Tips on Managing Online Freelancers.Guest_Blogger | Nov 07, 2012
As our workforce physically moves to a remote and contingent model, it’s important to also adapt from a philosophical and logistical standpoint. In this thought-provoking post by TurbineHQ’s Matthew Stibbe, the CEO of the popular HR management tool maker discusses some important factors to keep in mind.
Bringing new flexibility to your workplace can result in a 45% reduction in HR costs and a 38% reduction in real estate costs. It can improve retention rates and employee satisfaction and attracts emerging talent. It can help to eliminate down time and improve customer service. For these very reasons, remote and mobile working has become a reality for all sizes of business and forecasts show that by 2015 there will be 1.3 billion remote workers around the world.
The advent of portable technology, cloud computing and international talent sourcing has created this fantastic opportunity for businesses to reap the range benefits from a new style of working. This seismic shift in the way we work does not, however, come without challenges. Managing remote workers means changing the way you think.
Managing remote workers is very different to traditional 9-5, on-site monitoring. You need to trust that your employees want to do their job. Performance has to be measured by results rather than presence. Workers are motivated by clearly defined targets and regular feedback. Ultimately, the traditional hierarchy of management is replaced by a collaborative atmosphere, in which the manager’s role is to maintain the “context for success,” as author Don Tapscott terms it.
Remote working requires hardware, policies and the implementation of security measures. The emerging trend of BYOD (bring your own device), whilst cost effective in the short term, can put your company’s data at risk. Make a decision on BYOD based on your business priorities and no matter what your decision, create strict policies around accessing files, unsecure internet connections and acceptable internet usage. Keep anti-virus software up to date on all devices.
All workers, remote or office-based, require a certain amount of administration: time-off requests, expense claims and appraisals. Switching to an online HR management system, like Turbine, eliminates the need for paperwork and lets remote workers make requests without having to come into the office. Mobile staff is also likely to need IT support. Using a remote helpdesk provider such as Kayako, makes technological troubles quicker and easer to fix.
Switching in, switching out
In: Keeping remote workers engaged is difficult. Tell them how their work is tying into wider business goals and let them know what their colleagues are working on. As Bill Quirke wrote in Making the Connections, “When employees understand their overall role in the business, 91 percent will work towards that success, but the number plummets to 23 percent if they don’t.”
Out: On the other hand you need to make sure that remote workers can switch off. Remote workers are more likely to put in unpaid overtime simply because they are always connected. Implement working practices to avoid this: Volkswagen, for example, decided to switch off their email servers on evenings and weekends.
How: Email and IM is quick and easy for day-to-day exchanges. For one-on-one video conferencing, free services such as Skype or ooVoo are great. If workers are likely to need regular virtual client meetings, or you need conferences with multiple workers, a business specific service such as GoToMeeting may be more suitable.
When: Managing remote workers requires a balance between contact and autonomy. Do not fall into the trap of bombarding remote workers with emails in order to compensate for the inability to physically oversee them. Schedule regular chats and set out from the beginning when you expect your employees to be available for contact: just don’t forget they need time to get the work done.
Cloud-based apps and software make it easy for remote teams to collaborate, share files and socialise. Scribblar is an example of an online whiteboard where teams can brainstorm on projects and interact on ideas. Pivotal Tracker or Basecamp provide comprehensive project management tools for more formally structured teamwork. Using business-specific file sharing software reduces the risk of data loss and allows to you implement restrictions on access to sensitive files.
There is no question that remote working means adapting expectations and management style and not all staff will want to work away from the office. Knowing how to support and encourage those who do, however, means your business is ready to reap big rewards.
About the Author
Matthew Stibbe is CEO of TurbineHQ.com, the smart way to do HR chores and paperwork online. He is also CEO of Articulate Marketing working for clients such as Microsoft, HP, Symantec and NetJets. He writes the Bad Language blog and the Aviator column for Forbes. Before all that he set up, ran and sold a computer games company and studied history at Oxford University.