October 21, 2019

3 Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce

As 2020 looms near, more and more employees are working from home. Inc.com reports that 63 percent of companies have remote workers, yet more than half of these companies lack a clear remote work policy.  Many companies are choosing this path because it reduces the overhead costs of operating out of a shared office space. There’s also the benefit of a much larger talent pool from recruiting remotely. By not being restricted to one geographic location, businesses can recruit higher-quality employees from anywhere in the world.

Working from anywhere makes for great opportunities, but it also presents unique challenges. Given that working remotely is a fairly new concept, many organizations that incorporate a remote workforce will face many new and unique challenges. New challenges require new solutions.  

This blog is the first of a three-part series where we’ll dive into the new challenges facing organizations employing a remote workforce. We’ll also look at how to overcome those challenges and explain how doing so will help organizations gain an edge over their competitors who have yet to go remote.

Organizations that want to benefit from a remote workforce have three major challenges to overcome: managing productivity, monitoring remotely based employee’s resources, and facilitating long-distance collaboration.

1.Managing Productivity 

A survey of nearly 2,000 U.K.-based office workers revealed that only 3 out of 8 hours in an 8 hour day were considered productive.  Because there are so many distractions in an office, it’s easy for people to get off-task.  Common causes for becoming unproductive range from chatting with co-workers, hearing random office noise, emails, text or Facebook even if it is just for family. The building itself can be a distraction in some cases, and examples of this include heating or AC problems, mold, odors or anything related to maintenance.

When working away from a typical workplace, the number of possible distractions increases. They can include pets, spouses, family, recreational activity and spending time with coworkers for activities like eating lunch at a restaurant. One example of an out of office distraction was when a BBC Employee was reporting on Korean politics in Busan, South Korea when his two kids interrupted him on camera. 

According to Harvard Business Review, managers account for as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. An effective manager will keep their employee’s tasks varied and set reasonable deadlines to increase productivity.  A simple solution to this problem is to use a productivity monitoring tool such as ActivTrak to block sites unrelated to work, track or verify hours worked, while also minimizing the number of distractions in the workplace. Activtrak monitors software using screenshot technology and can flag inappropriate uses of software. It also can monitor user risks with regard to the behaviors they make. Tracking hours worked is also  important for the employer because their hours might be irregular and not on the same schedule as “regular” employees.   

2. Resource Management

Managing equipment and resources used by remote employees can be challenging as well. This is especially true in physically locating the equipment loaned to employees. Although companies generally offer a laptop or desktop for an employee, they can’t directly keep track of the equipment. Even if the warranty is covered, it is in the hands of the employee and not the employer.  

Setting up at home can be costly, so many companies will help give them at least some basic equipment. A laptop or a desktop with work-related apps installed is a near-given by most companies. Desks, chairs, and the like generally are not provided given home furniture generally has that role. 

VPN and network compatibility are very important to set up at home. Many networks lack insider threat detection when connected and some networks are unsecured, making it easy for someone to hack into and steal data from. This is especially true when working from home, as companies often have some basic security built into their corporate networks.   

3. Long-Distance Collaboration

Communication from a remote location to an office is a big jump in itself, but communication across time zones is even larger. Most large companies have offices in multiple countries which can be compounded by large time zone differences.  For instance, the gap between Brisbane, Qd in Australia and Austin, Tx in the US is roughly 15 hours in Brisbane’s favor. This means that there is a rather small window when both teams are awake. Even with a smaller gap like Denver, which is only one hour behind Austin, coordination can be challenging between the teams.

Although remote employees may not physically be in the office, they are just as much a part of the company as someone who is “in house”.  Remote employees, given their isolation, are harder to integrate with the rest of the team. A “regular” employee interacts with their co-workers daily. 

Why It Matters 

Setting up the environment for remote employees and their work correctly and effectively can be challenging. Productivity management, healthy long-distance collaboration are all pieces of the remote workforce puzzle that must be carefully put into place. Ultimately, remote work will be even more important in the 2020’s than ever before, making solving these challenges critical to the success of any WFA endeavor. 

Stay tuned for the next piece from ActivTrak, where we will provide actionable insights to overcome these challenges.

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