How to effectively manage a remote workforce
There are many things that you can do to more effectively manage your workforce remotely. Here we talk to Charles Cornwell about having an awareness to get the most from your managers.
Even as of May last year, working from home had increased by around 27 percent compared to a decade earlier https://workplaceinsight.net/homeworking-up-more-than-a-quarter-in-last-decade-analysis-shows/ enabled largely by the advances in technology. However, this year surpassed even the wildest predications, following the tumultuous events of the pandemic, with an early study showing that as much as 60% of the UK’s adult population were working from home during the Coronavirus lockdown https://www.finder.com/uk/working-from-home-statistics
Keeping a remote workforce motivated and engaged is the top priority in a working from home situation, and if leadership isn’t about creating results but influencing others to create them, then our advice to leaders remotely managing teams starts with vision and communication.
“Ultimately, the communication on the direction of the business and, specifically, updates so that people are working to realistic goals is hugely important,” says Charles. “Setting a realistic standard of behaviour and a standard set of results is crucial, and it would be naive to carry on without acknowledging the impact of COVID on your business, and how that has affected and is affecting every element of delivery.”
Regular performance reviews need to happen with remote workforces, as the continuation of that communication is critical. But also recognizing that our entire work/life balance has been affected for the majority of remote teams too.
“By definition, they’re not in a factory environment, so recognizing that there is a huge variance now of what people do is important,” says Charles. “An awful lot of people are filling their days with video meetings and calls, still putting in 8-, 9-, 10-hour days working from home. Recognising that and allowing people to have some downtime as well as productive time is critical.”
The other area of team management that can’t be ignored – and in fact deserves considerably more attention than ever before – is the mental health of your management team and then, in turn, their teams.
“It’s about understanding the level of interaction that people require and need but also not overloading them with micromanagement. If before this happened, you were trusting and delegating your leaders and members of staff, then you need to continue to be mindful of that, not micromanaging them,” Charles says. “But also, don’t leave them alone in the wilderness, as it were, and give them the necessary support that’s required. They still need a relief valve to have a bit of a moan and a gripe, because this is a very different situation: people have had to really adapt.”
Making sure that people try and keep to a working routine is important too, as when working from home it is easy to lose the structure of one’s day. Whereas in an office environment staff tend to have a natural structure to their day – arrive at 8:30am, coffee break at 11, lunch for an hour at 1, finish roughly the same time in the evening – at home it’s easy for your teams to discover that they’ve sat at their kitchen table for eight hours straight. Without even a proper break for lunch, let alone going outside to stretch their legs, working in their own homes can mean everything becomes a bit casual regarding time and schedules.
“Structure goes as well when the workload fluctuates – your teams can find themselves working at exaggerated extremes, working flat out all hours of the day or taking extended breaks finding other things to do around the home,” Charles says. “So, helping to build a structure for them – with scheduled days – helps to keep everyone on track. In an office situation, staff tend to be stricter with their time keeping, whereas at home it’s easy to keep going on a project, drifting into working late at the night. When that happens, the work/life balance gets damaged.”
It is easy for the social capital of your teams to become damaged too. In a workplace, staff in offices find natural times throughout the day to casually catch-up with people they work with. Leaders need to be aware of this being a positive, and so plan moments in for social capital to still accrue with teams working remotely.
“Having video meetings to concentrate on work happens, but also there needs to be moments where people can just talk about rubbish. Even setting up a structured WhatsApp group – that you might not even be on – for people to socially interact is a good thing, so that staff can have a slightly less work focused environment.”
Your immediate reports are the contact for day-to-day activity, so your delegation to them is key too.
“Allowing delegation to happen is important. If the normal route through the businesses is that you have middle managers, with people reporting into them, then those middle managers report out, that has to be allowed to continue as normal,” says Charles. “The relationships need to survive between those middle managers and their workers. Otherwise, you’ll be spreading yourself too thinly, trying to have conversations with an entire workforce. You have to continue with the trust that you had before. If everyone is concentrated on that goal and that vision, then nothing’s changed apart from the physical location. It underlines that need for a common goal and vision.”
High-performance culture is still able to perform working from home to a high level.
“If you keep an eye on the KPIs and see the direction that they’re going in, you can see the quality,” says Charles. “The quality of what’s being delivered is the biggest indicator, rather than quantity. As soon as the quality starts to drop off, then that’s a clear red flag.”
We have all learned a lot from this year with remote workforces, and many things look likely to remain even once we’re clear of the pandemic.
“There are still some hurdles to get over – specifically the difference between developing new business – but repeat business is a lot easier to do in a virtual environment,” says Charles. “There will be a huge impact on international travel and roles for business too. But many more people will work from home more often, so it’s important to plan for that and to positively embrace it.”
The overriding thing in that instance will still be making sure that the mental well-being of your team and their staff is being addressed.
“As a leader you can’t forget your duty of care, to oversee staff and ensure that they are getting the support that’s required. For them, being able to open up either in a one-to-one or group environment is incredibly important.”
Many of us were previously nervous about remote working and had big questions around the viability of it. But teams being forced into it has shown us that not only is it viable, but it can also yield great results and be a positive for staff too. Remote working certainly looks set to become a staple of our work weeks as we look beyond the pandemic, so making plans now for that to happen can only be a good thing.