An unprecedented number of people are now part of the work from home era, even if temporarily. The question for many managers is how to effectively manage talent remotely.
There are multiple layers to that question, so there is no one, simple answer. Whether you’re dealing with new hires or experienced staff who are new to working from home, you usually face similar issues. Training, sharing of and access to information, communication and meetings, and home-related challenges are among those issues.
Times have changed, and so the traditional approach to management must change too. If you’re wondering how to navigate managing talent in the work from home era, keep reading because this article is for you.
Key issues for managers
There are several key issues on which you should focus when managing employees who work remotely. Not all of them will apply to every situation; however, understanding and developing an approach for each of them will leave you well prepared if you find yourself dealing with newly arisen issues in the future.
As a manager of talent in the work from home era, you should consider the following key areas;
- Recruitment and training;
- Availability of information;
- Communication and meetings;
- Social interaction and company culture;
- And distractions at home.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these points.
Recruitment and training
When managing a team that works remotely, recruitment must always be a consideration. As a manager, you need to consider how the recruitment process is to take place, and what sort of candidates you want to hire.
Email correspondence can never take the place of an interview, so you need to consider your options. For many managers, a telephonic interview is sufficient. You can conduct such an interview on a one-on-one basis, or you can do it in the context of a conference call.
Another option is to use video calling, which some managers have found offers a greater perspective on prospective candidates.
The candidates you look to hire will be the employees that are best positioned to work remotely. While prior experience working from home is preferable, it is not a must. However, in the case of having had previous experience, employees are aware of not only the perks of working from home, but also of the potential challenges that they will encounter. Successful candidates will also need to have some understanding of at least some of the technologies your company uses to enable remote work.
When it comes to training employees, you will need to adopt a multimedia approach. Consider creating a series of videos and slideshows, training manuals, holding webinars, and video calls. You’ll also need to make sure that contracts, manuals and other training materials are readily available to employees, just as they would be in the office.
The lack of in-person supervision is not only a challenge for managers, it may affect the talent you manage, as they can feel they are not receiving the managerial support they need.
This is one of the areas in which the traditional approach obviously must change, and there is the opportunity to embrace tools like human resource management systems, as these often incorporate talent management modules.
These modules allow for the tracking of employee performance using competency guides, goal-setting and reviews and provide up-to-date information that both managers and employees can benefit from assessing.
Although it is unlike supervision in the traditional sense, a daily check-in with each of your employees who work from home can also go a long way. It allows you to retain the personal approach, so that your management of each person is personal, rather than a one-size-fits-all. There are various technologies you can use for this, from the telephone, to Skype, Zoom or Whatsapp.
An employee monitoring system also can help you in your role as a supervisor. There are several such systems available, all of which offer time-tracking tools.
Such tools offer concrete evidence of the time your employees spend on their tasks. This both frees you from the near-impossible task of trying to monitor employees, while also providing you with data you can use to measure their output.
Availability of information
The availability of information, whether it be institutional knowledge or employees who depend on co-workers for information essential to their tasks, is a key issue for managers. Whereas in an office environment, a worker can go to the workstation of the colleague from whom they require information, it is not so easy when the team works from home.
In fact, a great deal of time is lost to waiting for colleagues to reply with the relevant information. Just as contracts and training material is easily accessible, so should information relevant to employees’ work be too. Cloud systems such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Documents, and similar tools can assist with this.
Like many managers faced with employees who work from home, there is always the worry that working remotely could lead to a decrease in productivity. However, according to several studies, you may have little to no need for concern in that regard.
A 2013 study that focused on a travel agency in China found that call centre workers who took the option of working from home were 13% more productive than those who remained at the centre.
This was likely due to call centre technologies, a better environment in which to work, as well as the elimination of the time usually taken to commute to the centre. The study also found that break times were shorter and that those employees took fewer sick days than their colleagues.
The value that many people place on the ability to work from home is also reflected in their approach to pay. According to a 2017 study, the average worker was willing to receive 8% less pay than colleagues of the same grade if they were able to work remotely.
Regular team meetings are as important when managing talent remotely as they are in an office environment. However, it is important to remember to schedule meetings at a time that is suitable for as many employees as possible, especially if some of your staff live and work in different time zones.
Tools for group meetings have evolved beyond conference calls. Zoom and Appear.in are two tools that offer group video conversations. Google Hangouts is another. Group chats on mobile applications such as Whatsapp can serve for group communication outside of meetings, and they have the added benefit of being able to archive conversations.
Social interaction and company culture
A traditional office setting makes it easier to implement team-building exercises, as well as the social interactions that make work and the workplace more personable. 40 years ago, staff met at the water cooler to discuss the latest shenanigans on Dallas. 20 years ago, the X-Files was the hot topic of conversation. More recently, employees bonded over their mutual love of Game of Thrones.
Working from home means that your employees can miss out on opportunities for social interaction, however simple these interactions are. A key aspect of managing talent in the work from home era is for you to provide those opportunities for your team.
Such opportunities need not be complicated. You can keep them as simple as allowing a few minutes for general chatter at the beginning of group video call meetings, in which you give your team a chance to chat about how they spent the weekend.
Another option is to have more elaborate occasions, such as organising a virtual party. You can have confectionery, pizza, or another treat delivered to each employee simultaneously, so you all can enjoy it together while on a group video call.
Whatever your approach, it is important to maintain a social element to help combat the sense of isolation that can negatively affect some employees who work from home.
Distractions at home
It is vital that you anticipate and accept the distractions that can and do occur when employees work from home, but that you do so within reason. You can encourage your team to mitigate some distractions by ensuring that they create a workstation for themselves at home.
The idea is to have a space that they dedicate to their work so that they do not waste time in trying to find the best place to work every day. Such a space can also ensure that they do not spend time looking for the tools and equipment they need.
You also should encourage employees with children to arrange childcare if required. However, this is not always possible, especially during situations such as the lockdowns implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are other home situations that are unavoidable. The best you can do as a manager is to anticipate that they may arise, and to offer or show support where possible.
Managing talent in the work from home era is by no means an impossible or difficult task. It will take some adjustment on your part as a manager, just as your employees who are not used to working remotely must adjust to the perks and to the challenges that it offers.
Thankfully, the techniques and tools discussed above, from cloud storage systems to group video chats, and from employee monitoring software to virtual social gatherings, the experience can prove rewarding for you, for your staff, and for your business.
About the Author
Addison is a content editor and writes about all things software related. When she’s not writing or guiding her team, she loves curling up in her papasan chair with a glass of wine and Nintendo Switch in hand.