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Remote-control leadership

Managing remote and virtual workers has become the new skill for managers. But, with no one teaching this competency, managers and workers need to pick it up on their own. Doing it successfully requires several strategies.

Companies are becoming leaner and the virtual worker is becoming more prevalent, providing services either from home, or from a separate office location.

There are many plusses to remote working. You can wear whatever you want and you don’t have to put up with office politics. The downside is that it is less stable. Remote working can also leave you out of the loop. It is more difficult to communicate with your supervisor when you are not there, if indeed you can ever get hold of them.

Nevertheless, remote working will become more part of the mainstream and office hours will become less relevant. Part of it has to do with economics. Companies need to run efficiently. A remote workforce allows them to keep a lid on labour costs and real estate and technology is accelerating the transition.

Still, working with people in different cities and time zones with minimal, if any, face time presents a whole new set of challenges. The tools available for working remotely are better than ever, with email, instant messaging, mobile phones and social media. But it’s not the tools that make the difference. What counts is how you use them.

Remote workers need strategies to make it work. These include:

Developing IT strategies: Remote workers can be operating from fixed location at the employee’s home, at different offices, at client sites or working as “road warriors”. Each of these different set-ups poses challenges for IT services, which need to develop comprehensive strategies to provide support for remote workers operating in different settings. That can also include creating tracking systems that track requests and log the data in a database. Security would also need to be beefed up because remote working, home and mobile networks are unlikely to be as secure as office networks.

Setting up regular phone or Skype chats: Communicating by email or instant messaging is easy but a conversation on the phone, or better still by Skype, will give that contact a human dimension. It allows the employee and manager to better understand that there is a human being at the end of it.

Keeping regular hours: this is essential so that the manager knows when the remote worker will be available. It will also keep management in the loop about the task being done, and will make regular contact easier to manage.

Using social media: Companies should look at providing social networking technologies for their remote work force. These tools can be a key part of a successful remote-working strategy because they allow users to build a community and develop social relations through groups. Remote workers might feel isolated and detached from the company with the loss of a physical community but social networking can help them feel part of the team, albeit a virtual team. Social networking is also a good way for companies to pick up collective intelligence from employees, contractors and remote workers in other locations.

Remote working is very much the future. With the right strategies, it would make balancing working and personal lives easier and natural. The correct strategies could make it a seamless transition.

Leon Gettler

This article first appeared in The Age


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