A Critical Leadership Skill: Managing a Remote Workforce




  • — September 26, 2017

    A Critical Leadership Skill: Managing a Remote Workforce

    Felix_Broennimann / Pixabay

    The 9-to-5 workweek in the office is quickly becoming obsolete. Remote workers are more common, but some companies aren’t embracing the trend. Early in 2017, IBM announced that all remote workers would now have to work in one of its six main offices around the United States.

    Any employee who refused would be terminated, and employees didn’t even get to choose which office they were going to. IBM’s explanation was that it needed greater innovation, and some leaders share the belief that direct supervision of employees is the key to being the most productive. However, not trusting employees to perform out of your sight makes hiring and retaining high-performing people a challenge.

    IBM isn’t the only major company requiring all employees to work in the office. There are a lot of misconceptions about a remote workforce, and the biggest is that work won’t get done at home. Managers fear that letting one person work from home will make others want to do the same, and there’s also the assumption that managing remote workers is too different from managing in-house employees. But the job is basically the same: All you need to do is use technology more creatively, be sensitive to people feeling isolated, and schedule regular communication.

    These misconceptions all center around a desire for control and a lack of trust, and sometimes that can make leaders borderline unreasonable. For example, one of our team members had a terrible commute at a former job. When she asked to come in earlier and leave earlier to reduce the hours of unproductive time that she spent in gridlock, she was told “no,” and she couldn’t work from home, either. The company soon lost her as a result. In the end, there are more benefits to increased work flexibility than there are possible drawbacks.

    The Benefits of Flexible Working Schedules

    People know when they’re most productive during the day, so flexible work situations attract and retain talent, especially Millennials. Seventy-five percent of Millennials feel more productive working outside the office, but only about 43 percent actually get their wish. Remote working also greatly reduces turnover.

    When you trust employees to work from home, they feel empowered. They have the opportunity to be their own business owners and managers, which drives accountability. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials say they are more productive when they have a flexible schedule, and 49 percent say they are happier this way. Both flexible hours and remote working can actually lead to more productivity, not less.

    Of course, remote working and flexible hours are really two different issues. People might have a flexible schedule and work remotely, or they might report to the office but have a flexible schedule.

    Flexibility is, inherently, an issue of fairness. Organizations regularly ask employees to remain “connected” while off work (evenings, weekends, and vacations), which most employees actually want to do. However, it’s not fair to expect this of employees and not reciprocate in terms of flexibility of schedule when they’re working in the office. Such expectations are too one-sided. While people will support and even own the need to be constantly connected, resentment will erode their motivation if the company doesn’t provide flexibility in return.

    Managing remotely is all about building mutual trust. Yet, decisions that are made in the name of trying to mitigate a lack of trust don’t always serve the organization in terms of results. The adults working for you experience the same life interruptions (doctor’s appointments, school meetings, etc.) that you do, as their manager. Why treat them differently?

    5 Ways to Manage Your Remote Workforce Effectively

    Remote workers can be just as productive as in-office workers, but they still need to be managed properly to do their best work. Here are five ways to lead them as effectively as the employees under your roof:

    1. Be self-aware.

    Do people need to earn your trust, or do you trust people until they betray your trust? Both responses are OK, but your answer shows your trust orientation. Your trust orientation unconsciously drives your behavior, and you must have a conscious awareness of this. Know that because of your background and your frame of reference, you may be less trusting of work from home situations. Recognizing that you lack this trust is a good first step. If you fall into the less-trusting category, you’re not alone. Eighty-two percent of Millennials claim they are loyal employees, but only 1 percent of HR professionals would agree.

    2. Hire for trust.

    Technical skills and knowledge are important, but don’t let them trump character. Interview for honesty, involve future teammates in the process, and ask behavior-based questions. For example, you could ask candidates whether they’ve ever failed to meet their goals or how they handled a disagreement with their boss. This will help you gauge their trustworthiness, which eliminates your fear of losing control.

    3. Establish your purpose.

    Define and communicate your team’s purpose. Millennials don’t just want to be told what to do; they want to see that what they’re doing is adding value. Establish what you expect from your team and share clear metrics to drive collaboration and team spirit. We use and review metrics weekly to determine our goals, and we can do that with our remote workers easier with technology, such as Skype.

    4. Focus on outcomes, not activities.

    Sometimes we rely on online activity to monitor what’s going on. Forty-three percent of U.S. employers monitor their employees’ emails, 45 percent focus on key logging, and 66 percent track the internet activity of their employees. However, activity doesn’t reflect results. Measure results instead. Remember that you hired adults you trust, so continuously communicate about their progress.

    5. Deal with problems quickly.

    Problems do occur, and if you’re not attentive you can lose connectedness with the team. As the leader, you have to maintain that connection. For example, if someone isn’t performing, find out what’s getting in the way instead of assuming it’s because they’re working from home. In fact, 77 percent of remote workers are able to focus and get work done faster because of fewer distractions like meetings and chatty co-workers.

    The set workweek doesn’t really exist anymore, although some companies are still trying to force it on their employees. Remember that remote workers are all being paid to produce and provide a service, and working from home can make them more productive and save you money. Let’s be fair about flexible schedules and remote working. Sooner or later, the future will demand it.

    Your people are what differentiates you from your competition. To learn more about how demonstrating positive assumptions can improve performance and productivity in your organization, register for HPWP Consulting’s leadership workshop.

    Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community

    (17)