationship management
- Critical thinking
- Conflict management
What Does This Mean for the Future?
Remote work is here to stay, as evidenced by the increasing number of companies that are shifting to a remote-first business model.
This will impact companies, individuals, and cities.
Workers May not Flock to Urban Centers
If working from anywhere is possible, urban centers and large cities might lose part of their appeal; especially considering that these cities tend to be more expensive than more suburban counterparts.
Rather than living in a tiny apartment in a big city, many workers will increasingly consider moving to suburban areas where they can afford a larger home and where the cost of living is more affordable.
Owl Labs’ State of Remote work found that one in five Americans has relocated due to COVID-19.
“With this shift and a lack of physical location on the horizon for many employees in 2020 (at least), many are leaving high rent prices behind and upsizing their city apartments to three-bedroom houses in suburbia.”
The Rise of Digital Nomads
If working from anywhere is normalized, then more workers are likely to become digital nomads in the hopes of traveling more and getting to know more cities and countries.
Increased Life and Job Satisfaction
By giving workers more control over how and when they work, they are giving them back control over their lives.
Remote work allows employees to spend more time with their families and friends; it also gives them more time to engage in activities that they enjoy. This can not only improve job satisfaction, but it can also improve life satisfaction and overall wellbeing.
Isolation and Loneliness
While there are various benefits to remote work, one particular concern has arisen as more people work from home:
Increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Granted, with physical distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, this issue has only been exacerbated, but loneliness was an issue many remote workers cited even before the pandemic.
Working from home is not ideal for various reasons; however remote workers don’t necessarily have to work from home.
Many remote workers have found that working from flexible workspace solutions like coworking spaces and virtual offices has helped them battle feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Not only do these work environments help workers fill the need for social connection, but they also contribute to productivity levels and help remote workers have a clear boundary between work life and personal life.
Real Estate Strategies
Companies that adopt a remote-first approach will have to rethink their corporate real estate strategies. Most likely, companies will restructure their real estate footprint, increasingly leaning on hub-and-spoke workplace or managed space solutions.
The entire corporate real estate industry will be impacted by the shift to remote work:
- Landlords will likely start offering shorter term leases.
- Flexible workspace operators will seek to partner with landlords.
- Landlords will provide hub-and-spoke solutions to large companies (management agreements instead of the traditional lease).
- Companies will seek to create a network of workspaces that can support employees from anywhere.
Employee Benefits Will Evolve
The needs of remote workers are different than those of in-office workers. Employee benefits and perks needs to reflect this, which is why benefits packages will likely evolve as more companies embrace remote work.
Not only are remote workers’ needs different, but also perks and benefits that are offered in the office hold no value for remote workers.
Below are some employee benefits and perks that remote workers value the most:
- Child care assistance
- Digital wellness services
- Flexible schedules
- Meal delivery
- Home office allowances
- Learning opportunities.
Hybrid Work Models
While some companies will embrace remote work in its full capacity; the majority of companies will likely embrace a hybrid approach—employees will split their time working remotely and working from the office.
Data gathered from various surveys concludes that both employees and employers alike show a preference for hybrid work models. Workers across industries have stated that they would like to work remotely only two to three times a week.
This is one of the reasons why the office will remain a core part of company culture and company performance.
Remote work is here to stay; it’ll be part of the new normal for businesses across industries.
Managing a remote team requires different skills than managing in-office teams. Company leaders will need to lean on available technologies and solutions to make the shift to remote work a seamless experience and to ensure that employees remain engaged and happy.