In the current landscape, remote workforce management is a vital skill for your business.
With more businesses moving towards remote and hybrid working – and remote work options becoming a strong pull for employee retention – there’s never been a better time to review how you manage remote employees.
Below, we run through exactly what you need to know to set up and manage a remote workforce effectively.
Remote workforce management
A remote workforce is any workforce that can complete its main duties away from a central place of work. Remote workforce management is the practice of leading and managing a remote workforce using a mixture of communication, processes and technology.
What’s the difference between mobile workforce and remote workforce?
Remote workers generally work in their own space, usually (though not exclusively) in some sort of home office. They are not obliged to stay here – they can work wherever they need to. This opens up a whole range of flexibility benefits – they can work on the train, whilst waiting to pick their kids up from school or in that cute cafe down the road which does the best flat whites.
A mobile workforce needs to move from location to location to complete its work. They might do this on a day-to-day basis, or be positioned in one location for weeks or months at a time. A few examples of mobile workforces include:
- Drivers for bus, taxi, train or haulage fleets
- Community healthcare teams
- Consultants who work client side on long-term projects
- On-the-move sales teams with numerous appointments each day
- Tradespeople who travel to jobs and clients
How is remote work changing the workforce?
It’s easy to see why remote work is so appealing to employees – it’s flexible and great for work-life balance, whilst opening up a huge range of roles that would otherwise have been off-limits.
Because of remote work, the vacancies available to employees have increased significantly. An employee based in Atlanta doesn’t have to limit themselves to Atlanta-based roles – they could apply for roles previously based in New York, LA or even abroad.
What does that mean for you, as an employer?
Ultimately, you’re going to have to work harder to keep hold of your talent. March 2022 saw a record 4.5 million US workers quit their jobs, with common reasons for doing so including low pay, no career advancement opportunities and feeling disrespected at work.
This means that employee experience will play even more of a key role in employee retention than it does now, and is likely to become a key strategic focus for businesses in the coming years.
The benefits of a remote workforce
If there’s one thing the pandemic has proven, it’s that remote work can be a fantastic tool for both employee engagement and workforce productivity. Far from experiencing the chaos expected at the start of the pandemic, many businesses were immediately impressed by their employees’ ability to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and the productivity that accompanied that.
With a remote working policy, you can:
- Access a wider pool of talent with no geographical limits – invaluable for hiring as open vacancies continue to hover around an all-time high.
- Access a wider pool of talent that is often excluded from onsite jobs, for example, people with disabilitiesdisabled people, young parents and those without transport.
- Improve employee work-life balance by removing commuting times and allowing your workforce control over when and where they work.
- Increase employee retention – employees with access to remote work are 68% more likely to report high organizational commitment and 30% less likely to look for another job in the next year.
The great news? You don’t even have to trade this for a drop in productivity. Remote or partly remote employees are 63% more likely to report high levels of innovation, and 75% more likely to report being often or always engaged.
Challenges and risks of a remote workforce
When managed well, remote work is a super effective way of expanding your talent pool whilst increasing employee productivity and retention. Equally, there are a few risks that you’ll need to be aware of – factor these into your remote employee management policy to minimize them.
Distractions and lack of direct supervision
Books, food, TV, hobbies…whatever your distraction of choice, your home has it, within seconds of your workstation. As a manager, it can be an uneasy feeling to have no direct oversight of your employees in this type of environment.
Isolation and fewer career advancement opportunities
In the Buffer State of Remote Work Report, 24% of respondents reported loneliness as a key difficulty of remote work – only ‘difficulty unplugging’ and ‘no reported struggles’ scored higher. Isolation can drain productivity and morale, so it’s important to invest in an inclusive digital workspace to combat this.
Communication and technology issues
Not being in the same physical space as your team can cause communication hiccups – make sure you have the right sort of software on hand to overcome this.
If your employees aren’t in the office full time, it’s more difficult to make sure they’re completing their IT security training and using their work devices responsibly.
Bring your own device (or ‘BYOD’) workplaces are on a particularly slippery slope here. 83% of companies have some sort of BYOD policy for at least some of their employees, but only 32% require employees to register their devices with IT for software installation. If you are going down the BYOD route, make sure you have the right security procedures in place.
How do I create a remote workforce?
The answer that many businesses could give here is “get caught by an unprecedented global pandemic, send all of your employees home at once and figure things out from there.”
Now that the initial shockwave of COVID-19 has died down, however, you have the luxury of a controlled and managed shift to remote work. When you’re rolling out remote working, it’s important to give everyone time and space to adapt to new processes. This could include upgrading and monitoring your IT infrastructure to cope with remote working, buying in the right hardware or simply creating a suitable home workspace.
1. Give plenty of notice
If your employees plan their lives around being in the office during certain times each day, giving them space to adapt helps ease your workforce into the change. Aim for a month’s notice, ideally more if this decision has been a long time coming.
2. Roll out department by department, if needed
Going remote requires investment – and you may need to take a short term dip in productivity on the chin as everyone gets used to new arrangements. Rolling remote working out department by department might make this easier to manage, both cash flow-wise and for keeping key functions running as normal.
3. Plan for investment in software and office equipment
It’s a given that you’ll need to up your investment in cloud communication tools and product management tools. Equally, be prepared to spend on other amenities you offer your employees at the office – extra monitors, ergonomic chairs, laptop stands and more might all be useful.
4. Find the right people to oversee the process
A stakeholder panel is a great way to make sure all relevant voices are heard when planning your shift to remote work. Include managers, employees from teams who are going remote and representatives from any functions who might be impacted by this.
5. Allow for growth and adjustment
Is everything going to go swimmingly the instant you move out of the office? Probably not – expect slowdowns as everyone adjusts to their new normal. Keep monitoring progress and learning from your mistakes, and things will quickly start to pay off after this adjustment period.
How can I monitor employees working remotely?
Employees like remote work for the autonomy and responsibility it gives them – this is what contributes to the sky-high engagement and productivity rates at remote companies.
You should not be looking to monitor your remote employees 24/7. They won’t respond well to being micromanaged, and you’ll undo all the benefits remote work offers. Instead of monitoring, shift the focus onto building channels for effective two-way communication.
- Setting clear deadlines and expectations – are your employees expected to keep core hours, for example, or are you taking a more flexible approach?
- Set up daily check ins – a quick ten-minute chat about the work day is reassuring for both manager and employee.
- Regular feedback sessions ensure remote employees don’t feel ignored and can develop their skills at the same rate as an on-site employee would.
- Use remote collaboration tools to keep in contact throughout the day. Instant messengers, employee apps and project management solutions all help here.
- If you need visibility into how employees spend their day, consider an employee monitoring tool to track time usage.
Remote workforce management software
The secret to a great remote workforce management strategy? Finding the right software for the job.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ here – it’s all about weighing up what you need to meet your unique requirements as a business. You might need the basics only, or you might need remote versions of several different systems to replace the office working environment.
How can technology help remote workforce challenges?
Whilst remote work has been a mainstream working practice since the pandemic began, nearly a quarter of employees reported not having the right equipment (hardware or software) to do the job as recently as spring 2021.
Remote work hinges on having the right tech. Remote employees need software to communicate with their colleagues, share ideas, keep track of deadlines, perform data analysis and more.
You’re likely to have some of this software available in an office setting anyway – so it’s the communication tools that really make the difference. Having intuitive and accessible employee apps, instant messengers and video conferencing tools on hand ensures communication channels stay open, productivity remains high and employees don’t feel isolated.
Remote workforce management technology: the must-haves and the nice-to-haves
The must-have software below would be pretty tricky to go without If you’re starting an online business from scratch!
- An employee app: mobile internal comms tools like Blink allow employees to share and access important info instantly, from their smartphone. Social feeds and two-way publishing allow employees to expand their internal network, whilst push notifications ensure that important messages aren’t missed.
- Video conferencing: why opt for crackly, awkward and generally unreliable phone conferencing solutions when you can use cloud-based video platforms like Zoom and Teams to meet and discuss ideas face to face?
- Workplace instant messenger: faster and friendlier than email, workplace messengers like Slack can be used to make remote communication easier (or just for idle workplace chatter that builds workplace morale – pet pic channel, anyone?)
- Project management tools: distributed teams need an effective way of keeping on top of tasks and deadlines. Project management tools like Trello, Basecamp and Monday.com use intuitive visual layouts to display and manage these processes.
Depending on your needs, you could also consider:
- Employee productivity tools: time trackers, note-taking apps and site blockers can all contribute to your employees’ productivity levels.
- Online whiteboard tools: whiteboard and ideation tools like Miro allow your workforce to take remote collaboration beyond a shared Google Doc or Slack channel.
- Employee monitoring software: if you’re concerned about productivity, one way to ensure your employees are keeping their minds on the job is by using employee monitoring software to track time usage.
Final thoughts on remote workforce management
As a manager, the transition to remote work can be tough. How can you provide the right levels of support and oversight when your employees are scattered across the country – or maybe even beyond?
With the right technology and the right approach, however, it’s more than manageable.
It goes beyond ‘manageable’ to ‘super beneficial’ in many cases – remote work removes the stress and time pressures of office-based working so that your employees can thrive. If you manage this with the right processes and the right tech, you’ve got a recipe for success!
Blink is an employee app that connects remote workers – get your free demo today