27 Oct 2022

Managing a remote workforce

The chaos theory states that ‘within the apparent randomness of chaotic systems, there are underlying patterns’. Scientists have spent almost 150 years exploring the phenomenon, looking at its iterations and applications in everything, from the stock market and road traffic to meteorology and environmental science.

Maybe they should have taken more time to study chaos theory in business. Because that’s what managers, leaders and HR teams are currently faced with; looking for the patterns that work amidst the chaos that has come from Covid-19.

Because the pandemic has changed everything. Organisations around the world have spent two years reworking how they do business; employees have reimagined the possibilities available to them.

That’s not to say new ways of working have been a blessing for everyone, because change brings a range of challenges. In this case, many have struggled to adapt, facing issues of loneliness and difficulties setting boundaries between work and their personal lives when working from home.

Done right, however, it can prove highly productive for businesses to allow staff a remote or hybrid system of work.

What does right look like?
There’s no rule book or guide to navigate the huge cultural shifts that we’ve experienced in recent times. Companies are learning to do business differently, whilst frantically trying to keep up levels of innovation and creativity and much of that onus falls on managers, leaders and HR teams.

The most common cause of issues amidst the new ways of working is uncertainty, which can be avoided with clear communication and employee engagement. As systems change, colleagues will want to understand how the changes will affect them – and how they will benefit. It is important to provide clarity and as much certainty as possible – a lack of certainty causes anxiety, frustration, fear and can erode trust.

Getting employees involved in key decisions is crucial to engagement and will influence the success of any change. Communication also breeds insight and you are more easily able to act in the best interest of colleagues if you fully understand their needs and can empathise with their position. Managers and HR teams must also be the conscience of the business, challenging the status quo if an approach isn’t commercially sensible or appropriate, for example, if forcing people back to the office has no clear benefit.

Whilst these behaviours start at the top of the organisation, managers need to be engaged and coached in order to talk to and support their teams.

Talking, though, is a challenge in itself and is even harder when working remotely. This is where collaborative technology can be so powerful. Maintaining an element of structure can also help with communication between people in a number of locations. Even if this is simply regular team meetings, get-togethers over lunches or organising a focus for the day, colleagues will benefit from human connection. Informal meetings or time spent together can promote collaboration or spark ideas and, for younger staff, this can be the best alternative to the learnings derived from interacting face-to-face.

Recruitment is a key consideration too. While people don’t want to be starved of connection, candidates are now looking for more flexibility, so it’s incumbent upon organisations to think differently and be flexible if they are to secure top talent.

Hiring managers should therefore be examining their recruitment and induction processes; how they engage with candidates directly throughout the process, how they can seamlessly integrate them into the business, particularly where teams are working remotely, and how they continue dialogue with them in their first few months, to get feedback on their experience. Quite apart from being the right thing to do, retention of employees makes absolute commercial sense – the cost of employing someone is huge, and it’s significantly cheaper to retain staff than it is to recruit them.

If you would like support with your day to day HR operations or with establishing HR Strategic Projects, get in touch with me or one of the team today.

Sophie Austin