December 10, 2018 9:00:00 AM EST

Finding the Right Person to Manage Your Remote Workforce

As the term implies, a remote workforce allows company employees to work outside of the company’s physical location. Remote employees often work the same hours and have the same level of expectations and responsibilities as their in-house counterparts, but they do not have to be physically present. If your office is considering adopting a remote workforce, there are a few things to keep in mind.

What are the Benefits of a Remote Workforce?

There can be many benefits of a remote workforce for employees, management, and the company overall. An employee can work from the comfort of home, saving time and money on travel. This carries a flexibility not offered by in-person positions. Many professionals are attracted to the idea of working from home because they simultaneously manage household chores and responsibilities, resulting in a better work/life balance.

Furthermore, remote workforces often allow for a more flexible schedule, not the typical, if not arbitrary, 9 to 5 office job. Many remote employees schedule their days around their specific needs with the understanding that they will need to be present for various digital conferences or phone calls and meet deadlines.

A remote workforce also offers benefits for employers. The most talked-about result of a remote workforce is increased productivity. That’s right, remote workers tend to put more effort and energy into their jobs. In Forbes’ State of Work Productivity Report, it is noted that two-thirds of managers reported an increase in overall production from their remote workforce.

Although it may seem contradictory, reports like the one cited above often point to the fact that employees are more engaged in their company and their responsibilities when working remotely. Appreciation for their flexibility contributes significantly to this increased effort.

For the company at large, the obvious benefit comes from fewer expenses. When a company no longer has to provide a physical office space to rent or buy, heat and furnish, overhead costs quickly diminish. A physical space can cost a lot more than it may be worth in some cases. Even if some of your staff is still physically present, investing a partial remote workforce could provide the opportunity to downsize your office space and all of the incidental costs associated with it. 

What are the Qualities of a Good Remote Workforce Manager?

The question remains: how do you manage that stellar remote workforce? The skills needed to manage a remote workforce differ from traditional office management. 

The first requirement is having a culture that actively values its remote workforce. Your company must be supportive of remote workers and include them meetings and communications. Remote workers are still part of the team and need to be engaged regularly. When choosing a manager or management team for these employees, it’s important that they feel the same.

Managers of a remote workforce should thrive at setting clear expectations and possess great communication skills. This is, of course, true of any manager, but it’s particularly crucial for those overseeing remote employees. For example, communicating face-to-face carries a certain amount of nuance that is lost through email or over the phone. There a fewer opportunities for questions and comments to arise organically, so a manager needs to ensure that everything is completely mapped out and understood.

A manager also has to be personable and take the necessary steps toward building trust with remote employees. There’s no chance to run into each other in the break room, so a manager must put additional effort into knowing remote workers. This requires open streams of communication. However, this does not mean one needs to micromanage. A remote workforce manager simply needs to be available to her or his employees much more consistently.

Because face-to-face communication is limited, or downright nonexistent, a good remote workforce manager must also be proficient with online collaboration tools, sites or platforms. The whole team needs to be active part of something such as Slack, Basecamp, Trello etc. where they converse and check in daily with each other. These tools not only help accountability and task completion, but also give isolated employees an opportunity to engage their team and supervisors. Have occasional video conferences as well. A remote worker should not feel invisible in the company and its up to the manager to ensure this doesn’t happen. 

While every company establishes its own best practices, a manager of a remote workforce should focus on achieved goals, not the path remote works took in getting there. The truth is, a remote workforce forgos some of the processes a manager could oversee in a traditional working environment. A good remote manager knows when to step in to help and when to step out of the way.

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Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson

Judy partners with executives and leadership teams to engage and inspire employees in a way that delivers sustainable strategic results. She brings deep expertise and creative ideas to solve organizational effectiveness issues and closely collaborates in a way that builds internal capabilities. Judy has spent over 25 years consulting in a variety of industries, bringing her expertise in behavior to a wide range of organizational issues including organizational behavior change, leadership, change management, culture and engagement.