Managing remote workforce: difficult, but not impossible

Managing remote workforce difficult, but not impossible

by Amit Dua

Virtual teams are the backbone of the global economy today. According to research done by Global Workplace Analytics, about 20–25 percent of the workforce works remotely at some point in time. Organisations have realized that the physical presence of the employee is not so critical, the performance is. In addition to that, a remote workforce has some distinct financial advantages that can keep the bottom-line of the organization intact in the volatile business environment of today. But alongside, we need to also be prepared about how the workforce needs to be managed in a way that it remains productive, engaged and committed.

We need to be aware of the aspirations, expectations, skills, and attributes that are unique to this section of talent because it is unique to them. Therefore, creating a roadmap and strategy for this segment is essential in current times. There are plenty of case studies of how organizations have built an overall approach for remote workforce management.

Here are some practical ways in which we can manage a remote workforce efficiently.

  1. Use of technology – With the kind of tools we have readily available now, managing the remote workforce is much easier and faster. A good technology-based tool can make a big difference to this process by enabling better collaboration between individuals as well as performance measurement mechanisms. Whether it requires connecting with virtual or geographically-dispersed employees or tracking their tasks and deliverables on an external platform, there are a range of options available.
  2. Clear goal–setting – Many managers are not very open to remote working as a practice because they believe that the employees may not deliver as per the organization’s expectations and their performance goals. But that is not the case if the goal setting is done in an effective manner with proper communication, metrics, and tracking in place. Goal-setting also helps managers articulate the organizational goals and percolate it down to the individual levels in a more specific manner.
  3. Communication plan – A dedicated approach in terms of ensuring smooth communication flow with remote workers is needed. This is done very well by using video conferencing and VoIP, online group chats, VPNs and, in the recent times, cloud-based technology. This ensures that one of the biggest challenges or roadblocks of remote working is actually taken care of and addressed in the right way. Scheduled visits to the workplace by the remote workers could also be planned.
  4. Sense of belonging – There is always the concern about remote employees feeling a sense of belonging to the organization. Will they feel connected to their team? Will they imbibe the organization’s work ethics, philosophy and business values? Will they be committed and loyal? Will they be engaged enough to go the extra mile as and when business demands? The answer to these questions lies in whether you have a dedicated plan that creates as well as sustains a sense of belonging in your virtual workforce. Again, the use of technology can be most valuable here to get team members across locations to meet each other. But it will need to be a consistent process.

So as we develop a plan to manage remote workforce, here is a snapshot of what the pros and cons of such a talent pool are. This will enable organizations to work on plans that are incorporating these factors. For example, the rewards of a virtual team are a combination of financial gains for the company through cost savings, but also a feasible option for employees because it offers flexibility and freedom to operate where they want to. Challenges are also present for both sets, but they are likely to be more for organizations.

In the event that the remote workforce consists of a large set of freelance workers/temporary contractors, the management of those will need yet another comprehensive plan because their motivations are different. However, virtual workforces are the way forward even in regular and permanent roles. So having clearly defined strategies is what will help organizations retain such a workforce.

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