Six tips for managing a remote workforce

By Richard Forsyth

Get it wrong and your remote workers will be duplicating work, missing deadlines and dropping balls – and they’ll probably hate you for it. So, what do you need to do to truly manage those who are not directly in your line of sight?

‘Going’ to work is becoming a thing of the past. By the year 2020 – according to The Office of National Statistics – half the UK workforce is expected to be working remotely. It’s not just the workers that will need to adapt, managers need to keep all the plates spinning in this changing work-scape. In a busy company, a missed thread could be a costly mistake. A survey revealed that 56% of people believe managers need to adapt their skills to manage a remote workforce, so are you ready for remote control?

Here’s a few pointers that have been tried and tested.

  1. Live by briefing documents

The task must be in writing for clarity, so it’s easy to check for reference. A deadline and timeline should be in place and jobs should be ticked off when completed. Awareness is everything when remote working. Create briefing documents that illustrate the actions in a task, the purpose of a task, the timeline and deadline and resources. Make sure there are times to check-in and deliverables are understood. Invite questions from remote workers. With remote working – put the job in black and white, because you might not be there to re-steer someone back on course if they drift.

  1. Collaborate for project management buy-in

Choose a software management tool that the workers buy into and use effectively. Unless they all rely on it, you will never understand and see the whole picture. This may take some nurturing. Find out objections and investigate concerns. Be prepared to look at other options if there are systems all the workers prefer, that feel better and work well. Popular tools are Asana, Trello or Basecamp but they all have little quirks and differences, so see what works for your team to flow with the workload. The truth is – sometimes it takes a few goes to get the right software. You’ll certainly know when it’s not working well.

  1. Confirm communication tools

When using written communication make sure the channels used are clear for everyone. If someone sends a message on email when the rest of the team have a What’s App group, it’s easy to miss entire threads of conversations. You don’t want those awful moments where you say, ‘I did send you that instruction last week, didn’t you get it?’ Ask for confirmations when it’s important.

  1. Make line management clear

Line management, accountability and who is who in the chain of command and in the sequence of events is all important. The left hand must know what the right hand is doing because when you are not in the same physical space, there is no looking over shoulders and quick checks. When there is uncertainty, people make assumptions which might lead to confusion, in-fighting and drift of the project. Encourage collaboration and open questions but also make it understood who to ask about what, so everyone knows where they stand and what they are doing.

  1. Use video conferencing

Sometimes there is no substitute for a face to face chat to shift the conversation up a gear or get clear insights. Remote workers can use Skype or Facetime to talk with eye contact and honesty. With these meetings it’s better to set the agenda up front to keep focused but seeing someone in the flesh, in their environment, can also ease communication and help projects progress.

  1. Develop and reward trust and respect

More than ever, a happy, productive work culture will count for remote working. If, as a manager you feel it necessary to bark at team members with all the tact of a Rottweiler, then you will not get that extra mile you would like. This is precisely the juncture when you can expect workers to abuse the time, eating nachos and watching boxsets whilst on the clock. Being clear and concise is vital but you are in an environment where you’ve lost those nice little social moments, or that banter that carries over the morning coffees in an office –  so you need to create something that has feel good moments that are work related.

Be encouraging, make everyone feel special and necessary to the company. Remote working is about people who are often isolated, so remind them that you care about and appreciate what they are doing.

Richard Forsyth is the Director of The Strategic Agency, a company that develops teams of specialist creative independent workers, who all work from home but collaborate together on marketing projects for clients.