Managing a remote workforce: tricks of the trade

Of course people want to be able to work flexibly, in ways that suits them. But remote working, by its very nature, means that much of a person?s best work will be performed unseen, whereas errors will still have consequences and be hard to conceal. In times of stress or under-performance, therefore, managers will want to keep a closer eye on employees who, for their part, will want to be seen to be doing their best.

In the Regus survey, 44 per cent of respondents in UK mid-sized companies said they believed effective management of remote workers was perfectly achievable, but only with additional management training and skills development. I couldn?t agree more.

It is good to know that businesses are bringing increasing rigour to the practice. Thirty per cent of respondents reported that they now use specific efficiency-monitoring reporting systems for remote teams, while a third use video calls to communicate with their office teams ? use of technology that is clearly more efficient than expensive travel.

There are other specific concerns about remote working, of which one of the most common is the notion that it slows the development of junior employees ? a view expressed by 68 per cent of respondents.

Sure enough, junior staff are bound to need more supervision, but this need not mean corralling them all into one place. It is perfectly possible to identify and allocate tasks, set up monitoring or measurement systems, insist that employees report back regularly, whether by video-link or other means, and ensure that they are undertaking whatever training programmes they need.

Anyone who thinks effective management of remote workers is not achievable is simply wrong. 

No doubt there are lazy employees who take advantage, just as there are control-freak managers. But the job of senior management should be to eliminate any such impediments to progress while concentrating on efficiency and productivity, with an open, informed mind.

I believe there are simple lessons to be learned from all this research. First and foremost, managing a remote workforce is all about conquering fear and suspicion ? which are never the best starting-points for effective management. 

Instead, we should look at practicalities and deal with the world as it is. Thanks to the power of new technology, sales managers can keep in constant touch with widely dispersed sales teams, while GPS systems enable service centres to track the progress of engineers and maintenance teams. Client-facing teams can concentrate almost exclusively on their clients, without being drawn into whatever is happening at their own head office. 

The job of management in these circumstances is to identify the work that needs doing, then take the work to the right people wherever they happen to be. Use the most appropriate technology and establish the processes that make it work more effectively. Provide the necessary training both for managers and employees. Keep every kind of communication channel open, including social media, video-conferencing, text and email.

Above all, treat people as adults ? with care and consideration. Give them the opportunity to earn your trust at the same time as they gain greater reward for their successes.

John Spencer is UK CEO of Regus.

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