Remote employees, whether contracted or full-time, can bring a lot of value to organizations that want to operate leaner, faster, and more efficiently. Because of this, as much as 50% of the modern workforce does their job at least, in part, through telecommuting and remote collaboration with other employees.
How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees
This growing trend of using a remote workforce to get things done has many benefits but also presents unique challenges. To truly understand the issues of managing a workforce composed of individuals you won’t be seeing in-person every day, take note of these key benefits and challenges.
Benefits of Remote Work Strategies
Companies that choose to implement remote working or telecommuting strategies stand to gain immense benefits in the areas of productivity, employee morale and overall efficiency. It’s no surprise that technology plays a huge role in this. In addition, critical tools like personal computers and internet connectivity, customized software, hardware and collaboration platforms work together to help ensure you have a fully optimized remote workforce. Some companies are even going so far as using hologram technology to make the remote working experience as seamless for the employee as it is for the employer.
Benefits of an empowered and optimized virtual workforce include increased transparency in daily operations, trackable accountability of team members, improved project management capabilities, and better communication through platforms like Slack, Trello and Basecamp. Remember that not every employee needs to be working in a 100% virtual capacity. In many cases, it can make more sense to provide a hybrid approach to telecommuting, giving employees the option to work remotely in order to achieve the optimal work/life balance for them.
Is it Difficult to Manage Remote Employees?
Many employers view remote workers as more difficult to manage due to them not being as accessible or physically available for impromptu meetings or matters of urgent importance. This concern is easily dealt with, however, when you take into consideration the many employee productivity tracking tools that are available. Often, Professional Employer Organizations, or PEOs, will offer employee management and productivity solutions that are developed with effective employee management in mind, putting to bed the worries of whether or not a virtual employee is doing his or her job. Tracking productivity against established Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, can also help with this.
A notable risk that seems inherent in the function of remote employees relates to cyber security. It stands to reason that the more of your sensitive information that is passed over the internet, the higher the chances are of that information being intercepted by individuals with criminal intentions. As tight as your IT security protocols might be, a large virtual workforce is going to necessarily increase your risk profile for potentially catastrophic events like data breaches or system hacking. We are only human, after all, and it only takes one slip-up for a data thief to create a serious problem for your enterprise.
Retention and Training
Another important challenge to consider is the quality and retention of any job-specific training that you plan on sending your virtual workers through prior to them starting their job. What we know about adult learners in particular is that some of them respond better to Instructor-Led Training versus training that is conducted online through a personal computer or tablet. This isn’t to say that e-learning or Virtual Instructor-Led Training doesn’t have its place in the workforce; rather, the ideal scenario would allow for both to be available to your new virtual workers, so they can use what works best for them. If you’re going to rely 100% on an e-learning platform to tackle the challenge of training during the early employment phase, then plan in advance for a slightly longer onboarding process and the potential for a longer ramp up in terms of near-term productivity from new hires.
Remember that without clear definitions of what an employee’s role is, what their productivity expectations are, and when they are expected to be available, it’s only going to be a matter of time before team performance starts to struggle. That’s why to ensure the success of any remote workforce, it’s absolutely critical that every remote worker understands what is being asked and expected of them, and that they are held accountable for their contributions on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. An unfortunate but understandable reality of remote employee management - especially for new hires - is meticulous tracking of tasks and activities. Many workers might view this as a kind of ‘micromanaging’, when the truth is that there simply is no other way to ensure that performance metrics are being achieved and that progress is being made.
Regardless of the product or service your company sells or what industry you operate in, taking advantage of the new era of remote workers can seriously improve multiple areas of your business. Know what you’re getting into first, and you’ll be much more primed for success in the long run.
Posted by Jock Purtle
Jock Purtle is the CEO of Digital Exits, a business brokerage that specializes in the acquisition and sale of businesses with $2-$50 million in revenue. Jock is a noted public speaker on business-related topics and has been featured on Forbes.com, Entrepreneur Magazine and CNBC.