Tips for Managing Remote Worker Programs

managing remote workersSpeed. It is one of the core changes about working. This speed has been written about and studied in many places, but what do we do about the “always on, always connected” and never disconnected situation we now live in? Four tips can help us navigate this remote work environment.

Rob Eleveld at Shiftboard, an online scheduling platform, recently made a comparison between the new workers with the person who volunteers (busy, but able to donate their time) and Carl Lewis, famous Olympian athlete. The point: People are moving faster and need the tools and technologies that let them manage their work lives better.

The government sees this, too, with new telework bills in Congress. However, the informal programs and networks are already in place. A recent World at Work study entitled: “Flexible Work Arrangements for Nonexempt Employees” found that flexible work programs are more prevalent than previously known.

“Some of the key findings from the World at Work report: Technology to stay connected was prevalent among these nonexempt distributed workers:

73% reported using instant messaging.

63% use call forwarding and Web conferencing.

33% use video conferencing.

Despite the unexpected prevalence of hourly workers in flexible work programs, there is strong evidence that employers might be providing (or allowing) it in an ad-hoc manner.”

When industry experts talk about flexible workers, they often are referring to hourly, shift workers who do not work in offices or who only work 1-2 days a week. Given work trends, and the current economic situation, that includes much of today’s workforce. Many times a worker needs to be in a specific location, often they do not. Many studies have implied that laid-off workers are choosing 2-3 part-time jobs instead of full time work to help maintain flexibility and “hedge their bets,” so to speak, against another layoff.

Workers have a choice and despite the economy and temporary (and fleeting) advantage by employers, the talent pool is calling the shots. Just search on demographic changes and you’ll read about the growing talent shortage. Part of my efforts with projects in this industry involves understanding the market trends around workers and work. I’ve pulled the following 4 tips for thinking about remote work for your department or company:

1. Use technology, but think about your business requirements, not the software features. Ask yourself some of these questions because ultimately, it isn’t about some pretty interface, but can your people get work done with the tools and services you give them. In scheduling people, for example, some of the following questions can help you when people are not in the office every day.

* How many positions are required to serve the customer (or run the factory floor or staff a volunteer program at the hospital)?

* Who should see which positions under which circumstances (skills, training, geography, seniority, or other criteria)?
* What are the cancellation, change, distribution, or contract policies for a given position or requirement?
* Are additional worker requirements necessary to validate before confirming a shift?
* Would confirming this position push a worker over a 40-hour per week limit and into overtime pay?

More importantly, use technology to create a communication protocol that allows managers and workers stay connected, but have it reside in one place, such as a shared workspace. Text messaging (SMS), instant messaging (chat), web conferencing are all tools that make it easier. GoToMeeting.com, for example, lets you record presentations and meetings for later review and sharing.

2. While the concept of “hoteling” bombed in the late 80s, early 90s, it can work when combined with flexible work arrangements. Hoteling is the concept where workers reserve their office space for set durations ahead of time. They don’t have a specific office or space, but that is less problematic if the worker can have a dedicated space at home.

Some of the proposed federal legislation involves reducing fuel consumption, which is part of this concept. Some remote work programs may simply allow a shift worker to go to another location in a reverse commute and thus save time and fuel. Allowing employees to work from home 1-2 days a week would save the worker money and your company.

3. Use an online project collaboration tool that lets you keep projects and people on the same page, literally. Simply search that term and you’ll find more than a few reviews. Smartsheet, Zoho, are a couple of names in the space.

4. Read from industry experts: Every business owner and executive I know is often too busy to study the trends, but these two sites can quickly keep you up to date: Workforce Management (numerous pieces on Virtual workforces) and World at Work. Study what market leaders and thinkers are saying about the worker of the future.

Employees are moving to new tools that allow them to be productive and to stay employed. Employers have a choice to keep up with the way workers are already working or play catch up in a few more years. The goal is retention. If you can keep distributed employees motivated and engaged, they will be more inclined to stay.

TJ McCueAbout The Guest Author: TJ McCue is the strategic content guy at Q4 Sales and founder of Sales Rescue Team. He blogs at Dun & Bradstreet’s AllBusiness.com about online research and marketing.

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2 Comments Tips for Managing Remote Worker Programs

  1. TJ McCue

    Martin, I definitely believe that coworking and shared office spaces will increase in the future. It may not become the way for bigger biz, but for sure the smaller co. I think and have read that the Third Place, such as cafes and public spaces, may grow, but that workers are using them less and using company spaces or home offices more.
    Thanks for commenting.
    TJ

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