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Managing a Remote Workforce Doesn’t Have to Be Daunting

Aug 18th 2015
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The advantage of having a remote workforce is the fact that you can keep highly skilled and talented professionals. For example, a client just underwent a massive turnover in which every full-time employee quit. The employer chose to allow key and long-term employees to start working remotely. This was allowed for two reasons:

  1. Implementation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software package.
  2. The employer realized it had to allow employees to work remotely, otherwise production would grind to a halt.

In this scenario, desperate times required innovative and out-of-the-box thinking.

The best workers are those who do not need much direction or management. Because we live in a free society, your workers have chosen to work with you. Similarly, they have the option to leave your company because the best workers have a long list of other employers that are willing to give them what they want.

When you start to micromanage, and not take employees' work and advice seriously, the risk becomes high that they will pack up and go. Therefore, it becomes a leadership challenge to manage a remote workforce.

Here are five best practices on how to manage a remote workforce:

1. Measure by the amount of work rather than duration. If you are a retail or a factory worker, it is very easy to clock-in and clock-out. But a knowledge-based economy means that an employee's knowledge and experience makes him or her a far more efficient and effective worker. If you're in the technology or graphics-consulting business, it takes your workers up to 30 minutes to fix a down server. But, in reality, this worker has four years of schooling, many certifications, and 10 years of experience. How do you compensate him or her for this efficiency? That's something to think about.

2. Have processes in place. The best solution is to have deliverables and timelines by which the remote worker should deliver. This is, in essence, managing by having processes. The supervisor or manager will be able to “see” the work being done.

Rather than managing by meetings, an employer can implement an ERP software solution that allows tasks to be assigned along with deadlines. Emails, documents, project briefs, and specifications can be clearly laid out. In this fashion, all team members are clear on the communication, and it reduces the time required by a project manager or supervisor communicating among different parties and outside clients.

This can dramatically reduce miscommunication while increasing productivity. It also:

  • Increases project awareness.
  • Lowers confusion.
  • Increases client, employee, and employer job satisfaction and deliverables.
  • Increases overall profitability.

Stay on top by overcommunicating, such as repeating and clarifying instructions several times during the day, if needed, or communicating the same idea by using different words and phrases. But do not send a message to the remote worker that you don't trust him or her because that's a symptom of micromanagement.

This can be daunting if you're a small company, because in small companies, processes are virtually nonexistent – and the owner or principal is basically it. He or she may have a marketing whiz who has taken the company from zero to $3 million in five years, but that's small because the company could have been a $30 million company if the owner or principal didn't micromanage.

3. Invest in HR and trust your gut. Hiring the right candidate can be a bit of a gamble because of the time and effort spent during the hiring process. If the candidate leaves or the employer deems the employee is not a good fit, the position becomes open again.

Many organizations have a two- to three-person panel interview and 360-degree candidate evaluation, check references, and conduct medical and psychological evaluations to find the perfect candidate. But sometimes the best way to make a hiring decision is by a gut feeling. If your gut feeling indicates that the candidate will be a great fit, chances are he or she will.

4. Trust, encourage, and delegate. Once you have hired your remote staff, do not send them messages that instill distrust, resentment, and micromanagement. Highly experienced and highly paid candidates chose to work at your company. Equally, they can choose to walk out the virtual door. Remember: Trust, encourage, and delegate.

Effective management involves delegation. If the manager isn't capable of delegating, there is a point in which the employee-employer satisfaction dramatically drops, leading to a deterioration of the employee-employer relationship.

Effective encouragement may include:

  • A virtual pat on the back for a job well done.
  • Informal feedback at informal meetings.
  • An open-door policy.
  • An open mind to new ideas and solutions.
  • Accepting that management really doesn't have all the solutions.
  • Building trust and rapport.

5. Opportunities for growth. For example, how would you feel if you were told: “You were hired to be a bookkeeper. Just stay a bookkeeper.” I think the result will be found at the virtual door. A better solution is to try to be calm and not lash out at ambitious employees because they are the ones who will be able to push the company forward. Another solution would be to listen to your employees' concerns to understand their point of view.

By focusing on managing around a system of deliverables and soft skills, your company will be well-positioned to grow from $3 million to $30 million in two years because A-class people will attract other A-class players.

About the author:
Ronny Ko is the founder at MyBooks.Solutions where he offers his expertise to clients looking for CFOs and day-to-day bookkeeping, accounting analysis, internal controls, forecasting, budgeting, KPIs, upgrading business processes, ERP software selection, and finance-related analysis to clients of all sizes. He can be reached at [email protected].

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