Managing a Remote Workforce: Investing in people to drive success in a distributed workforce
Holly DePalma |
Looks like the future is now. Sure, organizations have been gradually exploring and incorporating a work-from-home culture for years now. But let’s be honest— COVID-19 beaned us with a wicked curveball. The pandemic has forced employers nationwide to adopt an overnight, trial-by-fire approach to managing a completely virtual workforce.
And like most workforce leaders, you’re probably navigating unique challenges and repeating the mantra, this is temporary, it’ll be business as usual again soon. But between ironclad safety precautions and extended office closures, working from home is sure to be our “new normal” for the foreseeable future. And to lead a successful remote workforce, you’ll need more than a strong Wi-Fi signal and cool Zoom background.
Let’s examine three keys to driving success when managing a distributed workforce:
- Build trust
- Set expectations
- Capitalize on opportunity
1. Trust: Not seeing is believing.
Maximizing output and empowering your remote team members means abandoning some of the long held beliefs about workplace culture and productivity. Common misconceptions include:
- Seeing your staff at their desks assures you they’re working hard.
- Commitment is a function of arriving at a worksite early and staying late.
- Only employees who are tethered to the office deserve recognition.
- High-level communication can only occur in person.
Not only is the “Big Brother” management style misaligned with the values of today’s workforce, it simply doesn’t work in the current climate. Having an outcomes-focused approach to performance instead of an observation-based one is critical when leading a virtual workforce. In other words, as long as your employees deliver on key objectives, the how and where details are insignificant. Strong leaders trust that their employees are equipped and committed to do the job no matter how much autonomy they have.
It would be remiss not to stress that trust is a two-way street. It’s not enough that you have faith in your team—your team must also have faith in you. Leading a virtual workforce means assessing the work habits and styles of its members.
- What are their individual strengths?
- What roadblocks might they face in a virtual environment?
- What is their preferred mode and style of communication?
- How can I offer tailored support and coaching to meet their needs?
Demonstrating empathy and reassuring your employees that they can count on you for pointed guidance will foster loyalty and motivation and improve collective output. Trust is the bedrock on which successful manager-team constructs are built.
2. Set expectations: United we stand, divided we work.
Widespread uncertainty is at an all-time high. Now more than ever, your distributed workforce is looking to you for structure and cohesion. A big part of establishing trust is setting clear expectations. Presenting action items and accountabilities will help your team work more efficiently, stay engaged, and experience satisfaction when tasks are completed.
Because managing a remote team involves asynchronous communication and workflow, it’s important to standardize certain practices and find ways to promote regular interaction and collaboration. Be transparent, and waste no time addressing the following:
Tools & technology
- Explain which communication tools your organization will be using (videoconferencing, project management software, document-sharing programs).
- Provide training and support on functionality and appropriate use of technology.
Important dates & deadlines
- Assign tasks and projects with both short-term and long-term deliverables.
- Provide timely feedback on the quality and completeness of their work.
- Discuss expected response times for email and voicemail.
Group & individual check-ins
- Schedule daily team meetings to discuss progress and potential blockers.
- Conduct daily or weekly individual check-ins with to gauge their temperatures and stress levels. Ask how they’re feeling and solicit feedback on their remote working experience.
3. Capitalize on opportunity (it’s often disguised as challenge).
As a business leader, human capital is by far your greatest asset. And managing your greatest asset remotely during a pandemic is no small feat. But when done effectively, it can help your organization develop new strategies designed to produce greater output. Inherent challenges notwithstanding, a drastic shift in work environment creates the perfect—and necessary— opportunity to revisit your culture and infrastructure and implement changes. Consider the following:
- How has your mission changed?
- How do you measure performance?
- Which teams need to be restructured to optimize productivity?
- What types of training meet your current needs?
- How can you create meaningful interactions from afar?
Tackling these questions will help you eliminate and debunk some of the old ideas tied to office visibility and punching a clock. Change, even when imposed on you, often breeds innovation and winning strategies.
Need support managing your remote workforce? Contact us today for expert guidance and tips to drive success.