What are the challenges of a remote workforce?
Charlotte Woodward

5 minutes

What are the challenges of a remote workforce?

Whether we like it or not, most of us are now part of a remote workforce. In fact, things were headed in that direction well before the pandemic. COVID-19 has simply accelerated the remote working trend and, in many cases, made it compulsory.

It’s a development that presents real challenges, especially for people managers and HR professionals.

How does project management remain effective when few, if any, of those collaborating on a project are in the same location? How does the concept of teamwork fit with a different kind of team, enjoying none of the normal interactions?

And how do you maintain the all-important balance between team performance and employee wellbeing in the age of distributed working?

Many leaders have had to address these issues, especially in global businesses with teams spread across multiple sites and time zones. Now they’re on everyone’s agenda.

Time management and the remote worker

Working remotely takes some getting used to, especially when your workplace is your home. After all, for most remote employees, home remains firmly on the ‘life’ side of the ‘work-life’ balance.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is time management. Your commute may now take minutes rather than hours but that apparent bonus has its dangers. It’s too easy to get complacent about the time you have to complete a project. 

As Parkinson’s Law reminds us, work always expands to fill the time available. With poor time management, working hours soon eat into other home activities. You can end up spending more time working remotely than you did in the office. For a part-time employee, this can amount to going full-time with none of the associated benefits. The work- life balance will be the first casualty, followed closely by job satisfaction.

Then there’s the very real danger of isolation.

The challenge of communication

The absence of regular, face-to-face meetings and water-cooler conversations calls for a new approach to team interaction and communication.

It demands the right technology, ideally integrated with your business, rather than deployed as an ad hoc add-on.

Often, this technology will already be in place and you can simply extend it to remote workers. Or it may be a question of adjusting rapidly to unfamiliar communication tools such as Zoom or Skype. With project management software like Microsoft Planner or Trello you can share project updates and organize work schedules in real-time. And secure chat platforms such as Workplace or Slack are great for regular team communication.

The reliance on technology demands a new model of team interaction. Virtual meetings have different protocols. They need to be more carefully managed and formalised so that crucial aspects, such as gathering feedback or setting priorities, are not missed. In fact, formalising those all-important tasks can give the virtual meeting one advantage over the usual, often more informal, face-to-face forum.

One-to-one meetings matter too and its important to maintain their regularity. Here an employee-focused technology like OpenBlend can be highly effective.

Employee engagement in a digitised workplace

The digital transformation underway in every industry plays an important role in managing a distributed workforce, by bringing people together and stopping them feeling isolated.

Communications at a human level are essential for any organisation where people want to work, now and in the future. Social media provides a highly effective way to keep those workplace conversations going and employees engaged. After all, that’s where more and more people go for their updates on the world. Workplace by Facebook is one of a multitude of emerging ‘corporate’ social media platforms, that connect everyone in an organisation including remote workers.

Other digital initiatives, such as virtual learning or wellbeing programmes, also help to make employees’ lives easier and more fulfilling, during the pandemic and beyond.

Remote working. A better kind of teamwork?

When it comes to teamwork, the advent of widescale remote working certainly concentrates the mind. HR leaders and people managers are forced to think carefully about how to keep people engaged and productive.

Remote working offers opportunities to create more effective teams and get the best out of every member. Unlike face-to-face meetings, for example, virtual meetings offer a level playing field that gives everyone a chance to contribute. It’s no longer a question of who can talk loudest or think more quickly on their feet. By building in time to reflect, you can encourage input from every team member, remote or otherwise. That can lead to better and more considered decision making, as well as improved camaraderie.

There’s one other big advantage for HR leaders and people managers when teams are working virtually rather than ‘off-grid’. Because their interactions happen on managed digital platforms, it’s a lot easier to gain an overall view of projects and to track the progress people are making.

Recruiting for a remote workforce. How Guidant can help.

In the current situation, streamlining your recruitment process and making it more virtual is a clear priority. And Guidant is on hand to support you, through our partnerships with leading remote and freelancer sourcing channels.

TopTal is an exclusive network of the world’s top freelance software developers, designers, finance professionals, product and project managers, already used by many top companies.

The Mom Project gives access to a pool of exceptionally talented professional women keen to achieve a balance between work and family life. For them, working remotely can be the perfect solution.

Then there’s Podium, a route into work for talented freelancers who are disabled and find it more a of a challenge to work in conventional work situations.

A major advantage of The Mom Project and Podium is that they are sources of talent that doesn’t fit with the traditional full-time, office-based model and remains largely untapped and under-represented in the workplace. In both cases, the increased acceptance of remote working presents a perfect opportunity to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

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