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Remote control management

Managing remote and virtual workers is going to become a key competency for managers. But with no one teaching this vital skill, it is something managers and co-workers have to pick up on their own.

As companies become leaner, the virtual worker is becoming more prevalent and some will be providing their services either from home or from a separate office location.

There is a lot to be said about remote working. You can wear whatever you want and you don’t have to put up with tiresome office politics. The downside, is that it can leave you slightly unconnected and it’s harder to communicate with your boss. If you have worked out of the office, you’ll know what I mean.

Nevertheless, remote working will become more mainstream and office hours will become less relevant. Part of it is economics. Companies want to run as efficiently as possible and a remote workforce allows them to keep a lid on labour costs and real estate.

The other reason why it’s likely to be seen more often, is because of greater access to technology. There are reports that eight percent of Australians now own a tablet and smart phone penetration is at 35%. That makes remote working a lot easier.

Daniel Etherington, who writes for Gigacom, says companies and managers need to start preparing for the post-PC world. “If you stay stuck in a PC mode when the rest of the world moves into a post-PC phase, you not only run the risk of losing touch with employees, but also with customers and the rest of the marketplace.”

That’s all well and good, but what about the downside of remote working? While there is a lot to be said for not seeing your boss or colleagues every day, there are communication problems. Not everyone is suited to this sort of working style. It is best for people who are self-motivated and who can work around distractions, even go for hours without talking to anyone.

If you can’t do that, you are better off in the office.

So what are the best ways to deal with remote worker issues? USA Today columnist, Anita Bruzzese, says bosses should use instant messaging to stay in touch and schedule a daily phone conversation, picking up the warning signs if the remote worker is missing deadlines and making sure they take note of  birthdays or anniversaries.

She says remote workers should keep regular hours, so that the boss knows when they are available, they should let their boss  know what they’re doing and keep up to date with training to maintain their skills. It would also be a good idea to jkeep in touch with people in the workplace, getting together for drinks or lunch.

Management writer, James Adonis, suggests companies use social networking sites to keep in touch, conduct videoconferences so that employees can see each other, have regular off-site get-togethers and ask the remote worker to come in for a day occasionally, so they can interact with staff.

Intel’s Australian MD, Philip Croni, says it’s an issue for managers because they have to focus on outcomes and results, rather than the process. It doesn’t matter how they do it, as long as they get it done; and that can be a challenge for some. “Because you don’t have the same degree of involvement in how the work is done, you need to be comfortable operating with more ambiguity; how you set goals, how you measure things and so on.”

Croni says: “This in turn will challenge some managers, particularly in a company where people are very measurement-focused. Some might not make the step to the new environment.”

What are the traits required to be a remote worker? How should managers interact with their virtual workforce? Please let us have your thoughts…

Leon Gettler

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