An introduction to effectively managing a remote workforce
Leaders need to take a more deliberate and systematic approach to management to keep a remote workforce motivated and productive. And, it’s best to think about your approach sooner rather than later, because statistics show that remote working is more than a passing trend.
The number and proportion of people who work mainly from home has steadily increased in the last five years. Buffer’s State of Remote Work report found that 99 per cent of remote workers plan on working remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their careers.
This guide outlines some of the key factors that impact remote working, common mistakes leaders make and quick wins to make your management more effective. The next step will be to use our action plan to direct your next steps.
What factors affect your management?
Whether you’re currently running a remote workforce or suspect it’s on the horizon, there are a number of factors to bear in mind.
Companies are hiring globally
Developing remote workforces significantly increases the pool of potential candidates. Rather than being restricted to the local area, business leaders can access top-tier talent when they need it most.
Many sectors that require highly-skilled and highly-educated people can work remotely, like finance, insurance, management, business services and information technology.
In some cases, companies will only be able to hire the talent wanted if each agree to remote working. For example, web development is increasingly a remote role.
The rise in hybrid workforces
Introducing remote working doesn’t necessarily mean your entire workforce has to work remotely. Instead, a lot of companies are adopting a hybrid model, where the workforce is made up of remote and office-based staff.
It’s popular because it suits individual preferences – even if the majority of your employees work from home, hybrid workforces allow a small number to continue to work from an office.
Some managers will need to adjust to running a team that includes both remote and office-based staff in the future.
Digital tools can help or hinder
There are digital tools designed to support every element of remote working, from communication to project management. However, the tools you choose won’t automatically make remote working successful.
Technology can be a help or hindrance when managing a remote workforce. At best, it can help staff work efficiently, connect with colleagues and provide a transparent overview of what people are working on. At worst, it can be an annoying distraction or painful administrative step.
It’s up to managers to choose the right tools for their team and ensure employees understand how to use them effectively.
“Business leaders of all sorts are adopting a more hybrid way of working. For us, it became evident that we needed to provide employees with more flexibility without losing the sense of connectivity and unity. Our solution was naturally a hybrid model, which allows team members to work from home 50 per cent of the time so as to manage professional and personal life in tandem.”
Mona Akiki, vice president of people at Perkbox
The cold hard facts
To get the most out of your remote workforce, consider implementing tools that:
- Keep your workforce connected, like Slack or Zoom
- Help people collaborate, like Trello
- Manage projects, like Google Drive
- Get people inspired, like Audible or a podcast app
Common mistakes with managing remote workers
There’s not enough face-to-face contact
Remote teams normally rely on messaging apps to work effectively. And, while you’ll use these extensively, it’s a mistake not to make time for regular face-to-face meetings.
There’s a greater sense of isolation for remote workers. In a lot of cases, employees will struggle with reduced contact with colleagues and less access to managerial support.
It helps to think of how many spontaneous conversations your employees would have in one day in the office, and you’ll understand why remote workers dislike email-only interactions. Video calls or in-person meetings provide an essential human connection.
Not giving team members space to contribute
When you’re holding a meeting in person, it’s easy for team members to chip in with their thoughts and ideas. But that’s much harder to do remotely.
Speaking out of turn during a video call can lead to nightmarish results – delays and slow internet connections can cause people to avoid sharing their input.
It’s a common mistake to assume that because your staff haven’t spoken up, they don’t have anything to say.
Rush through the call without inviting anyone else to take the floor – “I want to pause and hear what everyone else thinks of this” – and you’ll lose the valuable input you’d get in person.
Unclear directions or expectations
The success of your remote workforce hinges on the ability to communicate clearly. It’s up to you to make sure staff understand your expectations and that you all have the same interpretation of timelines and deliverables.
Without clear directions, your staff will be left to muddle through projects by themselves – or worse, waste time working on something that will need redoing at a later date.
Micromanaging your team
One of the biggest mistakes leaders make with a remote workforce is micromanaging them.
A successful workforce is built on trust. It’s essential that managers trust remote employees to work hard and give them the autonomy they need to do their jobs. Checking in every five minutes indicates a lack of trust and is a fast way to drive your best employees away.
“The main issue with working from home is a lack of personal communication. Work becomes transactional – for a leader to delegate a task, all they need to do is send a quick email. On the receiving end, employees don’t get the understanding of why they’re being given an extra item to add to their to-do list. We found that the close contact and non-verbal cues on video calls significantly increases trust between team members.”
Stuart Duff, head of development at Pearn Kandola
The cold hard facts
Research in 2020 listed the biggest challenges as managing at-home distractions (47 per cent), collaborating with colleagues or clients (35 per cent), isolation or loneliness (35 per cent), motivation (29 per cent) and disconnecting from work or burnout (28 per cent).
Quick wins for managing remote workers
Schedule check-ins each week
Most people find it hard to adjust to the lack of structure when working remotely. Scheduling set meetings at the same time every week is a good way to help with this.
These meetings could be a series of one-on-one calls or team meetings – the important thing is that they’re frequent and predictable. Scheduled check-ins create a sense of consistency and remind your staff that they’re working towards a common goal.
Start meetings with the YTH routine
The YTH routine gives each employee 90 seconds to run through these sections:
Y: What they did yesterday
T: What they’re planning to do today
H: What they will need help with
Holding a YTH meeting at the start of every day is a simple but effective way of sharing progress and staying up to date with what team members are working on.
Letting your employees explain what they will need help with is especially useful. Almost every remote worker encounters the same frustrating situation on a regular basis: you reach a blocker but the only person who can help you has switched off their email or gone for lunch.
The YTH routine gives the rest of your team the chance to line up schedules and book in time to provide the relevant support.
Assign rules for different communication tools
If you’re using communication tools, it’s a good idea to set out when each tool should be used. For example, you might use Microsoft Teams for urgent questions, email for general messages and Slack for non-work conversation.
Setting these guidelines will stop staff getting unnecessarily distracted by hundreds of notifications and ensure time-sensitive questions get through. Employees who need to concentrate have the option to switch off all non-essential communication – rather than checking every notification in case it’s important.
“Encourage chatter because one of the best things about working in an office is the camaraderie. You can always create dedicated chat channels for this: we have conversation threads running for animal lovers in our team, for those who like photography and video games.”
Nigel Davies, CEO of Claromentis
The cold hard facts
Around 40 per cent of people cited a flexible schedule as the best perk of working remotely. It’s important to understand what people like and dislike about remote work, so you know which areas to reinforce and which areas to improve.