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Understanding the challenges associated with managing a remote workforce is vital to your success. Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, home-based working or telecommuting has been an increasing preference among companies and employees alike. The brick-and-mortar cost savings, the gains in work-life balance, the transportation and personal conveniences are hard to deny. However, if this is your company’s direction. there are number of management challenges we suggest you address in your planning. Here seven (7) important things you will want to consider:

1.      Insufficient tools and technology. Successfully managing remote employees requires the convenient accessibility of all necessary tools. To meet that need, leaders must determine everything employees require to ease and support the telecommuting transition. Rule of thumb: Remote employees need the same access to things utilized by onsite employees, which may include, but are not limited to:

·        Computer and required peripheral devices, including Webcam

·        Internet access

·        Company email and chat rooms and video conferencing

·        Policy and procedure manuals

·        Presentation templates and branded materials

·        Access to company and/or client software programs

·        Mail supplies and stationery

·        Adequate and distraction free home workspace

Best Practice: Maintain a checklist of required resources, based on the employee’s unique profile. Update the list as needed. Checklist should include internet speed per user standard. Periodically audit the employee’s home setting to ensure consistent compliance with checklist items. 

2.      Decline in performance, productivity and focus. While the freedom of being a remote worker is undoubtably an enhancement to work-life balance, it can allow in interferences that might not be as prevalent in an office setting. Remote work routines are less scheduled or controlled. They rely on trust.

Best Practice:  Identify the characteristics of successful home-based workers and screen for them as early as the recruiting process. Have clear (documented) performance and productivity standards and review them frequently. Periodically, seek the input of clients on whether they view the work from home arrangement as successful. Coach employees frequently, perhaps even reassigning them to an office location if work output becomes unacceptable. A hybrid (part home/part office) schedule can help with this.

3.      Ineffective or inadequate communication. Usually, home-based workers cannot simply peek over a cubicle to ask a quick question or even touch base with a co-worker over lunch. It’s possible they’ve never even met their teammates. Further, the perceived advantage of digital messages (email, text/chat) is often overstated as these things require voluntary access and can go unnoticed or even be ignored. Finally, digital replies require interpretation and are often misunderstood in meaning and tone. 

Best Practice: Schedule periodic team meetings and information reviews, mini or informal training sessions, supervisor and/or client virtual One-on-one meetings. Again, a hybrid (part home/part office) schedule can help with this.

4.      Lack of face-to-face contact with co-workers. Human beings are, first and foremost, social creatures so the experience of an isolated remote worker is counterintuitive.  Direct supervisors are also disadvantaged, having to adjust their means of monitoring productivity, coaching performance-related behaviors, and gauging things like employee mood and job satisfaction. 

Best Practice: Use of dedicated work team chat rooms and interactive video connections with team members. Facilitate frequent social engagements for nearby team members, such as meeting at malls, movie days, dining beach trips, and cook outs. A hybrid (part home/part office) schedule can help with this as well.

5.      Noise and physical distractions. Interruptions or distractions from children and other family members, nearby construction work, domestic and farm animals, loud electronic devices, are just a few of the daily challenges the remote worker may face. Such incidents can become routine, especially in congested households typically found in offshore or densely populated urban locations.

Best Practice: Use of sound masking applications and noise canceling headsets given the type of work. Establish home office environment standards that cover desk location and equipment. Remote work isn’t for everyone.

6.      Internet surfing, games and social media. Some employees abuse the privilege of internet access at work. This would be even more pervasive in an unmonitored home setting. At its worse internet abuse severely impedes productivity while distracting employees involved in social media gossiping, gaming and even pornography. Management of internet access must be taken seriously.

Best Practice: Have and communicate clear company policies surrounding internet usage. Limit employee internet access only to appropriate sites and access levels. Monitor and review internet usage routinely, as well as work production and quality.  

7.      Moonlighting and job hunting (on company time with company equipment). Home-based work has a tendency of making jobs appear generic and portable. The branded setting, engagement with co-workers, observant supervisors, it’s all gone. Here we sit in sweatsuits or pajamas. It follows that there would be increasing temptation for workers to moonlight or flirt with other job opportunities without leaving their seats.

Best Practice:  Maintain currently researched competitive compensation and benefits program. Engage with employees frequently, setting aside days, times, and creative methods for employee interaction. This could be in the form of team meetings, One-on-One updates, rewards and recognition events and extracurricular activities like sports and community involvement. Use web cameras as often as possible.