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How to Manage a Newly Remote Workforce During a Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has reached nearly every corner of the U.S. economy, pushing businesses of all sizes—from small start-ups to Fortune 500 giants—to transition their in-office workforce to function remotely. According to Statista, 20 percent of American adults worked from home in April 2020, a seismic shift that has required managers to implement new communication procedures and measures of success.

In this new normal, office managers should consider the following strategies to streamline remote business operations while ensuring their employees feel supported and valued.

1. Prepare to run a remote team.

Successful companies need well-equipped managers—and that remains even more true for an organization that is operating remotely. HiveDesk, a remote work monitoring company, interviewed 12 business leaders about their approach to remote productivity and how managers can best manage their at-home teams. While every business has its own nuances, two common strategies emerged across the board:

  • Encourage teams to choose how they communicate: Different teams can have different preferences for communications, and that's OK. For example, some teams may prefer a chat tool, while others want video conferencing, and some may want to use email or phone calls. Each method of communication has its own benefits that could make it more useful for specific types of projects.
  • Implement productivity-tracking software: Productivity tracking tools can help ensure workers are logged in and on task. It’s important to implement this type of tracking with care to make sure managers balance their business needs with employee productivity, according to Protocol. If you're going to track worker activity, make sure you follow any applicable laws.

2. Focus on results over hours.

According to Fast Company, productivity can no longer be measured in only hours. While hours worked is still a good metric in some industries—such as phone-based customer service—many teams may have unique goals and objectives with better measures of productivity.

  • Set clear due dates: For remote employees and management, clear assignments and due dates are essential. Instead of focusing on the hours worked, managers can look at how productive an employee is in terms of the work they accomplish, according to Gallup Workplace.
  • Set quality and performance standards: Measuring productivity is very different for every team and worker, so businesses should empower managers to set their own standards to keep track of progress while workers are remote, according to remote work website Remote.co. For example, leaders of information systems teams could set project milestones or a goal for a certain number of help desk tickets completed per week.

3. Make sure systems can handle the workload.

Many large companies may rely on a virtual private network (VPN) to keep data secure while workers are out of the office. VPN software creates an encrypted connection between the company's network and employee computers. While VPN is an effective tool for a company’s digital security, not all VPNs and company networks are the same.

  • Ensure VPN reliability: Most VPNs were designed for a certain number of workers to log in remotely at a time. If there is a sudden surge in remote workers, companies may have to upgrade their VPN to handle a higher connection and data capacity, according to the New York Times.
  • Review essential systems: While focused on IT issues, it could be a good time to have the IT team review all essential systems to ensure they can handle a high number of remote connections.

4. Update continuity plans and procedures.

Managing a remote team might mean rebuilding some processes and procedures from the ground up. Large changes in operations, such as those caused by the 2020 pandemic, may lead to updated details in operating procedures for every role to ensure no critical processes or communications are missed. Even in good times, however, businesses are wise to have plans and process documentation.

  • Update business continuity plans: The COVID-19 pandemic is an important reminder of why business continuity plans and procedures need to be well-documented and tested by employees so they know their roles if working conditions change.
  • Update work procedures where needed: Harvard Business Review highlights key remote work procedures that should be reviewed. These include: establishing "rules of engagement" for different technologies (video conferencing for team meetings vs. direct messaging for urgent communication); sticking to daily or weekly check-ins; and making sure there is time on certain calls for non-work social interactions such as discussing weekend plans or having a virtual happy hour. 

5. Ask employees how to best support them.

It’s easy to make a big list of what business leaders want their employees to do in a crisis, but it’s also important to take time to listen to their needs, according to the Society of Human Resources Management.

  • Solicit suggestions for tools and processes: Managers may find that small process changes or new online tools could make it easier for workers to do their job in the face of change.
  • Support employee well-being: The stress and trauma of a crisis could lead some employees to difficulties keeping up with work. If team members need additional help or time, flexibility can go a long way in building employee morale and loyalty, according to Entrepreneur. Payroll provider Paychex highlights how helpful employee assistance programs can be for mental health, counseling and family services.

Nobody knows a worker’s job better than they do. Asking what can be done to support and help them succeed is key when managing remote workers. Leaders can strive to remove some of the challenges of working from home to find a win-win solution for everyone in the organization.

Remote Employees and Remote Management: Frequently Asked Questions

How do you manage remote employees? By communicating productivity guidelines, project due dates and expectations, businesses can stay on schedule no matter where workers do their job, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

How can I monitor employees that work remotely? Businesses can use software that tracks employees' time, takes screenshots and uses other metrics to monitor remote employee productivity. There are many applications that are effective at time-tracking, according to software rating service Capterra. Using this type of software may cause some workers to be concerned about their privacy, but if monitoring is done correctly it's legal according to Forbes.

How do you motivate remote employees? Keeping employees motivated can be a challenge during a pandemic when employees are working remotely. Communicate and take action to show employees that company leadership cares and is available to support them during this time, says Zendesk. Also, empower workers to make decisions so that they can solve both internal problems and customer concerns quickly and efficiently. 

How do I help my employees feel connected? Talk to them. Virtual team meetings allow workers to meet in a community environment. Also, consider hosting more frequent “town hall” style meetings where executives can be present to answer questions and note employee concerns, according to Inc.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.