Managing remote employees: The three keys to making the most out of your mobile workforce

Published: March 3, 2020

“Going to work” used to mean a long commute to the office. But for more and more workers, going to work means going as far as a home office or the kitchen table. According to a survey by Owl Labs1, 30% of U.S. workers work remotely full-time, while 54% work remotely at least once per month. In addition, many companies have sizable field service organizations that never work in the traditional office. These employees rely on access to company resources no matter where they are in order to provide customer experiences that build brand loyalty. Meanwhile, business travelers need to stay connected with the office and customers whether they are in flight or in the office.

Thanks to technology, work has become less focused on the place you go and more focused on the tasks you do. The benefits for both businesses and workers are well-known; with well-managed remote employees, businesses can improve customer satisfaction, expand their talent pool and even save money on office space, while these employees can get their work done no matter where they are located.

As a result, managers now have to learn how to manage their remote employees without the ability to walk the halls and look over people’s shoulders. At the same time, they need to make it easy for their employees to work as effectively at home, in the air, in the field or in the back of an Uber as it is to work in the office while making sure their mobile workforces can work in sync with employees who are still at the office. To do so, managers must focus on three things: culture, processes, and technology. 

1. Create a mobile-friendly culture 

While it sounds obvious, the first step to supporting a mobile workforce is to make your mobile workforce feel supported, not alienated. Companies without a mobile-friendly culture can make remote workers feel like they’re being shut out of the conversations and collaboration happening back at the office. Remote workers can also feel like their contributions aren’t as visible as those of less-productive but present workers who are in the room with the boss. In addition, workers at the office may resent their remote colleagues for being able to work from home, fostering discontent among the team. 

You can make remote workers feel valued and connected by scheduling regular conversations with the entire team. Even a 15-minute check-in each morning can help remote workers and office workers get on the same page while building camaraderie. In addition to email, remote workers should communicate with their colleagues using real-time conversational tools like chat and video calls. Remote employees should also be invited to the office regularly for in-person interactions. And don’t just reserve conversation for work topics; make sure remote workers have the same opportunity for water-cooler banter as the in-office team by setting up channels for off-topic conversations. 

2. Develop remote work procedures

You should develop processes and policies for your remote workers just like you would for workers at the office. For example, while remote workers enjoy the flexibility of working from home or in the field, it can quickly become frustrating for remote workers in a different time zone if they are expected to jump on calls outside of their working hours to talk with colleagues back at the office. On the other hand, it can be frustrating for a manager to communicate with a remote worker if she never knows if he is on the clock. 

By setting a structure around work hours, you can reduce frustration for both parties. This is just one example of the many types of policies you should think about. Other policies you may want to create ahead of time are things like responsiveness expectations, productivity measures, equipment requirements, expectations for in-person attendance at the office and more. 

You should also determine how you’ll provide feedback to remote workers. Formalize your process for providing both informal feedback and more formalized assessments of performance. The more you can set expectations ahead of time, the less likely there will be confusion or resentment down the road. 

3. Give mobile workers the tools to succeed

Once you have your culture and strategy in place, you’ll need technology to bring it to life. And that doesn’t just mean giving employees a laptop and hoping for the best. You’ll likely need several different software solutions to help remote workers communicate and manage their work.

For example, it will be necessary for mobile workers to access and share work files from anywhere and on any device. That can mean investing in cloud storage solutions and collaborative productivity software. Video chat software will be key to giving mobile workers face time with colleagues and clients. For employees who are mobile, technology that makes it easy for them to stay connected seamlessly with customers, vendors and coworkers is imperative to maintaining workforce productivity. The good news is that many of the cloud-based technologies remote workers need to be successful will be equally useful for employees back at the office who find themselves on the road occasionally. 

With the right approach to managing remote employees, a distributed team can be a force multiplier for your organization. By putting the right culture, processes and technology in place, you can leverage today’s mobile workforce trends to improve your company’s productivity and ability to compete, and meanwhile provide a top-notch customer experience.