Are you a manager struggling with remote teams?
Do you suspect some workers moonlight at other jobs, watch movies instead of updating your spreadsheets, or go AWOL when they’re supposed to be working from home?
Perhaps, in your heart of hearts, you secretly admire the edicts of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who in mid-2022 bluntly commanded all his Tesla employees to return to the office or quit, and who more recently fired half of the staff at Twitter in the first week of November 2022.
Ah, if only life were that simple.
For remote and hybrid work policies, many managers struggle to cope. The pandemic thrust the change upon them by necessity, without time to prepare. Command-and-control type managers either resented it or were baffled by how to monitor scattered workers and enforce production standards without direct eyes on their workers. Many had trust issues.
What began as an emergency response is growing into a new remote or hybrid work norm. It may not be widespread, but it is trending as people look for more flexible options.
By late 2021, there were already three times more remote jobs compared to 202o. By 2022, it already seemed remote work was here to stay. And by 2023, some sources predict that up to a quarter of professional jobs in the US will be remote.
A recent Citrix study found that worldwide, the workforce trends are:
- more flexibility in working hours for knowledge workers who are demanding it;
- the normalization of remote and hybrid work options to help attract and retain talent;
- better remote collaboration and productivity, thanks to the tremendous impact of work technologies, platforms, and tools; and
- a continuing struggle to balance business needs with increased employee expectations of flexibility.
Most people not only welcome remote work options, but they also often perform better from home, despite their boss’s misgivings. Recent research suggests a hybrid approach works best, with each company having to work out the right balance of in-office and remote work to suit their business and employee needs. Getting that balance right is essential.
For HR managers, there are many factors to consider, including the basic question of whether remote or hybrid arrangements will work efficiently for particular jobs and roles, and if so, how to afford the tech upgrades that are so often necessary.
Should you enable remote work? Factors to consider
1. The practical need for remote work
For instance, do you need to
- Enable business continuity in a crisis?
- Recruit knowledge workers globally?
- Assess whether remote work should be temporary, permanent, or an employee-specific option?
2. A manager’s personal attitude and preferred management style
- Some managers are excellent coaches, communicators, and team-builders, all essential qualities to be a good remote manager.
- Others simply lack those skills and need training.
3. The typical work roles within your industry
- Are they hands-on roles requiring a bodily presence on a particular site, or requiring specialist equipment only available at a specific location?
- Can some roles operate anywhere, with no specialist equipment or resources needed (apart from good communication platforms and tools)?
4. The corporate culture
- Is your company authoritarian?
- Is your company open and trying to be more agile?
5. Employee work ethics and expectations
- Some workers may be self-starters, with motivation, self-discipline, and productivity, achieving their weekly targets.
- Other workers may struggle to stay focused without supervision.
- If you’re recruiting, many knowledge workers now expect flexibility, with either hybrid or remote options on the negotiating table.
6. Your enabling technologies or level of digital maturity
- Do you have the data integrations, internet technologies, platforms, and communication tools to enable successful remote teams?
- Are you at the start of your digital transformation journey, lacking the capacity to stream video or properly support remote workers with the online software they need for their jobs?
Some common issues
While remote work is still a novel option for many employees since the pandemic, it’s long been a norm in some sectors, such as
- Healthcare insurance (e.g., the UnitedHealth Group),
- IT and technology-enabled sectors (e.g., remote jobs in computer coding, sales, marketing, administrative, language teaching, language translation, legal services, security services, UX, content writing, and others),
- The distance education or eLearning industry, and
- Publishing, media, digital and creative sectors.
The pandemic spread the practice of remote work to other mainstream industries. Common challenges in managing remote work include:
- trusting people to actually work—often a managerial issue, not an employee issue;
- gauging how best to monitor workers, or whether to monitor them at all;
- deciding on the ethical use of monitoring software on employee laptops and other equipment;
- conflict between conventional hours clocked as evidence of someone’s “productivity”, versus the idea of measuring productivity by outcomes;
- expecting remote workers to perform well without giving them the tools, platforms, and support; and
- lack of compassion for special challenges inherent in some remote work situations, e.g., childcare responsibilities, or other distractions.
The good news is that you can learn to become an excellent remote manager with the right perspective, sensible workflow planning, and a compassionate and understanding approach to challenges your remote workers may be facing.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.