Top 5 Tips to Effectively Manage a Remote Workforce

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Even before COVID-19 took the world by storm, giving everyone a “new normal,” remote work was already on the rise in the labor market. Prior to the global pandemic, a study by Upwork from their Future Workplace Report found that 5x the number of hiring managers expect more of their team to work remotely in the next 10-years. Now, given the new state of the world, every company that can has been forced to rapidly adopt remote work as a means to continue business operations while slowing the spread of the virus. More remote work means more remote workforce management, and if a company is used to a traditional office environment, embracing and understanding remote workforce management can be a challenge. Poor technology, management, and policies can make or break your transition to remote work. Here, we’ll discuss five critical tips to effectively manage your team while working remotely.

1. Evaluate Support Systems and Fully Integrate Software Tools

Many organizations discover their systems and tools are not well-integrated once remote employees find bottlenecks while working offsite. 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. Remote workers are often the ones who may uncover poorly integrated systems and processes that hamper employee productivity. This can be in the form of accessibility issues due to bandwidth of the VPN, usability issues with applications that don’t function well outside the firewall, or simply ineffective collaboration software tools.

Typically, remote employees will set up their home office system, including downloading the standard business applications they use, and discover that these apps are painfully slow to load, sometimes don’t work at all or they need additional permissions access which slows productivity to a crawl. More often than not, remote employees will use more cloud applications that are unsupported by the organization in an effort to simply get their work done.

Tools exist that help discover where there are inefficient systems and processes. ActivTrak, for example, can provide user data insights to help locate where employees are getting stuck and how they can resolve bottlenecks to get work done. For example, you can identify which company applications are actually being used, which are restricting workflows and which can be eliminated to streamline operations and reduce license costs.

2. Modify Operational Policies to Include Remote Work Considerations

Many organizations have informal remote working policies and standard communication vehicles are used with no adjustments to suit off-site workers. In the 2019 Telecommuting statistics by Owl Labs, the biggest challenges remote workers face during hybrid meetings are interruptions and being talked over (67%) and IT issues during meetings (59%). A common complaint made by remote workers who use Go-To-Meeting, WebEx, Zoom, etc. is the prevalence of in-room “side-bar” conversations happening, making it difficult to hear decipher or interpret important pieces of information that is shared.

Another area is a slow transition to digitizing paperwork and centralizing communications. This issue is tricky as it often requires new software and workflow process implementations that may not have previously existed. Utilizing communication and project collaboration platforms like Slack, Jira and Github can 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.

An effective way to learn what operational processes cause bottlenecks is to test them with remote employees. Some of this can come from direct communication with employees, but another vehicle to try is User Activity Behavior Analytics. Tools like ActivTrak can help provide digital insights that help you 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 account for remote workers.

3. Track Productivity to Understand How Work is Completed

The rise of the remote workforce has brought an increased focus on the need to monitor output and ensure productivity amongst dispersed teams. It is increasingly important to get answers on “how do you work?” instead of “are you working?”. Tracking productivity via regular team syncs, 1:1 check-in meetings, and so on are 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 time is spent when employees are out of sight, as is the case with remote workers.

With the right software tools, employee productivity and the completion of desired work outputs can be measured, analyzed and improved. For example, ActivTrak lets you assign “Productive” and “Unproductive” labels to automatically-logged employee activities. View productive and unproductive time spent by individual employees and by teams to learn best practices and define benchmark behaviors specific to your organization.

4. Prevent Cybersecurity Risks From Open Perimeter Devices

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 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. Eliminate Employee Burnout from Work/Life Balance Issues

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. It’s not uncommon to hear remote workers talk about how they love the flexibility of working from home, or from anywhere, but they know they work longer hours in order to stay focused and fit it all in. 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.

It’s common for remote workers to not unplug and work long hours which can sometimes go too far and prevent them from achieving a healthy work/life balance. There are tools to help remote workers not only track their hours, but understand how to work smarter and achieve the same results in less time. For example, ActivTrak helps employees understand where they have spikes in working hours, identifying unproductive gaps where time can be better allocated. Employers can use ActivTrak’s data insights as coaching opportunities to drive engagement, change staffing levels and/or redistribute project tasks to optimize their team’s success and proactively prevent burnout.

Effectively address the challenges of managing your remote workforce with a free trial of ActivTrak. Get visibility into how your team works, uncover and fix poor operational processes and leverage data insights to improve productivity of all your employees.

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By ActivTrak