Article | November 16, 2020
As work was catapulted into the remote mode in early 2020, organizations struggled to keep up and stay afloat. As the nature of the work itself changed in many organizations, we saw some of the best leaders step up and take charge. Dealing with a dynamic workforce is challenging but remote workforce management comes with bigger challenges that cannot be comprehended entirely until one gets into the thick of it. Take a look at this employer’s guide to work from home policy.
A big part of keeping a business afloat is responding to the changes in the market, and COVID-19 was an unprecedented anomaly in the economy that hadn’t been observed by the modern world until now. And while the economy has remained shaky since COVID-19 hit, many businesses have evolved in this period to not only survive but actively make the best of this situation.
Media 7 talked to the experts in various industries to understand how they managed their workforce during this time of crisis and noticed a recurring pattern. Three big aspects of remote workspace management came through these interviews – Leadership, Communication, and Flexibility.
One of the key requirements for remote workforce management in any adverse situation is strong leadership. Without leadership, the team lacks direction and support. Leaders instill confidence within the employees that helps the organization weather the storm. And while COVID-19 has offered a unique set of issues, leadership tactics in such a time of crisis still remain similar.
Thankfully, the world is connected digitally today, so businesses can still function. But with the pandemic, uncertainty has seeped in and employee morale has taken a hit. SharpEnd has been trying to make an effort to address this specific issue in remote workforce management with their leadership team.
“One of the main things our leadership team is focusing on is mastering remote management and leadership. How do you keep the team motivated? How do you make sure everyone is feeling included? What are you doing on a weekly basis to make sure that it’s not just professional, but there are social elements as well? We’re being very respectful of the fact this is a lockdown from the greater world and not just from the office.”
Cameron Worth, CEO & Founder - SharpEnd
One of the key tenets of remote workforce management is relying on your employees. Your employees are the single most important resource of your organization, and they need to be treated in an appropriate manner. For most organizations, working remotely hasn’t even been an issue, but the pandemic has affected the company culture and the social element. LoadSpring has come up with ways to counter just that.
“To LoadSpring our employees are number 1. They are the drivers to our success therefore their safety is our key priority. We have had a work from home policy for years so 100% of our team had the technology to work from home for years. The transition to 100% work from home was easy. What is hard is keeping the culture, our culture, from falling away when people do not have an office space to come to and share. We already had tech, like video conferencing, to keep connected but now we use it more and make people turn on their cameras so we can still see each others' body language which makes people feel more connected. Also we initiated a video conference happy hour for our teams so we can all feel connected in a personal way. This was a game-changer.”
Stacey Witt, Chief Marketing Officer – LoadSpring
When crises like COVID-19 occur, uncertainty and doubt foster feelings of stress and anxiety. In such times, people crave structure, guidance, transparency, and order. This is applicable even in a business environment, especially in the case of remote workforce management. In a landscape scale event such as this, strong communication can offer a direction to your workforce and foster growth. Lane4 Management Group identified the role of communication in times of crisis and stepped up their efforts.
“I’ve always believed that effective communication is key to a successful organization and I’ve managed to maintain this with people in my team during the pandemic. However, this does mean I find myself on Microsoft Teams for a lot of hours during the week. What this situation has made me notice is that operating remotely can still be highly effective given the number of digital tools we have available now. Although I still maintain that nothing beats a face-to-face conversation over a coffee!”
Adrian Moorhouse, Managing Director - Lane4 Management Group
Some organizations have also been able to use this shift in communication channels and leverage it to enhance their remote workforce management through it. ENGAGE is one of the many organizations that has embraced the new normal and made optimum use of the technology to stay in touch.
“The focus of our work and the way we deliver it has had to shift significantly. For example, whereas much of our leadership coaching work used to be delivered in-person at clients’ offices, we are now doing all of our coaching remotely (via Zoom, Teams, WebEx, BlueJeans, etc.). This has been a seamless transition – both for us and for our clients – which opens up new opportunities for the future, even when we return to some form of normal.
Our own internal teamwork has shifted solely onto Microsoft Teams – we have short, 30-minute meetings each morning (“What’s coming up / who needs help?”) and evening (“How’s today been/ how are people feeling?”)
Luckily, the availability of so many collaboration tools, and the agility of both our own team and those of our clients to adopt these, has made the situation much more manageable than we could have predicted.”
Andy Brown, Chief Executive Officer - ENGAGE
As for organizations that lead with technology, the switch has caused no major upheaval. According to Phillipe Guiheneuc of Akio, their teams have seamlessly transitioned to teleworking as they were already equipped with the infrastructure and the experience to undertake effective remote workforce management.
“As an IT company, Akio is well equipped for teleworking - some of the teams were already doing it long before the coronavirus crisis. Because we work in the field of customer relations, we regularly manage sensitive periods with our customers, for instance when they face peak inactivity. The period of lockdown and the lifting of lockdown have therefore not caused any major upheaval in our business. For example, Akio has not had to use the administrative unemployment scheme; on the contrary, we seek at all times to increase the production capacity of the teams.
This is particularly true of the teams of IT developers, because they are organized in Agile mode, a work organization that easily adapts to remote working”
Philippe Guiheneuc is the Marketing Director - Akio
Flexibility is often talked about in respect to work timings and shifts. However, COVID-19 has changed the nature of this discourse and ushered in new aspects to remote workforce management such as location independent work and result-oriented practices. The organizations that have practiced flexibility since before the pandemic have been rewarded with a higher adaptability to crisis and changing cycles. Pricefx is one such organization that has leveraged their flexibility amidst the pandemic to execute sales cycles in a unique manner.
“Pricefx is a flexible work environment. Before the pandemic, we allowed employees to work in their home office or come to our office (whichever they prefer), and flexible working hours to balance work and life. The global pandemic forced us to reduce our global team travel to zero, and to lean in on how to execute virtual sales cycles and implementation cycles in a way we had not before.”
Patrick Moorhead, CMO - Pricefx
Schneider Electric is another organization that benefited from a flexible work policy in terms of remote workforce management. Their Director of Global Procurement Strategy, Sri Gopinath has had to change his global interactions from in-person to virtual meets, but even while working with several time zones, he has managed to stay on top of everything.
“Our people are already used to working in flexible environments; therefore, the pandemic was not a big shock when we were required to work from home if our role permitted us to do so. My role is global, which needed frequent travel prior to the crisis. I have maintained my global scope and interactions while working from home considering that I work with all time zones, which can get quite challenging when we are trying to work together or meet at a mutually convenient time.”
Sri Gopinath, Director of Global Procurement Strategy - Schneider Electric
Remote workforce management is one of the most important skills for business leadership today. Even as the world is slowly working its way out of pandemic-related adversities, it is clear that remote work is here to stay. Now, the onus of adapting is upon businesses and leaders, to step up and offer the right direction, clear communication, and the required flexibility to their employees in order to thrive when working remotely.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a remote workforce?
A remote workforce is a team of people working together virtually from various locations. Remote workforces are efficient and cost effective for an organization.
How do you effectively manage a remote team?
In order to manage a remote team effectively, one needs to have clear and specific communication channels that offer direction as well guidance.
How to manage a remote team?
There are several ways to motivate employees in a remote mode:
Plan virtual activities
Conduct webinars for upskilling
Encourage transparency in communication
Communicate expectations clearly
Article | August 6, 2020
Digital transformation is the concept of using technology to solve business problems. As business strategies become more global and organizations need to be more agile, it only makes sense to use technology to our greatest advantage. Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you a few articles that I worked on with our friends at Paycom about digital transformation and how it can positively impact the employee experience. While I hope you enjoyed each of the articles as you read them, I thought you might like to see them together and how they connect.
Article | February 12, 2020
Which new technologies are influencing the evolution of the HR software? These new technologies will not only shape online HR software but will be a determining and transformative factor that will affect the workforce of the future. New technologies, new HR software, new way of doing business? A number of emerging technologies and innovations are now influencing the evolution of the HR software. On top of that, these technologies continue to shape how businesses perform HR-related tasks in the future.
Article | November 23, 2020
To trace the history of remote work, you have to go back all the way to the beginning of civilization. Luckily, The Human Resources Report has an easy timeline for it. But as far as remote or virtual teams are concerned, they started showing up only after the widespread sale of PCs and the advent of the internet. As lucrative as the concept is, virtual teams have found widespread acceptance only in the 2010s. Organizations are finally opening up to the benefits of virtual teams and the effect of remote work on employee satisfaction.
However, along with the benefits, the challenges have also entered companies. Each company or team is unique and so are their challenges but there are some common virtual team challenges that are uniform. Following are eight most common virtual team challenges, and a quick solution from the experts.
Communication Styles and Efficiency
Communication is the pillar for any success. Whether the team is virtual or in office, communication is vital to uphold its functioning. In office, there are different forms of communication at play. Colleagues often share updates verbally, give opinions, and even infer information from body language. But none of this is possible with virtual teams so formal methods of communication become more important.
The most common challenge that virtual teams face is that everyone has a distinct style of communication. Some people may be thorough and detailed, while others communicate in a crisp manner. Some prefer calls, while others prefer emails. In any case, when multiple people use various channels, it can become arduous to track communication and encourage accountability.
Another common virtual team challenge is that some people just aren’t effective at communicating their requirements. So they might not offer as much information as is required to function in a virtual team. This can lead to misinterpretations, or missed updates.
What Can You Do?
When your team members have various communication styles and methods, the easiest way to solve that is to establish a communication protocol. Make sure all official communication is conducted over one or maximum two channels and these channels should record all communication for future reference. These channels could be anything like Slack, emails, or project management tools. But establishing an official channel helps get rid of ambiguity.
In case of inept communication skills from your team members, it is easy to place blame or approach it in a manner that will lead to conflict. But it is important to remember that it is neither productive nor helpful to do so. The easiest way to deal with this virtual team challenge is to outline a protocol for communication. When do updates need to be sent out, to whom, on what intervals, and in what format? Answering these questions will add transparency to your process and give everyone a direction to follow.
Lack of Accountability
Accountability is a tricky issue in any environment but with virtual teams, it can become a serious problem if not addressed quickly. As there is no physical supervision for virtual teams, it becomes difficult to calculate productivity and efficiency. Employers are often plagued by these questions:
Are the employees really working during work hours?
Are they being productive?
Is everyone on the team putting in the same amount of effort?
And while these questions are common, it is important to find the real cause behind them.
Employees, too, can become distrustful of their team members and wonder if they are getting the short end of the stick. All of this stems from a lack of trust within the team.
What Can You Do?
While there are several solutions to this virtual team challenge such as using time tracking software to detect your employees’ activity during work hours, this kind of solutions will only water the seeds of distrust.
The best way to go about this is to change the way you gauge employee productivity and switch the KPIs to be more result oriented. This way, it wouldn’t matter if your employees are working eight hours or 12, because the results will be the key in this scenario.
Additionally, transparent and effective communication is an absolute requirement to ensure that the entire team is on the same page and no one feels alienated or exploited.
Office spaces are designed to enhance focus and reduce distractions. Everything, from seating space to colors, is designed with a particular objective in mind. Therefore, it becomes easy to just take a seat at your desk and start working when in office. However, that is not the case with remote work. As most people in virtual teams work from home, the environment is full of distractions. Everything, from the noise in the neighbors’ house to the children in yours, can hamper your focus and prove to be a challenge for virtual teams.
Diminished focus is a common challenge among virtual teams and even though remote work is known to enhance productivity, if the focus is diminished, your employees could feel burnt out quickly.
What Can You Do?
Encourage your team members to practice the following routinely and rigorously:
Have a separate work corner in your house
Keep the working space free of clutter
Discuss childcare with family members to ensure that you get a few distraction-free hours
From your end, you can offer them financial support to add remote work infrastructure to their house. And incentivize good performance. Communicate with your team frequently to check if they are facing any issues.
Maintaining Office Culture
From an employee’s perspective, working virtually can be great. No commute, flexible hours, and working from the convenience of your home are great perks. But many remote workers experience feelings of isolation after a few months of remote work. The primary reason for this virtual team challenge is that there is no ‘socialization’ in remote teams. Teammates don’t really meet each other and they miss out on the human connectivity that an office offers.
This is where the office culture can prove to be a big support. Office culture is an ambiguous term but it envelops the entirety of the office experience. But how do you shape an office culture without an office?
What Can You Do?
Office culture isn’t just the birthdays and the fun Fridays. It goes beyond that, it involves interpersonal interactions, sharing with your colleagues, discussing your weekends, and being social. This can be achieved by engaging employees virtually. You can do that by maintaining inter-department groups, encouraging conversations, and adding rituals like sharing weekend stories on Monday. You can also reward socializing. It may seem silly at first, but small rituals can add up and create a community.
Physical office spaces share the same network, IP address, and vetted devices. But in the case of a virtual team, none of this is possible. Virtual teams often use their personal devices for work too. In this case, security becomes a major issue.
Many organizations don’t allow personal devices inside work premises for data security, but you cannot monitor where and how your data is shared in case of virtual teams. This can lead to phishing or data breaches within your organization. Security threats are the biggest of virtual team challenges that most companies face.
What Can You Do?
The good news is that data security has evolved with the times and it is possible to ensure data security even remotely. For that you can undertake the following measures:
Set up a security protocol
Train your team members on the basics of data security and best practices
Use tools with strong security measures
Ensure that your employees don’t use public networks for work
Frequently update your security measures and passwords
Lack of Order
People are hardwired to look for structure or order in everything, be it in caves, modern homes, or in offices. They respond well to order and thrive under established structures. Governments and religions are the biggest testament to this. But what happens when there is no order?
In an office environment, there is at least an understood order of things. But virtual teams require a clear defined structure in order to perform. A lack of hierarchies and structure can often lead to miscommunication and errors.
Many virtual teams struggle to perform simply because there is no set protocol on how to conduct a task.
What Can You Do?
Documentation of hierarchies and protocols makes it easy to communicate with your team. Create detailed and relevant protocols for each process and share them with your team members. Constantly review your protocols for any gaps and keep updating them.
Any virtual team challenges can be taken care of but only if they have the virtual teams have a right direction.
Lack of Right Tools
Many organizations prefer to use free tools for their processes. While there is nothing wrong with maintaining your budget, it is important to know which tools are necessary for success and growth.
For example, you may use a free project management tool for your processes, and it might fulfill your administrative requirements. But free tools are often low on security measures, and it can put all your data at risk. Similarly, specialized tools such as the ones used for design, proofreading, or market analysis can make a big difference in your productivity and output. This is a specific virtual team challenge as physical teams can still voice their concerns as a team and make changes but virtual teams are often left to their own devices, without the right tools to perform.
What Can You Do?
Look at these tools as an investment rather than an expense. Create quarterly allowances for new tools and ensure that the existing ones are still useful and maintained well. Do an ROI analysis before investing, if a tool can bring in more money than you spend on it, it is well worth the expense.
Meetings are one of the pesky virtual team challenges. Many companies hire from across the globe, and team members work from different time zones. Even if your team is within a single time zone, availability of all members is a common challenge while scheduling meetings.
What Can You Do?
Clarify that as virtual teams get extra perks, they must also compromise on some factors. Timelines need to be adjusted and meetings should be prioritized for everyone to be on the same page. Meetings are crucial for the functioning of a process, they help everyone get crucial updates and bring everyone on the team in agreement.
For meetings where participation isn’t crucial, some people may be excused and you can share the recording of the meeting with them.
There are several virtual team challenges, individually, as well as on a team level. But it is important to stay in constant touch, share frequent updates, and check in with each other so that there is nothing lost in translation. This guide to work from home policy may offer additional assistance with the same. After all, an effective team is not the perfect one, but the one that’s willing to adapt.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the biggest challenge when working in a virtual organization?
The biggest virtual team challenge is communication. However, it is easily preventable. If communication protocols and channels are clear, virtual organizations thrive.
How do you overcome the challenges of virtual teams?
A good remote work policy can help you overcome most of the virtual team challenges. It is best to be prepared for all kinds of challenges rather than deal with them as they arise.
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