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How to Effectively Manage A Remote Workforce

Working from home
Written by shailesh@civihr.org - 18 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

Gone are the days when working from home was a novelty. In the age of the internet, most organisations have recognised the benefits of remote working arrangements.

Gone are the days when working from home was a novelty. In the age of the internet, most organisations have recognised the benefits of remote working arrangements. Work from home can increase productivity, lower office expenses, and even enhance employee retention, among other things. However, this does not mean that remote working is always welcome. There are everyday challenges that make many organisations stay away from having a remote working team. In this article, we will look at some of these difficulties and discuss ways in which non-profits can overcome them.

There are three basic challenges in effectively managing remote work. The best way to ensure smoothly-running remote work is to think about them while initiating a remote work arrangement. But how? Let's dive into how non-profits can address these challenges while adopting remote work as a part of their culture.
 

Measuring Work Done

The first question that really worries a manager is: how do I know my work is getting done if I do not see someone in the office? It is not an outrageous concern. After all, how does a manager know if all the emails that were to be sent out to volunteers were indeed sent? Did the meeting between Tom and Alice conclude on the recruitment roadmap?

Answers to these questions are easy to get when the work is quantifiable i.e. measured against some number that is verifiable. If the task was to send emails to volunteers, a response such as "115 emails were sent and can be seen in the Sent Items folder" is irrefutable. The manager has no further worries. One has to take more caution in subjective matters though. While "Tom and Alice's meeting proposed a recruitment roadmap which is presented in this document" may sound like a task completed, it is actually the quality and completeness of the proposed roadmap that will determine whether the task was completed in spirit.

Objective, traceable, independent work items are best suited for remote work. If you can clearly describe a job as "Producing X amount of something", it can be effectively managed remotely. For other jobs, pure working from home may not be the best arrangement.

 

Collaborating With Remote Workers

The above-mentioned meeting between Tom and Alice is a bad candidate for remote work because of another reason - collaboration. IBM and Yahoo, one time advocates of remote work, have begun rolling back their policies because not all type of collaboration is done well over the internet. It may seem counter-intuitive that electronic communication is instantaneous, and yet lacking in collaboration. The answer here lies in the ‘power of presence’. The subtleties of human presence - the body language, the voice tone, the eye contact, the sense of seriousness and even humour - all help in creating an ‘experience’, as opposed to just ‘information’. If a team needs a debate or a brainstorm (i.e. an experience), personal meetings are the best. If a team needs a status report or a presentation demo (i.e. information), video conferencing can work well.

What does this mean to your remote work policy? Basically, judge for yourself what kind of collaboration your tasks need and whether remote team members can contribute well to them. Also think about splitting your task into two segments - one to be done remotely by individuals, and other to be done collaboratively in person. An example of the same can be designing a website - your team can come together and discuss, debate, and agree on a design, which can then be developed remotely by the technical team. The process can be done iteratively until the project is over.

 

Lack Of Feeling Of Cohesiveness And Trust

Maintaining healthy relations among remote workforces is a challenging task. An obvious answer is to keep everyone engaged and interacting with one another. This can be done via different technology platforms. Encourage team members to chat in Slack channels, ask for team meetings to take place over video-conferencing and not mere phone calls, or have Friday Fun online meetings for everyone to share some fun facts about them that week. The idea is to make everyone see everyone else as a 'person' and not just 'an email ID' or a 'phone number'.

We must note that such meetings are not an instantaneous catalyst in building people-to-people connections. At the onset, the meetings may seem burdensome, with people not knowing what to expect or how to contribute. With time, however, a certain culture will evolve, and one must ensure consistent efforts for the culture to sustain. In fact, such lack of consistency is often considered one of the reasons for IBM's failure to optimise its remote workforce.

 

The last tip to make all of the above work together is to offer remote work only to those individuals who are suitable for it. If someone lacks self-motivation, or needs someone else to handhold, or just loses focus every now and then, that person will not produce quality work, even if all of the above, and other similar best practices, are in place. So, go only with the right personality type!

Have you tried remote work practices in your organisation? What have been your experiences? We would love to hear from you!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face, and builds on top of the earlier post on managing volunteers.

About CiviHR

CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.

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CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.