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Can your managers manage ... remote working?

According to the Buffer State of Remote Work report for 2019, 99% of those asked said they would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career (no, that’s not a typo, only 1% said they didn’t want to work remotely at all). Add in the flexible working legislation that (in the UK, at least) gives all employees the right to request flexible arrangements, including remote working, and well… if your managers aren’t already managing remote workers, they will be.

The benefits of remote working

So what’s to be gained from granting a remote working request? (Quick reminder: all requests should be dealt with “reasonably” and if they’re refused there must be a good business reason.)

  • Productivity can rise – after all, no commute, less office/colleague distractions, more autonomy.
  • Morale increases – more autonomy and less direct monitoring tends to lead to less stress and more commitment.
  • Global talent pool – if employees can work from home then you’re not restricted to recruiting only people who can commute.
  • Reduced costs – apart from anything else, you’re saving the overheads on providing office accommodation, making smaller offices and/or hotdesking possible.

Building a remote team

The benefits are good but there’s a certain amount of effort needed to realise them. If you’re managing a team with remote workers, you need to put a few things in place:

  • Well-defined roles and responsibilities – it’s crucial that people understand their own role and others’.
  • Communication and collaboration tools – instant messaging, video conferencing, social networks… all essential to keeping the team together over long distances.
  • Clear protocols for raising issues/concerns – when you’re not seeing each other every day, it’s easy for problems to fester; with remote working, it’s important to have a mechanism to deal with issues.
  • A structured onboarding process for new team members – whether they’re working remotely or have to work with remote colleagues, it’s important that the induction and onboarding is comprehensive (not so easy to pick up on missed details when you’re not all in the same office).
  • In an ideal world, team members get to meet face to face at least once – it makes a big difference to the quality of collaboration.

Beware of the remote working pitfalls

As a manager of remote workers, be on the lookout for:

  • Isolation – the majority of people have some sort of social needs, including at work, and working remotely (and solo) can result in a sense of being isolated from colleagues. Regular team get-togethers and meetings – even if only via technology – can be essential.
  • Data security – if you’re the kind of business that keeps all data on-site (i.e. no cloud servers) then remote working could compromise that; additional protections and confidentiality protocols may be necessary.
  • The remote office – don’t forget that as an employer you have some responsibility over the working environment, including for remote workers; a health & safety and/or ergonomics assessment of your worker’s home office is probably wise.
  • Employer’s liability insurance – does yours cover remote working?
  • Different legislations – if your team is spread across different countries, remember that different sets of employment law may (will!) apply.

All of which could be classed as just ‘good management practice’, the trick is to be a good manager even when not all of your team can see you.

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