By Andy Thatcher, Vice President of Sales, J2 Solutions
In recent months, we’ve seen a fundamental shift in the way businesses operate since the vast majority transitioned to a work from home model. While we’re seeing reopening efforts take place across the country to varying degrees, the remote workforce model will likely continue well into the foreseeable future. According to Gartner, 48% of employees are expected to stay remote to some degree following COVID, up from 30% pre-pandemic, 1 while 74% of CFOs plan to increase remote work following the outbreak.2 What’s more, we’re seeing more businesses move towards a contingent workforce. According to Gartner, 32% of companies are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.3
As an IT staffing and consulting firm, we’ve been managing contingent IT workforces for our clients for nearly 20 years—and we know a thing or two about what works, what doesn’t, and how to get the most out of a remote team.
Four proven strategies for effectively managing your remote workforce:
Make the switch from time-oriented to task-oriented leadership
The remote work model has been a difficult transition for some leaders, as they are now required to trust their staff to get the job done—without seeing it with their own two eyes. In this setting, it’s all about the outputs vs. the hours logged. Let’s face it; many parents across the country were saddled with home-schooling their children, which meant they simply couldn’t be in front of their laptops for the entirety of the business day. But they found a way. Some got up early, some stayed up late, while others spent the day bouncing from the pseudo-classroom of the kitchen table to their home office. But they met their deliverables and completed what was expected of them.
By focusing more on outputs and less on when or how long an employee or a contingent worker takes to complete a job, you’re doing more than simply embracing the “new normal” of the remote workforce; you’re building loyalty and trust. The truth is, most professionals want to be trusted to do what is expected of them without their leaders keeping tabs on them. Assign a task and trust them to get it done.
Prioritize weekly professional development
As the nation went into a near-complete shut-down, businesses were thrust into react mode where mere survival was the name of the game. As a result, some of the seemingly “less critical” business functions fell by the wayside—particularly when it came to professional development.
As businesses regain some sense of (new) normalcy, now is the ideal time to not only reinstitute professional development but reimagine it. Admittedly, virtual professional development is not as effective as in-person. No conversation is better via technology than face-to-face, but these are the times we live in.
Start by scheduling a set time once a week for one-on-one remote check-ins with employees. Discuss how they’re progressing in achieving their career goals, talk through any challenges, offer guidance, and even engage in a little small talk to minimize the feelings of isolation. You might even consider investing in remote training, absent the option of doing it in-person. And of course, make sure your employee knows you are accessible via video conference or phone to address any issues that emerge.
Encourage team communication
Just because your team is virtual doesn’t mean you can’t form a strong culture of community. It’s all about communication.
While it’s always best for a manager to communicate directly with his or her direct reports on a regular basis, it may not always be feasible, particularly on a large team. To fill that gap, consider instituting a rotating buddy system, whereby members of the team plan one-on-one video conferences with a different member of the team each week to share ideas, discuss dependencies or shoot the breeze. Without the luxury of in-person meetings and impromptu in-office chats, a rotating buddy system is an effective tactic for ensuring the team’s fabric remains strongly woven together.
For team members who are local, you might even encourage face-to-face, socially distant meet-ups—on the patio of the local café or maybe even at the park, for example. It may sound unconventional, but we are living in an unconventional world right now; it’s time to get creative.
Be a coach, not a manager
While the two words are often used simultaneously, they do not mean the same thing. A manager, in the traditional sense, tends to be more transactional and directive than a coach, who is more consultative, supportive, and employee focused.
Ever heard of servant leadership? As the name implies, a servant leader is one whose primary goal is to serve the employee, focus on their professional development, and build their knowledge base. A servant leadership approach builds employee trust and loyalty, improves performance and productivity, and creates a healthier, more cohesive culture. The fact is, in the current environment of the remote workforce, the traditional management style of the past no longer applies. These days, it’s less about watching over your staff to make sure they’re hard at work and more about supporting them in their pursuit of success.