Managing remote workers

As many organizations look to add new talent to their ranks, they need to offer the perks that top performers are looking for. In increasing numbers, employees are requesting the ability to work remotely, at least part time, and the trend could spell trouble for managers not accustomed to the practice. 

Today, roughly 30 million Americans work from home at least part-time. According to Business Management Daily, in the next five years this figure is expected to grow by over 60 percent. Managing remote personnel presents a new host of challenges, and can require strategic business consulting in order to train management on the best practices. 

Allowing employees to work from home, or a coffeeshop, ski lodge, or nautical vessel of their choice, can have major benefits for employee satisfaction and retention. Business Management Daily has also found that the practice can lower operating costs by reducing absenteeism as well as overhead. Unfortunately, many managers are skeptical of the practice, fearing reduced oversight and productivity of their teams. 

However, with the rise in communications technology, the modern manager has a wide array of options available to ensure the productive work habits of his or her employees. Video conferencing, email, instant messaging, screen sharing programs, and shared documents are just some of the tools available to today's managers managers that allow instant communication between management and their teams. 

At Xbig6, we have found that there can be significant advantages to a balanced approach to this trend. Jennifer Bates, Director Project Management process with Xbig6, earned her stripes as part of IBM Global prior to joining Xbig6, and has learned firsthand how utilizing remote work practices can help manage costs and provide new staffing opportunities. She recently oversaw an ERP implementation project for one of our clients in which we used a virtual approach to supplement our work on-site work.

"By using a remote workforce on a NetSuite implementation,  we were able to match the exact resource to the needs of the project.  No longer do we face geographic constraints when staffing our projects.  We have found balancing on-site visits with virtual tools (like GoToMeeting, Skype, etc) helps keep our project costs down while still providing quality service and exceeding customer expectations," Jennifer remarked.

Having the right management can make or break a remote working strategy. When managed effectively, remote workers can be as productive, or even more so, than in-house employees.  By recognizing the specific challenges of this arrangement, both management and staff are able to enjoy the many advantages.

Of course, if an organization is hoping to develop remote working practices on a larger scale, it could require change management consulting to ensure that productivity is not lost and managers are aware of the tools available to them.

In some sectors, such as upstream oil and gas companies, there will always be a need to have personnel in the field. But as remote monitoring technologies advance, many areas in the midstream and downstream elements could see a rise in remote workers. Having managers prepared for this possibility can help position organizations to take advantage of new, innovative solutions.