Back view of female employee engaged in team video conference on laptop

Successfully managing a remote, distributed workforce

A few years back, I read a Global Workplace Analytics report which revealed that 80-90% of employees wanted to work remotely. Today, that wish has become a reality.

But some of the concerns about remote work have also come to the fore. How can HR leaders and people managers ensure that their business continues to run smoothly, while simultaneously ensuring its people are happy and engaged?

It’s a difficult problem to face. But if there’s one positive to take, it’s this: we’re all in this boat together. 

For HR leaders, particularly those with teams spread across the globe, some of the challenges of managing a remote, distributed workforce are already clear: getting teams across multiple sites and time zones to collaborate on projects being one of these.

So what’s the solution?

Technology: the solution to today’s remote work problems?

Successfully managing a remote, distributed workforce is heavily reliant on having the right technology integrated within a business. For some, these technologies will already be there. For others — particularly those who haven’t previously worked with a remote, distributed workforce — they’ve had to rapidly embrace digital transformation. Zoom’s stock price doubling since the start of the year is a reflection of this trend.

So how do these technologies work in practice with remote teams? Let’s take a single, unspecified project as an example. An ideation session can be held using a video platform like Zoom or Skype. Sharing project updates and organizing work are enabled using a project management tool like Microsoft Planner or Trello. Regularly communicating with project members can be facilitated using a secure chat platform such as Workplace or Slack.

While there may be some issues for people using these technologies for the first time, we know that we’re going to be reliant on them going forward. Coronavirus has simply accelerated this transition. And with the technological infrastructure in place, planning for the future becomes much easier.

This infrastructure also enables HR leaders and people managers to have a full, holistic view of what people are working on, what projects they’re part of, and how they’re measuring up against strategic goals. Even when so-called business-as-usual returns, this is an asset worth having.

Communicating with teams doesn’t have to be difficult

After speaking to HR leaders and people managers in my network, a common concern that frequently crops up is how to effectively communicate with a remote workforce. Though Skype and Workplace might pick up some of the slack for meetings, communications and business updates, how are people managers expected to hold meaningful one-to-ones with their teams?

Again, technology may prove to be the answer. At Guidant Global, we use a technology — OpenBlend — that ensures people engage in effective, meaningful and regular one-to-ones. While one-to-ones often work better in a face-to-face setting, the philosophy that underpins the platform enables remote one-to-ones to be effective, too.

Though some may doubt the validity or potential of virtual feedback, from our experience, empowering people and giving managers visibility can be digitized.

Transitioning the role of HR from bit-part player to a strategic leader

So what does this all mean for HR leaders and people managers once we’ve passed through the storm? With a smart approach and the right tools in place, we can create more effective teams. With an effective transition, this can move the role of an HR leader from tactics and people management to leadership and strategy. 

If an HR leader can effectively manage their remote workforce today, having a bigger seat at the table seems almost inevitable once the coronavirus crisis starts to alleviate.

Access our expert insights

To find out more about how to best manage a remote workforce and drive greater productivity, read our report 'The global remote working transition', produced in collaboration with The Mom Project.

Click to read 'The global remote working transition'
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