12 June 2024

Navigating remote workforce management

A man sat at a desk with a laptop, book, coffee cup, plant and file system on top. The man is working happliy remotely after using People First's Workforce management solution software.

Remote working is quickly becoming the norm for some businesses. But how did working evolve from the office to the comfort of our homes?

Remote working originally became popular in the early 2000s with the use of internet technology and the conception of digital communication tools. It then saw a surge in popularity in the 2010s due to the increased availability of high-speed internet and broadband, widespread adoption of cloud computing, and the rise of collaboration platforms such as Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. 

We then experienced the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This acted as a major catalyst, accelerating the shift to remote work, as businesses worldwide were forced to adapt to working during lockdowns and social distancing measures. This marked a transformative change in how companies then operated, leading to a more widespread acceptance and implementation of remote working practices across various industries. 

As remote working increased, so did the need for managing remote employees. Remote workforce management was introduced. 

What is remote workforce management?

It is the practice of positively leading and managing remote employees. This typically involves a mix of digital communication, processes and technology specifically designed for leading a productive remote workforce. But remote working hasn’t been adopted by all companies. This way of working has many advantages and disadvantages, and therefore so does remote workforce management. 

Here are some of the advantages of remote workforce management: 

Increased productivity. Remote work can lead to higher productivity as employees often have fewer distractions and can create a work environment tailored to their needs. 

Cost savings. Companies can save on overhead costs such as office space, utilities, and other expenses associated with maintaining a physical workspace. 

Access to a global talent pool. Remote workforce management allows companies to hire the best talent regardless of their geographical location, expanding their pool of potential employees. 

Improved work-life balance. Remote work can offer employees greater flexibility in balancing their professional and personal lives, which can lead to higher job satisfaction and retention rates. 

Environmental benefits. Reducing the need for commuting can lower the carbon footprint of a company and contribute to environmental sustainability. 

Enhanced continuity and resilience. Remote workforce management can help businesses maintain operations during disruptions, such as natural disasters or pandemics, by enabling employees to work from any location. 

Diverse and inclusive workforce. Remote work can open up opportunities for individuals who may have been unable to participate in the traditional workforce due to physical disabilities, caregiving responsibilities, or other constraints. 

These advantages make remote workforce management a great option for some businesses who are aiming to adapt to a more flexible and dynamic work environment. 

But it’s not the ideal solution for all businesses. 

Many do not want to implement home working, as there are many challenges of managing a remote workforce, including: 

Communication challenges. Remote teams can face difficulties in communication, leading to misunderstandings, delays in information sharing, and a lack of cohesive team dynamics. 

Isolation and loneliness. Remote workers may feel isolated from their colleagues, which can impact their mental health and overall job satisfaction.  

Difficulty in monitoring performance. Managers may find it challenging to monitor employees' performance and productivity without the physical presence and daily interactions. 

Security risks. Remote work can increase the risk of data breaches and cybersecurity threats, as employees may use unsecured networks or devices. 

Work-Life balance issues. While remote work can improve work-life balance, it can also blur the lines between personal and professional life, leading to overworking and burnout

Dependence on technology. Remote work heavily relies on technology, and any technical issues or lack of access to reliable internet can disrupt work. 

Team collaboration. Collaborative tasks can be harder to coordinate remotely, and brainstorming sessions or spontaneous idea exchanges are less likely to happen naturally. 

Training and development. Providing adequate training and professional development opportunities can be more challenging for remote teams, potentially impacting employee growth and skill advancement. 

Understanding these disadvantages can help businesses to implement strategies and tools to overcome these challenges and embrace the effectiveness of remote workforce management. 

So how can businesses overcome these remote workforce management challenges?

With communication challenges, there are many reliable digital tools to help keep connected with your team, such as Slack, Teams, and Zoom for regular updates. 

For HR companies embarking on remote working, People First is MHR Global’s flagship product, an HR, payroll and finance platform. it’s a great tool for boosting internal communication options, boosting employee engagement and ensuring data is less disconnected.  

Overcoming isolation and loneliness for remote workers could include virtual social events, team building activities online and frequent interaction, with a huge emphasis on encouraging video calls. Mental health support is imperative, providing resources for awareness and having open discussions with employees. 

How to monitor performance? Managers should set clear goals and define measurable objectives for a certain period of time. There are specific performance tools that are easy to use, such as Trello, and Asana for tracking. It’s good to provide more regular feedback and to conduct performance reviews when employees are working remotely. 

Security risks are a worry with remote working. Ways to beat this are to implement VPNs, secure passwords, and two-factor authentication. Also, employees should be provided secure devices, with the assurance of access to secure hardware. They should also be provided with security training and regular cybersecurity sessions.  

To help with work-life balance issues, managers could encourage set hours, and promote regular work hours and breaks. Managers could also respect boundaries and not contact their team outside working hours. 

There’s a huge dependence on technology with remote work, so it is important to invest in quality tech, provide reliable equipment and to also ensure that IT support it available, with responsive technical assistance – so as not disrupt the working day. It’s a good idea to have back up plans; and have contingency plans for tech failures. 

And how to solve team collaboration when all team members are working remotely? Use collaborative tools that are available and help to connect team members digitally and online: Use Miro, Trello, Google Workspace etc. Make sure that there are scheduled sessions and regular virtual brainstorming. Employees will become accustomed to this as their normal day and feel closer to colleagues.  

Providing training and development can be difficult with remote staff. But there are lots of online training courses: make sure staff have access to online courses and webinars; perhaps give virtual mentorship where experienced employees guide others – and ensure that skill assessments, and training is addresses regularly. 

It has been shown that here are many positive benefits to remote working, should your business choose this way of working. But remote workforce management can significantly impact employee morale, positively and negatively. Here are the main key aspects, both positive and negative: 

Positive impacts:

  • Flexibility and work-life balance: Remote workforce management often provides employees with the flexibility to balance work and personal life, leading to increased job satisfaction and morale. 
  • Reduced commute stress: Eliminating the daily commute can reduce stress and give employees more time for personal activities, contributing to higher morale. 
  • Autonomy: Remote work can empower employees by allowing them to manage their schedules and work environment, growing a sense of autonomy and trust. 
  • Inclusive practices: Effective remote management can include all employees in decision-making processes, ensuring everyone feels valued and heard, which boosts morale. 

But remote workforce management doesn’t work for all businesses. These can be some negative impacts from remote working: 

Negative impacts:

  • Isolation: Without proper remote management strategies, employees may feel isolated or disconnected from their team and the company culture, which can lower morale. 
  • Communication challenges: Miscommunication or lack of clear communication can lead to misunderstandings and frustration, negatively affecting morale. 
  • Overwork: The blurring of boundaries between work and personal life can result in overwork and burnout if not managed properly, diminishing employee morale. 
  • Lack of recognition: Employees might feel undervalued if they do not receive adequate recognition and feedback in a remote setup. 

If an organisation does choose to implement remote working for their employees, there are many tools, strategies and technologies for ensuring that remote workforce management is as successful as office-based working practices. 

But what are the predicted trends in remote workforce management? 

Predicted trends in remote workforce management indicate a dynamic and evolving landscape shaped by technological advancements and changing work methods. Here are some key trends expected to influence remote workforce management in the near future: 

Increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation

  • AI for performance monitoring: AI tools will be increasingly used to monitor employee performance, track productivity, and provide real-time feedback.  
  • Automation of routine tasks: Automation will handle routine administrative tasks, allowing managers and employees to focus on more strategic activities. 

Enhanced Cybersecurity measures

  • Advanced security protocols: Companies will invest more in robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data and ensure secure remote work environments. 
  • Zero trust security models: Adoption of zero trust security frameworks that assume no device or user is trustworthy by default. 

Hybrid Work Models

  • Flexible work schedules: A combination of in-office and remote work will become the norm, offering employees greater flexibility.  
  • Optimised office spaces: Office spaces will be redesigned to support hybrid work, focusing on collaboration zones and hot-desking. 

Focus on Employee Well-being

  • Mental health support: Companies will provide more mental health resources, including virtual counselling and wellness programs. 
  • Work-life balance initiatives: Emphasis on maintaining a healthy work-life balance through flexible hours and promoting the importance of taking breaks. 

Advanced Collaboration Tools

  • Integrated platforms: Use of integrated collaboration platforms that combine communication, project management, and productivity tools. 
  • Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR): VR and AR technologies will enhance virtual meetings and training sessions, providing immersive experiences. 

Data-driven Decision Making

  • Analytics and insights: Greater reliance on data analytics to make informed decisions about workforce management, performance metrics, and employee engagement.  
  • Predictive analytics: Use of predictive analytics to anticipate workforce trends and address potential issues before they arise. 

Personalised Employee Experiences

  • Tailored development plans: Personalised training and development plans based on individual employee needs and career aspirations. 
  • Customised engagement strategies: Developing engagement strategies that cater to different demographics and preferences within the remote workforce. 

Remote Leadership Training

  • Leadership development programs: Focus on training leaders to manage remote teams effectively, emphasising communication, empathy, and digital skills. 
  • Virtual leadership communities: Creation of virtual communities for leaders to share best practices and support each other. 

Enhanced Onboarding Processes

  • Virtual onboarding programs: Comprehensive virtual onboarding programs that ensure new hires are integrated smoothly into the company culture. 
  • Mentorship and buddy systems: Pairing new employees with mentors or buddies to provide support and guidance during their initial months. 

Emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion

  • Inclusive practices: Continued efforts to foster diversity and inclusion within remote teams through inclusive policies and practices.  
  • Global talent pools: Leveraging remote work to tap into diverse talent pools from around the world, promoting a more inclusive workforce. 

Increased Focus on Sustainability

  • Eco-friendly practices: Encouraging remote work to reduce carbon footprints and promote sustainability by decreasing the need for commuting and physical office spaces. 
  • Green technologies: Adoption of environmentally friendly technologies and practices in remote work setups.

Whether businesses choose to implement remote workforce management or not, we have to adjust to the fact that remote working and hybrid working isn’t disappearing soon, and there is a specific need to manage employees who choose to work from home. And this can be very successful. 

In April 2024, stated:  

“38% of these businesses still prefer their workforce to be in person, meaning the flexible and remote work debate isn't over yet and will likely continue this year. Whether office occupancy will swell or drop to pave the way for more flexible work arrangements, we don't know for sure.”  

Whatever the outcome for remote working, businesses need to embrace remote workforce management for the foreseeable future. 

Alix King, freelance content writer

Alix King

Alix is a freelance journalist and copywriter. With a love for academics, Alix has studied both journalism and law and has a knack for writing for very different audiences. From humorous articles to white papers, she loves a writing challenge.

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