Gallup's latest State of the American Workplace reports that 43% of employees say they are part of a remote workforce at least some of the time, and that number is climbing. More companies of all sizes recognize that not all people working for them need to be onsite all the time. Technology allows you to tap into talent far from home base and, as needs grow, more managers will find themselves supervising talent that is located cities or states away rather than just down a row of cubicles.
Here are some things to know before deciding to manage a remote workforce.
Challenges of a Remote Workforce
Managing a remote workforce doesn't have to be a daunting or scary endeavor. But you need to have the right equipment, policies, and expectations in place. Aaron Tandy, attorney and partner with Miami-based Pathman Lewis LLC, offers some things to consider such as:
- Technology and security. Not having to supply computers, landlines and cell phones can save a company thousands of dollars a year. Or can it? Data lost—or worse, data accidentally exposed due to a child playing on a family computer—can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in lawsuit costs. "Even though it is an expense, it makes more sense to have dedicated devices," says Tandy. "If a company has really sensitive data, e.g., HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act data], they may want to pay for somebody to have a dedicated computer, [land line] and cell phone. That way, they're not chancing that some of that data or confidential things get out."
- Trust. Remote workforce management relies on trust. You must trust that workers know what they are supposed to do through clear assignments, effective training, and explicit deadlines. To get to that point, managers need to establish multiple lines of communication—text, and telephone for urgent matters, for example, and regular email and video conferencing for everything else.
- Productivity. It's easy to manage the productivity of the onsite staff. You can keep them engaged just by walking into their offices. With a remote workforce, it's easy to forget your employees are there until a goal is missed. Managers need to establish a communication routine to ensure ongoing engagement. A weekly video-conferencing check-in with all team members will help everyone communicate their needs and coordinate their efforts. This is also a good way to bring in freelancers who supplement team members' work. Any productivity issues can be addressed over an urgent video chat.
Tandy also says it's important to abide by all applicable laws. Just because employees aren't in the office, doesn't mean human resource rules don't apply, such as:
- State and local laws. Human Resources needs to be up to date on state and local laws where remote employees and even freelancers work as some of those regulations are more stringent than federal ones. The laws where your employee or freelancer is located—not the laws where the company is headquartered—apply to remote workers. Tandy relates that, in his county, for example, "it is illegal to terminate someone based on sexual orientation. It's not the same in other Florida counties."
- Payroll laws. In some states, like California and New York, payroll laws are becoming increasingly complicated. Whoever handles payroll will need to know the appropriate state's minimum wage as not all states follow the federal guidelines. Local rules sometimes dictate how often workers must be paid. In some areas, employees must be paid at least once a month, while in others, it's at least bi-monthly or biweekly.
- Discrimination. Tandy says that companies must be careful to whom they extend remote-work options. It is better to have a clear remote-work policy that details the type of work that can be done remotely rather than just applying the remote-work policy to a class of workers. For example, if all exempt employees are white or females—and nonexempt employees are male or a protected minority and remote work is only offered to exempt employees, a company may soon find itself in trouble.
"Remote working offers benefits to both employers and employees, but it also creates some headaches," Tandy says. He suggests making sure you have clear expectations before you embark on that path so you can avoid uncertainties and problems later.