People Management in the Era of Remote and Flexible Work: A Guide

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a massive shift in how people work. Remote work has become the norm, and it is here to stay. Gartner predicts that 48 per cent of global knowledge workers will be operating in remote or hybrid work settings. 

This trend is expected to continue, with a 10 per cent rise in UK organisations offering flexible work arrangements. As a result, human resources (HR) departments need to pivot faster than ever to manage remote and flexible workers effectively.

Benefits of Remote and Flexible Work

Remote and flexible work arrangements bring various benefits to the employer and the employees. Many companies have reported an uptick in productivity levels among their remote staff. Roughly 59 per cent of remote workers say they are more productive than their office counterparts. Reduced commute, flexible work hours, personalised work environment, and work-life balance are contributing factors. 

One of the most game-changing aspects of remote work is the accessibility to a wider talent pool. Employers aren’t confined to hiring talent within commuting distance, broadening the scope to include global candidates. 

Plus, the ability to recruit from different regions and countries can bring about greater diversity in the workforce. They can access an array of perspectives, skills, and cultural views that can enhance creativity and problem-solving.

Of course, remote and flexible work can result in substantial cost savings for companies. Remote work options can lead to higher job satisfaction, reduced turnover, and the associated costs of hiring and training new staff.

Similarly, it allows adaptability in disruptions like natural disasters, ensuring the business continues operating without significant additional costs.

Obstacles to Optimal Performance

While the advantages of remote and flexible work are numerous, this paradigm has challenges, particularly in optimal performance. One of the most common hurdles is difficulty unplugging from work, leading to burnout. 

When they share the same physical space, employees often find it hard to set boundaries between their professional and personal lives. This blurred line can result in longer working hours and increased stress. Additionally, remote work can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Another challenge lies in the lack of easy access to information and technology. Remote settings can stifle this ease of access, leading to delays or even miscommunication. Furthermore, collaboration among team members can become more complicated in a virtual environment. These challenges highlight the need for employers to actively support their workforce in overcoming issues that could impede effective work.

Strategies for Managing Remote and Flexible Workers

Employers must employ targeted strategies addressing unique challenges when managing a workforce that operates remotely or under flexible conditions. Here are some of the best practices to employ:

Communicate beyond words

In a remote work setting, textual messages can be devoid of emotional nuance, often leading to misunderstandings. The key is to add context to your communication. Always be explicit about your intent and open to clarification. Video calls can also help, as facial cues offer additional layers of context.

Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams dominate the remote work world. However, each has features, security protocols, and usability factors. Research and choose the one that fits your team’s needs, from file sharing to breakout rooms.

A significant hurdle in a global remote team is time zone differences. Identify a few overlapping working hours for synchronous activities like meetings. Asynchronous communication methods, like email or project management software, can be effective.

Cultivate transparency

First impressions matter. A well-structured onboarding process can set the stage for a successful remote work experience. From sending a welcome kit to organising virtual meet-and-greets, ensure new hires feel connected and informed.

Performance reviews can be tricky in a remote setting. A structured approach, including regular check-ins and anonymous peer reviews, can provide clarity and fairness. Ditch the nine-to-five mentality and focus on what matters: outcomes. Know the key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to each role and ensure they align with the team’s overall goals.

Maintain social connections virtually

Team spirit doesn’t have to die in a virtual setting. Host monthly virtual lunches or game nights to keep the camaraderie alive. Utilise technology to your advantage by innovating your remote recognition and reward system. Digital awards, e-gift cards, or even a simple shout-out in a team huddle can go a long way in keeping your team motivated.

Implement resource stewardship and cyber hygiene

Resource stewardship must be embedded into the organisation’s culture. Employees should be educated on the importance of resource efficiency, from using digital tools correctly to handling sensitive information. Managers can reinforce this culture by setting an example and acknowledging team members who excel in responsible resource management. 

Remote work demands a new approach to HR, one that is digital-first. Investing in strong virtual private networks (VPN) and implementing multi-factor authentication for all digital assets are non-negotiables in a remote work environment. These measures protect the organisation’s data and safeguard employees’ personal information.

With the increase in cyber threats, it’s essential to conduct regular cybersecurity training sessions. Employees are often the first line of defence against cyber-attacks. Hence, they should be equipped with the knowledge and tools to identify and counteract potential threats.

Similarly, companies must review and possibly overhaul their data sharing and storage policies. Opting for secure, cloud-based storage solutions and encrypted communication channels for data sharing can significantly minimise risks.

Draw the work-life balance line

In the era of remote and flexible work, managers face unique challenges in ensuring optimal performance and employee well-being. Difficulty switching off from work, feelings of loneliness, and barriers to seamless collaboration and access to resources can hinder productivity. 

Proactive management strategies include enforcing work-life boundaries by advocating for a designated workspace and fixed working hours. These practices help employees separate their professional and personal lives.

Managing remote teams necessitates a nuanced approach that transcends traditional supervisory methods. Managers can cultivate a productive work environment by being attuned to these specific challenges and offering targeted solutions. At the same time, they nurture a team with a balanced mental and emotional well-being. Thus, drawing a distinct line between work and personal life becomes a collective responsibility between employers and employees.

Maintain an Agile Workplace 

The first thing to understand is that mastering remote work is not a one-off task but an ongoing journey. As teams disperse geographically, work styles diversify, and technology continually evolves, the approaches to remote work must adapt accordingly. 

Employers should be committed to regular check-ins, performance reviews, and feedback sessions to understand what’s working and what needs improvement. This ongoing dialogue allows for the rapid implementation of changes, which is the cornerstone of an agile workplace.

Organisations can move toward a genuinely agile workspace by identifying and refining best practices in these critical areas. Agility in the remote work era is not just about quick changes but making the right ones that benefit the company and its employees. This balance of adaptability and foresight is crucial for effectively navigating the complexities of today’s remote work environment.

Main image by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash