In his legendary book, “Only the Paranoid Survive”, Andy Grove, the founder of Intel briefly describes the inflection point.
“An inflection point can be what happens to a business when a major change takes place in its competitive environment. A major change due to the introduction of new technologies. A major change due to the introduction of a different regulatory environment.”
At the inflection point, two things can happen. The company makes adjustments that help it attain exponential growth. Or, it maintains the status quo as a result of which it ends up in catastrophic decline.
In our times, a pandemic due to which physical working spaces become dysfunctional and a remote workforce becomes the norm is an inflection point. In the form of a pandemic, the inflection point has created a chance for growth or decline for businesses.
Also, 2020 proved that all the inhibitions that business owners and employers had about remote working were just baseless beliefs.
In fact, remote working has been proven to be more productive than in-office working. Longer working hours, more emails, quick video calls, and shorter meetings have made remote working a tool for productivity maximization.
As soon as remote working started gathering momentum, managers from all around the world started searching for the right way on how to manage remote workers.
The right approach to remote workforce management is bottoms-up. You have to work back from the remote workforce to get the most out of them. The traditional approach of issuing orders, micromanaging activities, etc. is only going to reduce remote work productivity.
The 3E approach
To get the most out of your remote workforce, you can try the 3 E’s of remote workforce management: Equip, Enable and Empower
Let now see how you can use each of them to manage your remote workforce successfully.
Your remote workforce might be working from home or wherever they are. They still need the right tools and equipment to get work done. You have to equip them with the right set of tools so that there is less hindrance to work, better quality, and also time and energy of the workforce is not wasted.
You can equip with any number of tools. But, irrespectively, they will need three kinds of tools to work productively.
1. Communication & collaboration
Remote work has become a cult only because modern-day tools enable employers and employees to communicate easily. There are instant messengers, voice call facilities. And even all-in-one video conferencing tools that enable the remote workforce to communicate and collaborate extensively.
As Jeff Solomon, co-founder of Markup Hero likes to remind me
“don’t forget, a picture (or video) says a thousand words”
So try tools like Loom for video walkthroughs or Markup Hero for screenshots and annotations, both of which work seamlessly with popular communication and collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.
Also, the whole hiring process has become more flexible, time saving and effective. There are many new tools that help to facilitate the remote hiring processes with AI technologies, conducting automated screening calls, video interviews with face and voice recognition.
2. Project management
Even in a normal work environment, it is difficult for employees to keep a tab on the multitude of tasks that form part of a bigger project. In a remote work setup, project management can go haywire. Without a proper project management tool, there will be long email threads, longer meetings, poor time management, and data scattered all over the place making it difficult to complete the project on time.
The best project management tools can assign tasks to users, set deadlines, track time, create sub-tasks or checklists can help the teams stay on track of deliverables.
Some popular project management tools in the market include Atlassian Jira, Trello, Microsoft Planner, Time Doctor and so on.
3. Office suite
Word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software — these are the holy trinity in the office suite realm. They enable employees to create long documents, prepare decks for presenting concise information, or even draw budgets and forecasts on spreadsheets. Without an office suite software, it is difficult to put an idea into paper and break it down into goals and activities.
While Microsoft Suite might seem like the go-to tool for Office Suite, the options are literally endless. Google Suite, WPS Office, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, are some alternatives worth trying.
Managing a remote team does not end with equipping them. They must also be equipped with the right set of facilities and services at home so that they can replicate a more or less similar work environment at home.
There are three things that your remote workforce will require to deliver stellar work.
At the onset, this might seem like something that the employee must take care of on their own. But, if you think deeply, it would be easy to recognize that most employees may not have thought of setting up a workspace corner at their homes. In fact, they might give little heed to ergonomics and might be working in unhealthy postures. This could increase absenteeism caused due to sickness, ortho problems, sleep deprivation, and so on. Needless to say, productivity also nosedives along with these issues.
Google told employees in May 2020 that the company would reimburse up to $1,000 to outfit home offices (Reuters). Similarly, several smaller companies also moved in to offer employees WFH furniture like ergonomic desks and chairs. One of the most under-rated tips for working with and managing a remote workforce is to empower them with the right kind of furniture.
Neal Taparia, who runs classic gaming and brain training startup Solitaired, explains,
“When we started covering our employees’ home office equipment, we found two benefits. First, our team was able to work more comfortably and productively than before. Second, it showed our employees that we wanted to invest in them, which further motivated them. A month after we started doing this, we released more solitaire games than we ever had before.”
2. IT Infrastructure
Remote working brings to light the several IT facilities at work that we most often take for granted. For example the always-on admin support, the high-speed broadband internet, easy access to peripherals, and so on.
To squeeze maximum output out of value out of remote working, it is essential to provide the employees with similar facilities at home. Offer them allowance for high-speed broadband connections, facility to procure IT peripherals that otherwise would have been offered at work.
Along with the pandemic, there was one more digital pandemic that set in across the world. The pandemic of cybersecurity. Cybercriminals started cashing in on the COVID scare by exploiting COVID-19-related fears among the population. It turned working from home employee systems as gateways for data theft and cybercrime. Studies by Deloitte suggest that there was at least a 25% increase in fraudulent emails, spam, and phishing attempts targeting the remote workforce.
The onus is upon the employers to offer cybersecurity measures that will strengthen the user’s devices and also create a safe working environment. This includes enabling device-level antivirus, firewalls, SSOs, two-factor authentication, and so on.
There is a potential downside to remote working that is dawning upon the world right now. It is addressed by several names — Zoom fatigue, isolation, FOMO, and so on. In essence, these are all related to mental stress and fatigue that can be overcome with some support from employers.
In other words, employers can empower their remote working force to overcome their mind-related challenges. Here is how.
1. Provide mental support
Unlike in the past, today the taboo surrounding mental health issues and disorders has been removed to a great extent. Employers are also willing to look beyond these issues to provide employees with the support necessary to achieve organizational goals. This could mean offering sponsored mental health checkups, mentorship sessions, access to yoga or meditation apps, or even helping people cross off a few bucket list goals, and so on.
2. Focus on results more than tasks
It is true that remote working makes the efforts one puts in at work almost invisible. However, results cannot lie. They are proof that whatever that the employee has done has managed to bear fruit. Giving remote workforce the autonomy to work according to their style and focusing on their results instead of tasks will go a long way in making them feel empowered.
3. Provide access to coworking spaces.
Studies suggest that remote workers thrive in setups where they can mingle, work and exchange ideas with creatives from other companies. Coworking spaces have proven to be a potent cure for isolation and loneliness which tend to plague many remote workers today. There are many reasons why remote workforces flourish in coworking spaces. Increased creativity and productivity are just two out of many. To support remote workers, companies can pay the cost of using these shared workspaces.
4. Offer continuous learning opportunities
One thing that remote working does to people is that it takes away the opportunity to freely interact with others and learn from them their perspectives and expertise.
To fill this gap created due to distance, continuous learning opportunities can be offered through webinar software. This could be monitored through a Learning Management System or even through an external party.
The key is to ensure that employees have enough time to explore digital learning so that they can sharpen the skills and empower themselves to achieve career growth.
Remote working has proven that it is possible to achieve results with a distributed workforce.
Working remotely maximizes productivity, slashes operational costs down significantly, gives access to global talent, and so on. However, there is a flip side to it too. Along with all the benefits, it also brings to the table a long list of challenges. Challenges that must be conquered at the earliest to make remote working work and productive.
Try the 3Es, if you are wondering about how to manage a remote workforce.
About the Author:
Mehdi Hussen is the digital marketing manager at SalesHandy, a cold email outreach tool. He is passionate about driving organic growth and customer acquisition for startups through data-driven content marketing. He spends his spare time musing about startup growth strategies, sales productivity, and remote work.