October 28, 2019

3 Ways to Overcome Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce

This blog is the second installment of our series addressing the challenges of a remote workforce. In part one, we explored three major challenges managers of a remote workforce must overcome. If you haven’t yet, go back and read the first entry. Since we’re focusing on overcoming those challenges in this piece, you’ll want to know exactly what we’re facing.

A remote workforce has its benefits, including access to a wider talent pool and eliminating expenses incurred from maintaining a local office. But sometimes the pros don’t seem to outweigh the cons. Below we will cover the solutions, which include tracking and managing productivity, resource management, and long-distance communication. 

1. Tracking and Managing Productivity

It’s very important to reduce distractions for productivity purposes, even in a “regular” office space. At home, the issue is compounded exponentially. Employers should help set up measures to ensure distractions don’t become an issue for remote workers. The right combination of monitoring tools and policies help address distractions in the workplace. 

Before you make any plans for monitoring remote workers, we suggest researching your local laws regarding monitoring practices, as they can vary across the world. For the majority of states in the US, only computers owned by the employer can be monitored and personal computers require the consent of the owner.

Another way to reduce distractions is to set clear priorities. Setting priorities is a good idea because it organizes which goal should be achieved first. This is important for focusing energy on the right targets. According to HRACUITY, there are three main ways to ensure productivity for teams regardless of their location. First, the employer should help the employees understand how the company operates, and they phrase setting priorities in the workplace as “what gets measured gets done.” Second, marking the progression of important goals within the company is important. This tracking helps monitor the behavior of remote employees in regards to their goals. Finally, tasks have to be prioritized and actually completed in order of importance, meaning that the company’s top tasks get heightened priority in being finished. Productivity can be improved if the company directly intervenes. 

A third and final way to track and manage productivity for remote employees is for an employer to block social media and other non-work related sites. This can be done with ActivTrak, allowing you to control what sites are allowed or blocked. It can block legitimately dangerous websites as well as distracting websites that the employee might use during work time. Reasons to block a website include reducing distractions, preventing exposure to malware, eliminating the chances of job-hunting on the clock,  minimizing online shopping, or blocking access to the site of a competitor. A good example of this is if an unsatisfied employee decides to apply for a job on a competitor’s website. This would likely be a violation of most companies’ policies and would lead to immediate termination.   

2. Resource Management

Even if you don’t have a centralized office, remote employees still need appropriate equipment for their work environment. Most remote employees, at the bare minimum, are offered a laptop or desktop with appropriate software installed. According to Corp.net, employers should also give people an allowance to buy equipment related to their job. In addition to physical equipment, employers also tend to allow access to the company’s VPN, or Virtual Private Network in order to make working at home within the organization’s secure network possible. 

It is important to manage legal issues involved with onboarding and off-boarding at the company.  An example of a legal issue is compensating the employee if injured on the job while working from home.  For instance, in 2007, a man was injured at home preparing for an end of quarter sales report. After both his insurer and his employer denied that the Personal Comfort Doctrine Law applied to remote employees, the employee wrote a lawsuit regarding the issue. This lawsuit was resolved by the Minnesota Courts of Appeals in December 2008 to overrule what his employer said. An agreement must be made to acknowledge their responsibilities and help maintain a safe environment that is also secure and to return their equipment if they leave the company. 

Securing sensitive data is another difficulty for managers of remote workers. Many companies have important information that can easily be stolen, given a lack of proper security tools. It is easier for a hacker to attack a remote employee since off-premise security is typically less robust than in a corporate building. Most corporate Wi-Fi networks are protected against attacks more effectively. On-premise corporate networks are generally better shielded against viruses and malware and have at least some protection in play. One solution to this is to use a VPN that only people working for that company can access.   

3. Long-Distance Collaboration

Collaborating over long distances can be quite challenging, especially when time zones are part of the equation. A major challenge is simply finding a time when everyone is awake. This can make it difficult to coordinate group meetings between teams on other sides of the planet. 

GMT, which is London’s time zone outside of DST, is a useful marker for determining how far apart two time zones are. For instance, Austin Texas is GMT-6 outside of DST, and GMT-5 in DST, meaning sunrise in Austin generally occurs when London is in mid-afternoon.

Even if the office and remote employees are in different countries, an arrangement should be made to interact directly at least once a year. Studies suggest this should be done regularly and consistently, as it can help facilitate trust and build the relationship between the employer and their boss. For instance, a Singaporean working for an American company in Austin could visit their boss’s office for a week to know how the company works in person. Of course, they have to keep face to face contact when in their home countries. 

Using video is an important tool for team-building with a remote workforce. Technology like cloud-based conferencing software, team management software, project management software and the like are useful for employees not  “in house”. Video chatting technology is a staple for doing business today, and it’s critical for establishing a business relationship, especially when working with a remote workforce.

How to Solve Remote Workforce Management Problems

Though these three problems are significant, they can become less obstructive with the use of a remote workforce management software like ActivTrak. First, productivity reports are helpful for monitoring productivity and of remote employees. Second, top application and website reports make resource management accurate and effective. Third, activity logs show management what tasks people are doing. With these reports, managers can make sure everyone is on task, adjust workloads on collaborative projects, and that everyone is all on the same page even when many hours apart. Ultimately, these challenges are easy to overcome if handled correctly.

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