How to make working from anywhere seamless

An increasing number of companies have job roles that can be done remotely. Here's how to manage your mobile team – wherever they are.

More and more of us are working remotely and that has a direct effect on you as a business owner.

How do you keep track of all these spread-out employees while avoiding the dreaded micro-managing trap? Your business tech could help you here. We show you how you can manage your workforce without hampering your company’s productivity.

Respect employees’ individual circumstances – but standardise where you can

The way you manage an employee working from home will be different to one who is working on a project out in Texas. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: respect geographical differences. Keep on top of time zones as well as remembering local labour laws and public holidays. This comes with clear expectations of when your staff are working – we’ll address that a bit later.

You may have to be sensitive to caring or school commitments so be aware of this when you’re discussing the working day. Similarly, if the employee is unwell and working from home, outline expectations as to when they should be contacting you.

‘Keep on top of time zones as well as remembering local labour laws and public holidays’

For the rest of your staff, standardise your operations and processes across locations. Make sure your company handbook is in a shared location such as SharePoint so that everyone, including new starters, always has access to the latest version.

It may help to consider area managers if you’re dealing with a larger workforce, allowing you to delegate tasks based on specialism or location.

Set clear expectations

This is even more poignant for your remote workers. With physical distance, misread communications and conflicting workflows, it’s important to be as clear as possible on what you expect from them.

Make sure you’re explicit about the different responsibilities of everyone on the team. This goes for setting out an appropriate amount of work and encouragement to communicate if the employee ever becomes overwhelmed.

Setting clear expectations is especially important for remote employees

It’s best to have these expectations in writing so that both parties can refer to them.

Executive coach, Ivor Twydell, reinforces the importance of clarity.

“We would coach the senior team in leadership and management skills. This ensures that the aims and objectives of the company and individual campaigns or tasks are really understood.”

“Adopt a holistic approach when setting expectations and working hours. Employers must feel that their staff share their vision for the business,” says Twydell.

“Flexible working is a great option for many people, and in our experience many employees tend to over-compensate when working remotely. We find that better employers actively start positive dialogue with their employees, discussing aspirations and expectations openly until they find the common ground.”

Make sure they have the right resources and training

Working remotely is infinitely more difficult without the right tools. When you hire a new employee, get them kitted up correctly.

This goes for both hardware and software. That could mean a hi-powered laptop for someone in a technical role or shift scheduling software for managers. Office 365 Business Premium has Microsoft Teams, which lets you create shift schedules, collaborate on projects using Office 365 apps and schedule group or individual chats.

Organise socials and team-building events

Your team might not remember each other’s faces in-between meetings, so it’s beneficial to get them together for socials and team-building days away.

Twydell shares his recommendations:

“Team bonding is vital when a lot of time is spent working virtually. We would recommend self-development workshops. These can be done in a group context and may also work to raise issues that can be worked through for positive outcomes if they’re chaired in the right way.”

If you don’t have the budget for regular events then online group chats, social networks and video meeting platforms can help.

Use the technology to organise socials like ‘get to know me’ video meetings. Encourage everyone to prepare some key facts about themselves and share them over their favourite hot beverages.

Keep performance appraisals regular

Remote employees may have a more difficult time knowing where they stand within a company because of the physical distance, making appraisals all-the-more important.

They’ll work in much the same way as face-to-face appraisals – your first steps are to figure out how often you will do reviews, how many meetings you’ll have in one appraisal process and how you’ll structure these meetings. The focus is to adapt it to a remote setting, preferably through video call.

Twydell agrees:

“There are a whole new range of sophisticated virtual conferencing systems which also allow the chair of a meeting to see their staff physically. Seeing each other helps with reading body language and cues as much as it would in a face-to-face meeting.”

It helps remote workers if you do appraisals more frequently due to the lack of in-person contact. How often is entirely up to you and the nature of your business.

Maintain trust

Trust is grounded in communication, so make sure you speak with you remote employees frequently.

“It is the employer’s job to foster commitment by clearly identifying the purpose of the organisation. The clearer it is at the top of the chain, the stronger the trickle-down effect,” says Twydell.

“Noticing what is happening here is important. Check that the employees the remote calls are going to are fully engaged with the subject. Allow time to really evaluate the content of the meeting. Send out a quick follow-up survey to ensure everyone was clear on the actionable outcomes.”

Trust is one of the highest priorities for remote workers, according to Gallup. Prove to your employee that you value their skills and trust them to do what they need to do without breathing down their neck. Focus on output, not hours.

“A business leader’s fresh approach can really inspire their employees through thought leadership and, by using creative problem-solving, they tend to experience these issues less,” says Twydell.

This article has been brought to you in partnership with Microsoft. Get Office 365 for Business today – Find out more here

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Remote working