Although some organizations have been managing remote workers for many years, a vast number of companies have been thrown into it recently—without much time for consideration of how this changes management practices. The unique challenges of managing remote workers are not always immediately evident, which many companies are now learning the hard way.
Luckily, there are resources available that make it easier to manage the needs of a remote workforce. In fact, organizations that have used assessments to gather information about employees during the hiring and development process already have a valuable set of data that can help them implement remote working policies to keep employees engaged and productive.
Setting aside the potential cybersecurity concerns that come with employees accessing company networks remotely, managing a virtual workforce presents a number of challenges that leaders may not expect.
Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that working remotely isn’t less effective than working in an office environment. Gallup research has identified clear links between remote working policies and employee engagement. Employees who work remotely 60-80 percent of the time are more likely to be engaged in their work, which translates into higher productivity. That same research, however, also shows that engagement rates are roughly the same for employees who never work remotely and those who work 100 percent remotely.
This suggests that simply working remotely isn’t a panacea for engagement, but rather needs to be accompanied by management strategies that provide support, facilitate collaboration, and promote accountability. The challenge for organizations is to find the right combination of policies that can keep their remote employees engaged and productive.
By far the greatest challenge of managing remote workers is promoting accountability. When employees are geographically dispersed, it can be difficult for them to know what is expected of them and how their own productivity could impact other employees (or the company as a whole). Without someone setting clear expectations, some employees might be inconsistent with their level of effort each day. If people aren’t accountable for their time and their work, it will be difficult for teams to collaborate effectively.
Setting clear, consistent expectations is one of the most important goals of any successful remote workforce. People need to know what is expected of them, how their performance is being measured, and what will happen when employees fall short of expectations. Here again, assessment data can prove quite valuable. An employee who is very results-oriented may need to know what key metrics to hit to meet expectations. Someone who is more values focused may need to understand how their responsibilities fit in with the broader goals and mission of the company. Assessment data is often used to identify the best strategy for motivating employees, which is closely related to encouraging and promoting accountability.
Facilitating communication between multiple remote employees can be a struggle for organizations transitioning to a remote workforce. Simply relying on email and phone calls might be enough to keep someone in the loop while they’re traveling, but it’s not sufficient for managing workflows for an entire team or office. Key details can fall through the cracks and people could end up working on multiple versions of the same task without a shared, collaborative place for documents and other projects. Some forms of communication might be sufficient for certain employees, but not for others, making it more difficult for some to follow what the team is working on.
Organizations need to explore tools like video conferencing and project management software, allowing distributed teams to track the progress and status of key tasks and ensure deliverables stay on track. Of course, simply rolling out a suite of tools won’t do much to facilitate remote working if the people don’t understand how to use them. While training should be included with the introduction of a new tool, some employees may require more hands-on explanations than others. Development and skills assessments can provide a better picture of what proficiencies people already have and what additional training they might require before they can start using remote workplace tools effectively.
Shifting to a remote working environment introduces a variety of cybersecurity issues that many organizations take for granted when they’re working from an office location. While most workplace networks are typically protected by a range of security measures, their home internet connections and personal devices generally don’t enjoy the same protections. What’s more, as more employees are working from home, there are more opportunities for hackers to launch cyberattacks against unsuspecting targets.
While there are several measures companies can take to promote better cybersecurity (such as using virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect to servers containing sensitive data and applications), educating employees about potential cyber scams and other social engineering threats is critically important. If employees don’t know how to recognize suspicious phishing emails that contain malicious links and attachments, they could unknowingly infect their devices with malware. Once they connect to the company network, that same malware can find its way into the system to cause data breaches or bring the company grinding to a halt with harmful ransomware. Managers should make sure that everyone is aware of these threats and send out frequent updates about new potential risks.
Working from home can be very appealing though it’s important to watch for signs of isolation and burnout. Without regular contact with coworkers, employees can become socially isolated and disengaged from the rest of the organization, which can have severe impacts on both their health and productivity. Another challenge is that working from home tends to blur the lines between work and home life, resulting in people working excessive hours and becoming stressed and haggard in the process.
Effective, consistent communication is critical to any successful remote workforce, with video conferencing, team chats, and collaborative workspaces playing significant roles in keeping team members connected. Remote meetings should have a structure, with an agenda that encourages open discussion for a short period before jumping into the workflow. Some people will enjoy open discussions while others may remain quiet. Behavioral assessment results can help identify who might want to take a more active role in meetings and who may be less likely to speak up even when they have something important to contribute.
Every employee has different needs with regards to work habits and preferred management style. Leaders must understand these differences regardless of whether their employees are in the office or working remotely, though shifting from one to the other may require a little more communication and empathy in the process.
Behavioral assessments can provide a solid foundation for understanding what your employees need. If assessment results show that someone prefers conversations and instructions to be brief, a quick instant message may be sufficient to keep them on track. Someone who requires a more “high-touch” approach may prefer to meet over video conferencing with their manager several times per week. The same data could also indicate who may need a bit more attention and support. An employee who is very social and outgoing, for instance, may struggle in a remote environment where they never get to interact face-to-face with their coworkers.
As so many organizations have transitioned to a purely remote workplace, it’s more important than ever for managers to understand the needs and tendencies of their team members. Omnia assessments can provide a wide range of data about cognitive ability, behavioral tendencies, and skills that help managers identify areas of need and develop strategies for leading their teams more effectively.
To learn more about how Omnia assessments can benefit your organization’s remote workforce, contact our team today for a consultation.