How to Manage an Off-site Workforce

Globalization has impacted the workplace in various ways with one of its prominent benefits being the potential for reduced costs and competitive advantages associated with hiring remote workers. Whether your employees are half way around the world, or simply working from home, the attractive concept of off-site work has various benefits for all involved parties. On an individual level, employees benefit from increased flexibility and a healthier work-life balance, while on a corporate level, your company would see a decrease in absenteeism and general turnover.

This scenario sounds dreamy but where does it leave your management team? Any manager trying to tackle the challenge of overseeing remote workers would know that it takes more than fancy technology and expense allowances. You need to ensure that you’ve equipped the right people and placed them in the right jobs. In addition, as a manager your communication skills have to be well above par – it’s your duty to build relationships with your employees based on trust, and ensure that all employees are geared towards a culture of teamwork irrespective of location. This is understandably a tough nut to crack so we’ve put together some advice on a few best practices that may come in handy:

Be Strategic
Ideally, the human resources department should have a formal agreement in place with all involved before the remote working program is launched. The documentation behind the strategy should be supported by all senior staff, unambiguous and formal in its execution. All participants should have a clear indication of why there is a business need to launch such a program and how they play a part in meeting those business objectives. Examples of this type of language is now being taught in human resources masters degree programs online as it is becoming a larger part of organizations across the globe.

Work Differently
This process takes time and effort but all participants will need to adjust their approach to work. While effectively the same job functions need to be fulfilled, remote work often requires a shift in how the job actually gets done. As a manager, this may mean that you’ll have to understand business flow from the ground up and redesign your core processes accordingly – ultimately opening up new waves of communication on both operational and technical levels. Another factor for you to consider is that your management style has to shift from ‘monitoring’ to more of an outcome measurement/rewards structure.

Management Education

Regular training should be a central component of any off-site workforce program. Both senior managers and off-site employees should prioritize formal training sessions. Managers of remote staff need to learn how to lead a distributed team with a vision for the future. This will require up-skilling on a managerial level in terms of; periodic goal setting, employee engagement and setting expectations accordingly. Getting to know your employees to a point that you’ve built two-way trust is an essential skill for all managers to have, yet even more crucial for those with an off-site team.

Explore Collaborative Technology
The effective use of collaborative technology is fundamental to successfully managing an off-site workforce. This goes beyond smart phones, web-based accessibility and secure laptops – management and off-site staff need to be comfortable with multiple tools that aid distributed work; most of which are readily available for commercial or consumer use. Go ahead and test drive a couple of these tools to see which ones work for your team before deploying them. In addition, the use of such tools must be routine and within boundaries i.e. publish times for contact-ability and know when to unplug to avoid burnout.

Plan for Change
The planning and implementation of an off-site work program must be both systematic and aggressive. The long-standing work ethic of planning ahead still applies to this modern approach to managing staff. It is imperative to understand that off-site work programs don’t just call for a change in tools and added freedom for staff; it requires a major shift in your corporate culture, and that certainly needs to be planned for.

The current economic time calls for a lean, mean workforce to reduce corporate costs – this shouldn’t mean trying to achieve the same work load with less resources. As senior staff and thought leaders of our generation it is our duty to nurture smarter solutions to executives; one of them being a happy, well-managed offsite workforce.