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How to Manage Remote Workers with Success

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Get tips on managing remote employees to create a work environment where employee engagement, morale, and productivity come together to create success.

Remote work has been on the rise for years. While the trend was evident long before the coronavirus pandemic, the crisis led to a major and sudden shift that found many enterprises quickly transitioning to remote operations. Now that remote work has become the norm, it’s a good time to take a closer look at common challenges and best practices for successfully managing remote workers. This will not only help you take advantage of the many benefits offered by remote work, but it will also help support a culture of trust and empowerment in the workplace.

At ActivTrak, we are committed to supporting remote workforces, no matter what form they take. In this article, we’ll address some of the challenges of managing remote workers and give you concrete tips that you can leverage to create a more successful remote workforce — a workforce that goes beyond video conferencing and instant messaging to engage with and support remote team members.

Choose where to start:

The Importance of Managing Your Remote Workers

A company’s most valuable asset is its workforce. Such an important part of a business needs to be managed efficiently and effectively. At ActivTrak, we encourage businesses to understand their remote workforce in order to balance workloads, support healthy work habits, and improve overall productivity. The way you manage your remote employees will have long-term implications for your overall business. We have seen some major shifts when it comes to the way employees work and managers must discover a better approach to how they manage  a remote workforce that focuses on employee wellbeing, engagement, and satisfaction in addition to ways of increasing productivity.

Tips for Successfully Managing Remote Workers

There is no set rulebook for managing remote workers. There will always be room for nuance and managers should be ready to adjust their approaches to best fit their specific circumstances. However, here are some tips to help manage a remote workforce, no matter the enterprise:

1. Evaluate Software to Create a Cohesive Remote Work Tech Stack

A remote workforce introduces different work patterns and systems usage. In a 2019 study The Workplace Revolution conducted by Regus, 86% of remote worker respondents remain connected via instant messaging apps, and 65% are on video calls at least once a week. After enterprises make the switch to a remote environment, many find that their apps and systems aren’t well-integrated. From accessibility issues due to the bandwidth of an organization’s VPN to the discovery of apps that don’t work well outside the firewall, there are a lot of technical difficulties that can hamper remote employee productivity. To mitigate this, ensure all of your software tools are well-integrated and be prepared to invest in additional remote technology. Remote workforce management software can deliver user activity insights so you can identify and resolve software-based bottlenecks. 

Workforce management has always been an essential component of an organization’s strategy, but the rise of telecommuting has made the process more difficult. A good workforce management system can help with everything from scheduling employees to hiring and payroll. Essentially, tools that makeup workforce management systems are designed to help managers cultivate an ideal remote work environment for everyone, resulting in a more successful company. 

2. Adjust Policies to Account for Hybrid & Remote Work

Now that businesses are settling into hybrid and remote work environments after the coronavirus pandemic, one of the first things leaders should do to foster effective team management is to create a remote work or hybrid work policy. In it, you can lay out your clear expectations for remote or hybrid workers that covers everything from expected work hours to which collaboration tools they should be using. This is also a great place to address any new perks that come with the job like happy hours, virtual water cooler conversations, and other team-building activities. Here you can find work-from-home and remote work policy templates

3. Analyze Productivity to Understand How Work is Completed

The rise of the remote workforce has brought an increased focus on the need to monitor output, create workplace efficiency, and improve productivity amongst dispersed teams. It is increasingly important to get answers on “how do you work?” instead of “are you working?”. Monitoring productivity via regular team syncs, 1:1 check-in meetings, and so on are can be used by managers to stay informed of progress made on projects and to ensure employees are staying focused on priorities. 

In Flexjobs annual survey, 65% of remote workers said they are more productive in a home office vs. a traditional business office setting. Although there are many other studies confirming this belief, analyzing employee productivity is complicated and tracking it has been a bit of a mystery. Definitions of employee productivity vary by organization, by industry, by department, and even across individual roles. Often, there are no real benchmarks available to help managers understand what defines a productive employee, much less how to measure productive work behavior. Additionally, you may have concerns about how much time is spent when employees are out of sight, as is the case with remote workers.

One of the best tips for managing remote workers is to implement workplace monitoring, not as a form of spying on your remote employees, but as a way to support them more effectively. Unlike check-ins and virtual meetings that only offer a surface-level understanding of a remote worker’s experience, a monitoring solution uses data and productivity metrics to help you understand how your remote teams are working. That empowers you to offer more targeted support as part of your remote workforce management efforts.

4. Prevent Cybersecurity Risks

The growing volume of remote workers has expanded the security perimeter beyond what many organizations can handle effectively. The safety and security of an organization’s internal network is as important as safeguarding the externally facing firewall from cyberattacks. Remote employees, contractors, freelancers, and third-party suppliers have access to an organization’s IP, customer data, and other sensitive data as part of conducting routine business. Organizations put security policies and protocols in place in an effort to secure the data, but the complexity arises with identifying insider threats and negligent handling of sensitive data. According to a report by Shred-it, 47% of business leaders said human error had caused a data breach at their organization. This has increased the need to address these unique challenges head-on with more dynamic approaches. 

One of the common challenges with detecting breaches is determining not only what happened, and how it happened, but what was the intent. Typically in the course of daily activities, employees share information and inadvertently share sensitive information which then gets passed around via email trails and messaging tools. The practice is quite common, but not intentionally vicious. 

How can you effectively manage this? ActivTrak helps you uncover risky remote worker behaviors that put security and sensitive data at risk so you can swiftly take preventative and corrective action. Automatic screenshot redaction, for example, protects sensitive information from being shared inadvertently. You can also proactively, block access to websites that could introduce malware, and set alarms to alert you when suspicious behavior anomalies appear. 

5. Create a Positive Remote Employee Experience

It’s in everyone’s best interest to take employee engagement seriously and prioritize the employee experience. Organizations are only as strong as their employees. Keeping engagement levels high is essential as engaged employees are passionate, and actively in pursuit of the organization’s success as well as their own career development. By implementing employee engagement best practices and fostering healthy company culture, managers can boost job satisfaction and retention by making their organization somewhere employees want to stay.

Oftentimes, remote employees leave their positions due to a lack of interest in their work. Leaders should set up virtual meetings to talk about how their employees are coping with remote work and project management. The manager should discuss how previous projects went, the blockers they faced, and how challenging or exciting their work has been. Managers should encourage employees to work on projects that inspire them and lend their support if a remote employee wants to switch roles or explore a different way they can contribute to the organization. When employees feel indispensable and valued for their unique qualities, they feel more engaged. When a company is committed to their remote employees and has a strategy that focuses on their people, they tend to provide a better overall employee experience. 

6. Take Steps to Prevent Overwork and Burnout

Avoiding employee burnout and overwork is one of the most important and most difficult elements of managing remote employees. For many people, the home office effectively eliminates the divide between home life and work life, meaning work hours often bleed into personal time. Working remotely can easily translate into working too many hours as remote workers more frequently switch back and forth between work and personal priorities throughout the day. In a study by PWC of the Future of Work, more than half of the respondents strongly agree that they seek work-life balance—yet only 34% say they’ve attained it. 

Certain roles require collaborating with teams across different, global, geographic time zones, inherently requiring longer or odd hours to accommodate. This could include being available to attend meetings and video conference calls into the late hours of the night, among other things. This can be difficult to navigate as remote workers struggle to maintain their personal lives and achieve an optimal work/life balance.  

In addition to promoting messaging that supports a healthy work-life balance, another way to prevent these problems without micromanaging team members’ work schedules is by using remote management software that helps both you and your remote employees keep track of the hours they’re working. If you see specific team members consistently working long hours, you can take steps to rebalance workloads and encourage employees to take time for themselves. 

7. Identify and Address the Operational Practices Causing Bottlenecks 

There might be operational practices in your enterprise that are slowing down workflows or preventing your team members from doing their best work. Some of these practices may be so commonplace that you don’t even notice them! For example, the Telecommuting statistics by Owl Labs found that the biggest challenge remote employees face is being interrupted or talked over during video calls and other virtual meetings, according to 67% of respondents. 

One way to address this would be by offering better communication tools for remote employees and by calling out this problematic behavior whenever it occurs, whether it’s on a Zoom video conference or during a face-to-face interaction. Other practices may have to do with specific workflows and the ways that remote teams approach their work. Solutions like ActivTrak can deliver data-driven insights that help managers more easily understand employee workflows and identify what’s working and not working for your remote team members. Leveraging this activity and productivity data will help you identify key areas of your operational policies that need to be adjusted to support remote workers.

8. Use Workforce Analytics 

One of the best ways to successfully manage remote workers in the new landscape is with a productivity monitoring and workforce analytics solution like ActivTrak. ActivTrak’s solutions deliver unprecedented visibility into your remote teams so you can identify inefficient processes, unbalanced workloads, and more, empowering you to create a healthier and more productive workplace.

When you use workforce analytics tools like ActivTrak, you get:

  • Reliable Productivity Insights: One of the best ways to boost remote employee morale and productivity is by increasing employee engagement. With ActivTrak, you can get visibility into key stats including focus time, work hours, app usage, and more, all of which can help you understand your remote employee engagement and generate insights you can use to make positive changes.
  • Insight Into Process Issues: ActivTrak’s workforce analytics software delivers a bird’s eye view of your activity while also offering granular context into workflows so you can see exactly where things are working well and pinpoint where problems exist.
  • Less Burnout and More Balance: ActivTrak makes it easy to see who’s at risk of burnout thanks to the platform’s clear dashboards and reports. You can see workload distribution at a glance and identify which employees have workloads that are too heavy or too light. These features also help team managers make effective resourcing decisions and ensure that no one feels overworked.

Challenges of Managing Remote Employees

Although there are many benefits to working from home — happier employees, reduced costs, increased employee retention, and more — there are also some challenges that naturally arise when it comes to managing a remote workforce. The good news is that these challenges are easily mitigated with a little forethought and some workforce analytics help.

Here are some of the biggest challenges for remote employees and ways managers can address them:

1. Lack of Collaboration and Communication

Some remote workers struggle to adapt to remote communication tools like Slack and Zoom and instead miss the face-to-face interaction that once defined the modern workplace. Oftentimes, remote workers are limited, and interacting with the same document poses challenges.  

Luckily, there are many collaboration tools that can help address this issue. Utilizing communication and project collaboration platforms like Slack, Jira and Github can also help modernize processes in a remote-friendly way and encourage employees to be more flexible in the way they work with both on-site and off-site colleagues. When you work remotely and connect team members with chat tools and video conferencing tools, make sure everyone is well adapted. Everyone must use common communication channels. 

2. New Distractions

Oftentimes, remote work at home can help employees take control of their overall work environment. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any distractions. Although some employees may thrive in a remote environment (65% of remote workers say they’re more productive in a home office than in a traditional office setting), others struggle with the new distractions present in this space. This can hinder productivity and make it harder to keep employees engaged. Some new distractions that may come up when working remotely include:

  • Interruptions from family members
  • Social media, email, and other entertainment
  • Outside noises (construction, yard work, traffic, etc.)
  • Childcare
  • Pets
  • Housework

While 60-minutes of uninterrupted focus is popularly considered the threshold for “deep work”, only 3% of employees have focus sessions that last longer than 50-minutes. The reality is, that over 70% of employees experience focus sessions in 0-20 minute increments, with the overage lasting 40-minutes. Managers should recognize that 60-minute sessions may be unrealistic in practice and incompatible with day-to-day distractions, they should help remote employees set attainable goals for incremental improvements to preserve and extend focus sessions throughout the day.

3. Isolation and Loneliness

For remote workers, loneliness can lead to poor outcomes for physical and mental health and productivity. A 2020 State of Remote Work report issued by the social-media management firm Buffer showed that loneliness is tied with collaboration and communication as the biggest struggle remote workers say they face. 

Managers should plan remote interactions like virtual happy hours or open a fun chat channel to help maintain a sense of normality and to bring a sense of community back. While you’re together, be sure to listen, and offer encouragement and emotional support. 

4. Lack of Supervision

Working remotely means no supervisor will be looking over shoulders. Remote employees can struggle with having less access to managerial support and communication. This can make remote workers feel like their managers are out of touch with their needs, and therefore, not supportive in getting their work done. Remote workers often need more guidance and clear directives to know how to accomplish an objective. 

Managers should establish structured daily or weekly check-ins. Create project milestones that have precise deadlines, and use your time to discuss ongoing progress and potential obstacles. List what criteria and applications will be used to measure the productivity and success of the worker. A manager must ensure that communication happens regularly and should block certain times of the day when they’re available for short sessions with remote employees. 

Transform the Way Remote Employees Work

There are many benefits to the new remote work landscape, but without the proper tools, it can be difficult to make the most of them. By combining the tips outlined above managers have the opportunity to transform the way their remote employees work. At ActivTrak, we believe the best way to manage remote workers with success is by leveraging remote workforce management and workforce analytics tools. These solutions deliver the real-time insights you need to create a positive work environment where employee engagement, operational efficiency, and productivity go hand-in-hand.

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