The new normal: Effectively managing remote workforce

guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

WORKING from home has become more than a trend and it’s now a necessity for many companies. Faced with such an unexpected shift, thousands of managers find themselves managing a remote team. Honestly, remote work presents new needs and challenges that impact your people, processes and assets.

Prior to the pandemic, remote working arrangements were considered a perk for certain employees and viewed by employers as a way to improve staff retention and maintain productivity.

Certain companies are better suited to support a dispersed workforce, and many have had a better chance to keep their operations going during this pandemic. On the same note, many employers are now realising that developing a strategy to manage a remote workforce is not as simple as providing access via email and Zoom. In actual fact, technology provides the foundation to operate remotely, but it is human behaviour that is critical in effectively utilising the infrastructure for productivity.

Productivity vs work from home
Work from home productivity is an important issue for new remote workers. Previously, office-bound workers have viewed working from home as ideal when it comes to flexibility. This means that there is less commuting, no office dress codes, and no more 8am to 5pm working hours.

Working from home comes with its own challenges. It is important to know that employers are most concerned about ensuring that productivity remains high while employees work remotely.

Of course, the office often acts as a built-in productivity tool, but there should be mechanisms to ensure that productivity is attained even if people are working from home.

Equip employees to work remotely
If employers need results from this new phenomenon of work from home, they should also provide necessary tools that enable work to be done. Ensuring that the employees have technological support to keep the home office up is also vital.

For example, if you expect employees to attend virtual meetings give them data bundles for the Zoom meetings (it’s actually a silent cost that cannot be ignored).

Dialogue with your employees
In times of crisis, communication is vital. Communicating with your employees dispels rumours and panic-inducing gossip. When leaders communicate with transparency and empathy, it helps people adjust to the constantly changing conditions crises bring. Two-way communication provides employees with the information and perspective they need and enables them to express and process negative emotions and feel more in control.

Follow up with remote employees regularly.

Another common work from home productivity pitfall is isolation. Without regular check-ins, employees may start to feel disconnected and, as a result, disinterested. Of course, managers can help address this by instituting regular Zoom meet-ups. Establishing a regular cadence for communicating is also important to developing a sense of routine and giving teams a sense of being loved.

Focus on output, not processes
When employees are remote, you can’t evaluate them on what they are doing, but what they are accomplishing — which is results. So, it’s important to focus on employees’ output rather than their work habits. It is not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team. As a manager, you have to stop paying attention to the process and pay more attention to what things are getting done. This is the right time to implement results-based management.

Avoid micro-managing
When employees work from home, supervisors have a tendency to micro-manage. In this environment, managers may have more free time on their hands, and that may lead to over-managing.

Micro-management can lead to several negative repercussions such as low morale, invasion of privacy and reduced productivity. Therefore, managers must be considerate and strategic in their approach to prevent negative consequences. To prevent micromanaging remote teams, leaders must make sure that employees are heard, comfortable and independent in their work-life.

Serve customers from anywhere
Customers are the core of every business and should always be your top priority. Happy customers can help you bring in more business. Customer communication doesn’t need to falter when companies allow their employees to work from home.

By utilising methods like calling, texting, social media, live chat, and email, customer communication can be just as robust regardless of the location of your team. Good customer service is about your ability to solve problems, fulfil requests and build an understanding between your business and customers.

Corporate culture
Organisational culture is an important part of why employees choose to work for a company — and what keeps them there for the long-term too.

Corporate culture is an easily overlooked yet important aspect of a remote work environment.

Given that employees spend most of their working hours in the office, the transition to an isolated home office can be difficult. The culture of an organisation is exactly what makes employees feel as though they “fit” within a workplace, which can affect happiness, motivation and ultimately productivity.

To prepare for this cultural shift on a large scale, companies should develop clear policies as well as invest in technology and training at all levels of the company hierarchy to ensure productivity and effective working practices are maintained. The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly shifted the goal-posts for companies that take their organisational culture seriously.

The pandemic has forced many employees out of the corporate comfort zone of shared office space. Remote working arrangements will be the norm for many companies until the pandemic has lessened, there is no doubt that workforce and workplace dynamics have been permanently altered. Remote management can feel like a totally different challenge from managing people you work side-by-side with. Things that work in an office don’t necessarily work in relation to remote employees.

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