In the dynamic post-pandemic environment, executives are faced with the intricate task of effectively managing remote workforces. With attention-grabbing headlines such as: “Woman fired after company uses keystroke technology to monitor her work from home,” “Even Zoom is making its staff return to the office,” and “The Evidence on Remote Work is Changing,” the complexities of this evolving landscape are undeniable. Managing the remote workforce is an equally challenging, evolving, and nuanced topic that demands a proactive approach that protects both the productivity and collaboration of an organization and its employees.
Remote work productivity
One of the most poignant concerns with managing the remote workforce is how managers and leaders should monitor employee productivity. Some estimates suggest that remote work might lead to a potential negative impact of up to ten percent on productivity (Woods & Ma, 2023). However, researcher Shen states in his research that “a negative but almost-negligible change in individual-level output of 0.5 percent” was present in the remote workforce. Additionally, a variety of companies such as Zoom have reevaluated their remote workforce policies due to productivity. Zoom states in their announcement to enforce a hybrid workplace policy: “...We’ll continue to leverage the entire Zoom platform to keep our employees and dispersed teams connected and working efficiently” (CNN Valinsky, 2023). While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the level of productivity in the workplace versus at home, the conversation around productivity concerns continues to evolve.
Strategies for navigating remote work management
Due to the variance in the estimations regarding remote employee productivity versus in-person productivity, it is important for managers and business leaders to proactively consider ways in which they can determine if remote work is the best fit for their organization and protect the productivity of their business. Consider the following strategies.
Evaluate the benefits of remote work
According to Pew Research, employees report improved work-life balance and the ability to meet deadlines effectively (Parker, 2023). Hybrid employees feel trusted and valued when allowed to work remotely. Employers benefit from access to a global talent pool, reduced employee turnover, and potential savings in office space costs. These benefits are particularly important as employers struggle to find and retain employees in the post-pandemic workplace. (Gallup, 2023; Woods & Ma, 2023).
Recognize that different roles have distinct demands and requirements. Because of this, it is important to consider the remote work capabilities of each individual job. Woods and Ma, in their NPR article “The evidence on remote work is changing,” state that although remote work has been reported to reduce productivity, “measuring productivity is tricky business” especially when considering that a majority of remote careers are “knowledge” based without measurable output.
For example, they state that “in various studies, like the one observing police dispatchers, face-to-face meant workers could complete tasks faster.” While this evidence is not in favor of remote work, it is important to consider the differences between a police dispatcher and for example, a remotely employed engineer or customer service representative. With the wide range of variables unique to each job type, Woods and Ma conclude that although some careers may not benefit from remote work, “it seems remote work is here to stay” (Woods & Ma, 2023). What is important is making remote work, work, for each company and job position uniquely.
Implement monitoring software
To ensure accountability and productive use of time, consider employing monitoring software. Recent incidents, such as the case of an employee terminated due to low productivity and frequent absence (NY Post), highlight the need for tools that can monitor employee engagement and output. This safeguard helps maintain a productive remote work environment. For more on remote employee monitoring, read our article, “Monitoring the Remote Employee: Oversight or an Overstep?”
According to the Society of Human Resource Management, SHRM, employers and managers should “set expectations early and often.” They share insight from Scott Bales, VP of delivery and solution engineering at Replicon, who states, “There will be questions; be accessible and provide clarity on priorities, milestones, performance goals and more. Outline each team member's availability and ensure you can reach them when needed" (Gurchiek, 2020). By having a clearly defined and communicated set of expectations, employers can foster a sense of responsibility and commitment.
Balance organization and flexibility
SHRM also advocates having a “concrete plan” but also incorporating “flexible hours to maintain consistency.” Allow employees to enjoy the flexibility that working from home offers while still maintaining concrete plans and expectations that ensure deadlines are met and projects are completed.
Optimize communication and connection
Examine how your methods of communication might need to change when managing the remote workforce. For example, SHRM states that long meetings might not be productive for the remote workforce. Instead, they advocate “short virtual huddles” or “check-ins” that are targeted, fast, and effective (Gurchiek, 2020).
Communication and collaboration should also be clear between employees and managers and among employees themselves. This can remedy the potential lack of mentorship that is notable in the remote workforce (Woods & Ma, 2023). SHRM recommends examining which “communication tool best fits the team’s culture—e-mail, texts, phone calls, video chats,” etc. as all offer different benefits and drawbacks.
Examine which is the most effective for your organization and encourage employees and managers to use the chosen tool effectively. This may require offering training courses. In terms of culture building, many remote employees report feeling “isolated and disoriented” at times. To mitigate this, employers can “share positive feedback, open a fun chat channel, or try and ‘grab coffee’ ” together via video conferencing (Gurchiek, 2020).
As previously mentioned, some individuals have taken advantage of the remote employment opportunity. Some have even participated in “dual employment,” working full-time for two organizations at the same time. See our insights article on dual employment, “Eliminating Employee Time Theft: How to Prevent Dual Employment.” While remote employment monitoring can prevent this, it is vital to hire those who display traits essential for remote work success. These traits include:
Effective communication, particularly written communication due to the necessity of emails and instant messages.
Time management and self-discipline are paramount, given the autonomy remote work offers.
Adaptable problem-solving skills can aid in navigating technical glitches or project roadblocks independently.
Digital literacy, including proficiency in various collaboration tools, further benefits remote interactions.
A strong sense of accountability, coupled with a proactive approach to tasks, can further protect the productivity of a remote employee and business.
In the ever-evolving post-pandemic landscape, adeptly managing remote teams is a vital skill for executives. By considering the optimal work model, recognizing the benefits of remote work, implementing monitoring tools, establishing clear expectations, balancing structure and flexibility, optimizing communication methods, fostering connection and culture, and making strategic hiring decisions, executives can navigate the complexities of remote work management with confidence and efficiency.
Gallup, Inc. (2023, July 10). Global Indicator: Hybrid Work - Gallup. Gallup.com. https://www.gallup.com/401384/indicator-hybrid-work.aspx.
Gurchiek, K. (2020, May 1). 10 Tips for Successfully Managing Remote Workers. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/covid19-10-tips-for-successfully-managing-remote-workers-.aspx.
Pew Research Center. (2023, March 30). 35% of workers who can work from home now do this all the time in U.S. | Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/03/30/about-a-third-of-us-workers-who-can-work-from-home-do-so-all-the-time/.
Shen, L. (2023). Does working from home work? A natural experiment from lockdowns. European Economic Review, 151, 104323. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroecorev.2022.104323
Valinsky, J. (2023, August 7). Even Zoom is making its staff return to the office. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/07/business/zoom-return-to-office/index.html.
Woods, D. (2023, August 4). The evidence on remote work is changing. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2023/08/04/1192246138/the-evidence-on-remote-work-is-changing.
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