If a remote workforce is a major part of your corporate strategy, you know this decision comes with incredible benefits. You save an incredible amount of money on office space, electronics, maintenance, parking, and in-office perks—and your employees save an untold lifetime of commuting miles. They enjoy a more flexible lifestyle. And, most importantly, they gain the independence and autonomy that makes working for a corporation even more fulfilling.
There’s just one downside to having a remote workforce: it’s really difficult to manage your people wisely. A 2018 work connectivity study reported that nearly a third of the 2,000 surveyed employees work remotely, and 66% of those workers are disengaged.
Managing, motivating, and engaging a remote workforce is a complex challenge for leaders in today’s marketplace. By taking notes on some of the most successful remote-work companies, we identified the following five strategies which can help to keep your team enthusiastic and productive—no matter where they happen to work.
The Top 5 Management Strategies for a Remote Workforce
1. Create a Culture of Connection
According to the same work connectivity study, remote employees report not getting enough (or any) facetime with their team members. They agree that more face-to-face connection would improve communication and help them build better relationships at work.
As a manager of a remote workforce, connection is your most powerful weapon against the isolation and loneliness that many remote workers feel. Our first recommendation is to develop a strong relationship with each individual who reports directly to you. Get to know them on a human level as well as a professional level, and make time for the easy “chatting” that normally happens in a physical office.
On a broader scale, you can foster connection among your team members by setting up mentorship pairs that help new employees acclimate to the remote lifestyle. Create small teams of 3-4 employees for major projects, and establish weekly video conference touchpoints for all teams. Engage in team building activities. Host virtual happy hours. Do whatever it takes to build a sense of community in your organization, and maintain that connection with care.
2. Provide Powerful Tools
Another meaningful way to foster connection within a remote workforce is to provide powerful technological tools that foster collaboration. You can hardly expect your employees to work together if they’re separated by a technological gulf of radio silence. These tools create your virtual office, so it’s paramount that you invest in high-quality software.
Most companies with a distributed workforce use a diverse but streamlined set of technologies to connect their employees. We recommend starting with a high-quality video conferencing software like Zoom or Skype and choosing a service with robust screen sharing capabilities. You’ll also want to identify the best possible project or task management software that enables your team to have an efficient and intuitive workflow.
The main point here is to not skimp on the features with this technology. Test drive different tools, identify the best ones, and purchase fully-functioning memberships or subscriptions for everyone who will be using them. This decision has a significant impact on employee satisfaction in the day-to-day operation of your company. The only thing worse than not having the right tech is having faulty tech that fails when you need it most.
3. Strategize Your Hiring Choices
Most veterans in the remote workspace agree that finding success depends entirely on those you hire. Nearly everyone jumps at the chance to work remotely—but this includes people who can’t wait to work from bed in their pajamas every day as well as employees phoning in from the Nepalese mountain they just finished summiting. There’s quite a difference between workers who will be lazier in a remote work setting and those who thrive in this flexible environment.
In general, you want to hire individuals who are independent, self-motivated, and diligent. You want the kind of people who never need reminding to wrap up the small details—who, as students, planned their midterm essays in the first week of each college semester. Don’t forget to also look for personalities that mesh well with your existing team and your company culture as a whole. Building culture remotely is much harder than in person, and a clashing attitude can do a lot of damage. Plus, when you hire for good cultural fit, you’re doing a lot to create lasting employee loyalty down the road.
4. Learn to “Read the Room”
As a manager, one of the best skills you can develop is the instinct of knowing how others perceive you and your words. In a boardroom, it’s easy to note body language or facial expressions and gauge the tone of the group you’re speaking to. In a remote environment (or even a videoconference) this is nearly impossible to accomplish. You need to figure out a new way to “read the room.”
We recommend taking a step back and extending your timing expectations. Start by developing sincere and genuine relationships with your employees, to the point that you could estimate their reactions to certain changes or requests. Then set up a solid platform for giving and requesting feedback, either anonymously or face-to-face. Always, always, always ask for more feedback. And then follow through with meaningful updates that show you’re really listening.
Remote workforce managers are cautious and thoughtful about the way they approach difficult conversations or roll out new policies. This may make your organization slower to make changes, but it’s a surefire way to ensure your decisions as a manager make minimal waves.
5. Balance Flexibility With Productivity
Finally, we touch on the yin and yang, the most important aspects of remote workforce management: productivity and flexibility. Remote workers have the potential to bless their employers with up to double their normal level of output when they’re away from the distracting environment of a noisy office. On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy for employees to underperform without anyone looking over their shoulder and monitoring their progress. With remote roles, the line between productivity and disengagement is thin, and managers have to navigate this knife edge with careful attention.
We’ve noticed that our remote employees respond really well when they’re allowed increased flexibility in their work hours. It may seem counterintuitive to build even more slack into an already-flexible working strategy, but this is one of the benefits employees care about most. This approach also helps curb a manager’s natural inclination to tighten their fist around remote employees. Let them flex their hours day to day however they choose but keep your performance goals high. They’ll work out their schedules in a way that allows them to meet even the loftiest goals—and you need to trust them in doing so.
For a little extra insurance, you can use additional tools to manage performance. Time tracking software can be really useful, especially when implemented compassionately and positively. Recognition and rewards programs are also great motivating tools for remote teams that drive production higher. And if you want to take employee motivation to the next level, consider offering branded apparel to help your employees feel like a vital part of the company.
Regardless of how you manage your remote workforce, you need to make sure you’re offering valuable rewards and meaningful recognition for each individual’s hard work. A high-quality employee incentive program can help you recognize, incentivize, and reward your employees for setting stretch goals and meeting their performance objectives.
Incentive programs help companies increase engagement and improve retention across the board. This strategy works especially well in the remote company, where each team member might not get the daily encouragement or appreciation from face-to-face interaction. If you’re looking for an immediate action-item for improving engagement in your remote workforce, an employee rewards program is one highly-recommended option to try.
At Inproma, we’re dedicated to helping companies of all shapes and sizes improve the way they work. Our incentive programs are fully customizable and have been proven to increase employee engagement, loyalty, and satisfaction. Want to learn more about how a rewards program can propel your remote workforce to even greater heights? Let’s talk.