Evolving Issues with Managing Remote Workers

Evolving Issues with Managing Remote Workers


Covid-19  forced the awareness that some work can be performed remotely. Some businesses are contemplating having remote working arrangements on a permanent basis. There are many issues bubbling up.   We were all figuring things out last year. Now there are organizational, operational, and employee management issues popping up with the decision to have remote workers long term.   

New models require new ways to lead.  How do you maintain culture and vision without physical connection?  If team interaction is necessary, long-term physical separation may take its toll.  Leaders can only transition to a new model by the willingness to rethink their global model of communication and show a “can do” attitude to incorporating new ideas.  Leaders need to communicate the new way to achieve initiates and be willing to train managers on how to communicate clear expectations and collaboration between remote workers. 

Operationally, managing workers remotely is a whole new deal.  Are managers preparing a weekly agenda and distributing it to team members before the meetings?  Managers should be prepared to listen to workers to flush out any customer concerns so workers can respond correctly.    Some staff should be contacted daily.   

And it’s also not a bad idea to give all remote workers a session Zoom skills and virtual etiquette. Turning off the Zoom camera is adding to call fatigue.  We need visuals.  Cameras on should be requested at all times.  Do you offer Zoom instruction to your employees or are you assuming they are all technically competent?  Do they know about the mute/unmute space bar?  How do I shut off the Cat filter?

Remember, this is a substitute for physical interaction.  Would you come to an office meeting in sweats or pajamas?  Would you normally wash your face and comb your hair before a meeting with the boss?  Would you call a meeting in your bed or in the bathroom?  Well those things apply to virtual meetings.  Think about what you may be communicating.  “This virtual meeting isn’t as important to me as a “real” meeting?” or worst yet, “I’m not really working.”

On the risk side, employers may find they suddenly have multiple state workers, who have moved in with family or at their vacation homes.  There may be employment tax and employment law issues that must be addressed if the employee has permanently relocated to another state.  Is the home office OSHA compliant?  A picture of a laptop on a stack of books could be used as Exhibit A against the employer.   Also, collecting actual hours worked accurately is still a challenge.

Companies need to scour all current policies, procedures and process that referred to and relied on physical contact.  How do you onboard someone in Florida?  How do they get supplies? Staffing firms report applicants are asking employers what is their remote working policy. 

For the long haul, there are growing concerns regarding engagement and career development.  How do you identify which top talent rises in a remote culture?  Hosting video conference calls between manager and employee will assist with the growth of top employees.  Perhaps host “study sessions” among teams. This fosters increased and open conversations that mimic the office culture. Encourage questions and discussions.  Using the “breakout room” feature in Zoom where the software creates small groups to discuss topics or customer issues with one another.  If an employee is struggling, managers still need to address productivity issues immediately.

You can still create a culture of appreciation virtually too.  Consider virtual rewards, badges, or establish internal success stories at all-hands meetings.  Employee engagement surveys are becoming increasingly helpful in remote-work cultures. This allows businesses to “take the pulse” of worker sentiment and discover areas that need improvement.

 A final thought about relationships.  Relationships are hard to develop in cyberspace.  Find creative ways to have company outings remotely such as virtual tours of each others’ homes or having a cooking class online.  Don’t forget to acknowledge the pets and the children. Create ways for staff to connect cross-departments. Try to create a prompt pop-up to address a certain business problem from which you want to elicit diverse solutions.

Some employers are keeping the remote working model long term. The important thing is to acknowledge that new models require re-engineered thinking.  Managing remote workers can be a positive and productive experience that keep workers engaged and their careers on track.   They continue to need good managers, clear direction, communication, career opportunities and recognition.  Zoom, zoom.