More and more businesses are managing remote workforces. Our latest Business Communication Report notes that more than 38% of companies regularly employ people who work remotely.
Remote workers or telecommuters do their work outside the office, working from home, co-working spaces, coffee shops, and more. They no longer limit themselves to a typical office space.
In some scenarios, external factors and global events sometimes make it impossible for employees to get to work. In those cases, a remote workforce is a must-have.
Equipping your team with remote office phone system, email, and a laptop is just the beginning.
Advantages & Disadvantages of a Remote Workforce
Before we dive into our tips, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of managing a remote team.
We’ll start with the benefits of a remote workforce. As you will note below, there are many advantages to managing employees remotely.
Remote Work Advantages
Financial savings are a prominent factor for businesses. They see savings on overhead and real estate, as well as less tangible savings.
A remote team contributes to businesses at very high rates, according to a 2015 study conducted by CoSo. “Of the 39% who work remotely at least a few times per month, 77% report greater productivity . . . with 30% accomplishing more in less time and 24% accomplishing more in the same amount of time.” The lower costs have undoubtedly expanded even more since then.
Endless Talent Pool
With a remote workforce, the whole world is your talent pool. When there’s no commute, you can hire anyone anywhere.
This advantage is even more critical if your business resides in a smaller market. Now you can compete for top talent with the big city companies.
And when you offer remote work, you might just have an advantage.
Buffer reports that 99% of people would like to work from home at least some of the time. It’s hard to argue with that statistic!
Remote workers are happier workers. Video conferencing camera maker, Owl Labs, discovered that full-time remote workers say they’re happy in their job 22% more than people who never work remotely.
Job satisfaction means higher productivity and employee engagement. It also means higher retention. Remote workers are 13% more likely to stay at their jobs for the next five years. What a brilliant way to reduce turnover.
With happy employees, your team treats customers better. You could even make the list of the best employers in the United States.
A remote workforce is a flexible workforce. Employees can work from home even when they or their children are sick. This freedom means higher productivity and fewer disruptions.
Unforeseen events like coronaviruses or natural disasters can force people to work at home. During those times, your business can weather the storm by falling back on remote work. One way to increase business continuity is to give your workforce more ways to operate outside of a central office.
Flexibility isn’t just for employees. Being able to withstand dramatic workforce changes, unearths a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.
However, a remote workforce is not without its challenges.
Related: How To Work Faster & Avoid Burnout With Asynchronous Communication
Disadvantages of Remote Work
The first challenge of managing a remote workforce is embracing telecommuting technology. When workers are more distant, it can be harder to reach consensus and gather real-time feedback.
Emotions can run high if someone feels left out. For that reason, you’ll need to put a more significant effort into deploying your communication tactics, tools, and protocols–internally and externally.
Team-building is another challenge with a remote workforce. You need to ensure that team members feel connected, heard, and supported despite working from different locations.
It’s imperative not to take this aspect of remote work for granted. Team members may not be quick to voice their concerns, so it’s critical to reach out and check on them proactively.
You need the right technology to power a remote workforce. Your team should make foundational investments in communication, collaboration, security, and project management software where appropriate. This effort enables your remote workers to stay on task, keep in touch with each other and with customers, and push projects to completion.
Don’t merely send your team home and expect them to telework successfully. Think about how you can experience the advantages and minimize the disadvantages with your team. Instead, you have to plan carefully and manage effectively.
Take a look at these tips and best practices pulled from the experts.
15 Actionable Tips to Manage a Remote Workforce
Managing a remote workforce has challenges, but many companies have been leading their remote teams for many years. Check out these tried-and-true strategies to set your team up for success.
- Equip Your Remote Team with the Right Tools
- Over-Communicate with Remote Workers
- Conduct Regular Check-Ins with Team Members
- Create Opportunities for Team Building
- Establish Team Roles & Responsibilities
- Set Clear Deadlines & KPIs
- Ensure Work-Life Balance
- Invest in Equipment for Home Offices
- Advertise Remote Job Opportunities
- Use Multiple Communication Channels
- Bring Your Team to the Office
- Provide Face-to-Face Time Where Possible
- Gather Feedback from Your Team Frequently
- Measure Employee Engagement
- Track Cost Savings
But first, I shared an insightful post on LinkedIn comparing the different ways to check in on your remote team. I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments!
Equip Your Remote Team with the Right Tools
The right technology can make all the difference. On the most basic level, they’ll need hardware like laptops, smartphones, and other devices to allow them to do their work anywhere. However, that’s not the end of the story. You should equip your team with an essential telecommuting technology toolkit.
- Communication Tools: Give your staff unified communication tools to help them stay in touch with managers, coworkers, prospects, and clients. At a practical level, this means giving them an email, phone service, and flexible call forwarding they can access from anywhere.
- Collaboration Tools: Make sure your team can work together even when they’re apart. Use video conferencing technology to hold meetings. Use project management software to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing and to stay on top of deadlines.
- Security Tools: Protect your communications and data with security tools. Protect calls with encryption technology. Use password management apps to manage credentials and access.
Over-Communicate with Remote Workers
We often take for granted the natural conversations that happen in an office setting. There’s incredible value in the casual discussions typically had in hallways, cafeterias, and open offices. When working remotely, employees miss out on impromptu communication, which is vital.
It’s up to you to create both formal and informal communication opportunities. It’s a good idea to talk with them even more than you would in the office. If you don’t communicate well, you won’t be on the same page. Plus, you won’t know if your employees are going in the wrong direction.
Use the following methods to maintain strong team communication:
- Email – Follow-up and document commitments and big ideas using email.
- Video Calls – Consider using video to add personality to your existing live calls.
- Texts Messaging – Obtain quick answers to questions throughout the day.
- Live Chats – Send a note if you’re running late to a meeting or a thank-you message to your team.
Conduct Regular Check-Ins with Team Members
It’s important to check-in with your team regularly. These check-ins are important for many reasons.
- Provides Structure – Structure is essential even for a remote workforce. Regular, scheduled check-ins develop that rigor.
- Drives Accountability – Make sure your teams feel valued for their contributions and ability to get things done.
- Increases Alignment: It can be easy to lose sight of what projects are important and why. An employee could spend days or even weeks going in the wrong direction. And that’s all wasted time.
- Builds Relationships: Without the regular interaction of the office, relationships can suffer. Establish regular check-ins to strengthen the relationships with your team. Don’t forget to respect their time zones!
Create Opportunities for Team Building
According to the Harvard Business Review, “[C]lose work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.”
So how do you encourage friendships and build teams with a remote workforce? Here are some ideas.
- Team Stretching – The same kinds of exercises you do in person or at a physical retreat can happen virtually. Use video conferences or even a shared task list to collect responses.
- Rally Behind a Common Cause – Find ways to create connections. Donate to a cause that is important to your team or start a virtual hobby club. Engage your remote team to support a common cause.
- Create virtual space to hang out – Think of this as a virtual water cooler where people can share non-work discussions.
- Celebrate birthdays – Maybe you can’t do cakes or all sign a card, but find ways to acknowledge birthdays and other milestones. Plus, you get to avoid the calories!
Establish Team Roles & Responsibilities
When you aren’t all working together, the lines on roles can get blurry. Make sure to establish clear roles and responsibilities right away.
This practice starts with well-defined job descriptions, so individuals know their responsibilities.
Inform others about their core functions and processes to avoid conflicts. Maintain an updated office directory. Whenever roles or members of the team change, update the rest of the remote workforce.
Set Clear Deadlines & KPIs
Sometimes, the work done at home can be less noticeable to others. How can you make sure you’re making a difference?
This is where Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) saves everyone a lot of guesswork. Decide what results you’re looking for and how you’ll judge them. Think creatively about different kinds of KPIs for different jobs.
Here are some ideas for success with deadlines and KPIs
- Establish a benchmark or baseline
- Use project management software to document and track deadlines.
- Measure the outcomes and deliverables individually and as a team.
- Identify relevant metrics that apply to performance like calls made, emails sent, and sales won.
Ensure Work-Life Balance
One benefit of remote workers is that they tend to work more. More than half of remote employees work over 40 hours per week, according to a 2019 study.
Remote workers frequently answer calls or emails outside of work hours and go above and beyond in other ways. If they’re on a roll, they’re likely to keep working beyond the typical workday.
There is a danger that these workers will wear themselves out. Long work hours are associated with adverse health outcomes and reduced job satisfaction.
Help your whole team stay healthy and happy. Here are some tips:
- Stick to a work schedule – Don’t forget that includes lunch and breaks.
- Define when responses are required – Honor such commitments throughout your company culture.
- Manage time with technology – Manage your team presence to indicate when you’re unavailable.
- Share productivity and wellness tips – Many of which are also included in our working from home tips to help your staff develop and grow.
Invest in Equipment for Home Offices
Most people need a stable work environment to be productive. Remote employees burden the responsibility to create their productive workspaces.
According to Buffer, most remote workers prefer to work from their homes, but they also enjoy coffee shops and co-working spaces.
Related: Working From Home vs. Working in an Office: Which Is Better?<
Find ways to make your remote staff more comfortable and productive. For example, the majority of remote workers spend $11 or more on coffee shops. Why not offer those workers a coffee stipend? Or consider covering a co-working space if the home isn’t quite suitable.
Your remote workforce needs appropriate hardware and devices. Go the extra mile and provide them with hardware like noise-canceling headsets for meetings and additional monitors. And don’t forget the basics that most businesses provide for their on-site staff like pens and paper.
Advertise Your Remote Job Opportunities
Remote jobs can be a powerful component of successful recruiting. For many people, working from home is a real draw.
Don’t bury the fact that you offer remote work and flex-job opportunities. Make it front and center on your job postings and descriptions. Tout it as a benefit for your employees on social media like Twitter and LinkedIn.
And be specific. Articulate why your company has embraced remote roles, who they might work with, and the additional perks to make remote work more appealing.
Plus, your talent pool is no longer limited to people close enough to commute to your office. Now the whole world is your talent pool. You can now advertise your positions everywhere. You can recruit from geographically remote areas.
Use Multiple Communication Channels
We know that remote workers miss out on many opportunities for collaboration. We’ve talked about the importance of regular communication a few times here. It’s critical.
An alarming statistic from our 2020 Business Communication Report is that a whopping 60% of business professionals face a communications crisis every month!
Start your messaging off on the right foot. Decide what channels to use when. Enforce these rules. And if possible, adopt a cloud phone system like Nextiva centralize your messaging.
What is the best way to communicate with remote teams? Streamline your channels the best you can. It’s undeniable that employees are overwhelmed with too many communication touchpoints.
Sticking to a few channels minimizes uncertainty for the various types of business communication. Chat and messaging can make up for more informal dialog. And email and video conferencing can handle more ephemeral conversations. Don’t forget to pick up the phone and talk, especially when emotions run high.
Bring Them to the Office
Think about people you know online — how much more do you know them from in-person interactions? Even when most of the work happens online, you still want your team to get to know each other face-to-face.
If you can, think about numerous ways to get people together.
- Regular In-Person Meetings – If your remote team members are geographically close, schedule regular in-person meetings on a monthly or quarterly basis.
- Annual Meetings – If it’s harder to get together, schedule less frequent meetings. An in-depth annual offsite can facilitate incredible contributions and a bit of healthy conflict.
- Special Functions – No matter how far apart you are, make time for celebrations. Acknowledge your remote team though video streaming capabilities, so they are visibly a part of all-hands meetings.
Provide Face-to-Face Time Where Possible
Since a remote workforce can be located anywhere across the world, you want them to feel close together.
Project management tools, time tracking apps, and analytics tools can’t forge a human connection. You have to.
Make reasonable accommodations for time zones and disabilities so everyone can collaborate. In light of the coronavirus, people who are newer to remote work crave attention and need your support.
Video can be new for some people to embrace.
Consider only using video when it helps the conversation. Turn the video off if it becomes a distraction to the core talking points.
Solicit Feedback from Team Members Frequently
It’s a good idea to get frequent feedback no matter where your team resides. With a remote workforce, obtaining candid feedback is even more critical. You could miss out on early signals when things are off track.
It can be challenging to interpret tone in written communication. You may not clearly understand another person’s intent, even if they agree.
Actively solicit raw feedback from your team. Invite your team to share what they like and don’t like about a topic versus seeking validation. Using tools like surveys, polls, or requesting 1:1 feedback can be powerful.
This way, everyone’s voice is heard no matter where they work.
Measure Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is the level of enthusiasm and loyalty your employees feel toward your company. The higher your employee engagement, the stronger your workforce is.
Reducing turnover coincides with employee engagement, which is why companies measure this metric. It’s not always obvious — like absenteeism or tardiness. Engagement is deeper.
Here are several ways to drive employee engagement among remote employees:
- Conduct regular surveys. Listen and mine the data for employee Net Promoter Score, job satisfaction, and verbatim comments. Look for trends and patterns.
- Host occasional focus groups. These groups can give you quantitative and qualitative data. Share the mic with everyone so they can contribute.
- Maintain strong communication. Avoid skipping one-on-ones because that can send a toxic message. Likewise, keep the agenda flexible to support your remote workers.
- Conduct exit interviews. Employees who are moving on can give you lots of valuable feedback. Most importantly, they can tell you what wasn’t working. It’s not a formality. It’s the most honest feedback you may ever receive as an employer.
- Adapt company benefits to remote needs. Do you offer a company pizza party once a month? Consider extending a similar type of perk for a remote team.
Track Cost Savings
One significant advantage of a remote workforce is cost savings for your bottom line. To maximize your savings, you must track those lower costs.
Why? You might realize you have more cash on hand so you can hire more, reward your team, and expand your company benefits.
Top savings with a remote workforce include:
- Office Space & Commercial Real Estate – This depends on what percentage of staff work from home and in the office. For example, you could stick with the same office space you have and hire more employees remotely. With an entirely remote workforce, you don’t even need an office.
- Employee Health & Wellness – Remote working tends to be a healthier work arrangement. Also, employees avoid most occupational hazards found in an office.
- Local Pay Rates – Depending on where your talent resides, the cost of an average employee in San Francisco might be twice the cost of one in Denver. Businesses can both be fair and pay employees competitively.
- Vacation & Sick Time – On average, remote workers use less paid time off, which means increased productivity. Perhaps it’s that extra hour they have each day since they don’t commute.
- Turnover & Retention – Engaged employees that stick around are likely to be high performers. The cost of rehiring can be a real drag on performance and morale, thus a ripple effect. Higher retention will drive increased performance throughout the business.
It’s not always a dollar and cents calculation. Assess how your remote team members perform alongside on-site employees. Examine the behaviors and traits that make high performers stand out.
The Future of Work
Having a remote workforce affords numerous competitive advantages. Employees gain more autonomy. Employers grant more trust. And there are some incredible gains to be had by going all-in on working from home. Preserve the future of work by acting now.
But it takes serious effort to be successful. You need your management team to grow into more significant leadership roles. They need to adapt to the new tools of the trade to listen and support their team.
Thankfully, it’s been done before. These actionable insights on how to build and scale your workforce will get you a headstart. Your remote team will appreciate your efforts support and guide them to become even more successful.
I hope you use these helpful tips to manage your remote workers more effectively, stay connected, and get more work done.