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Conquering the 7 biggest challenges of managing a remote workforce

(BUSINESS) Managing a remote workforce is increasingly common, but comes with challenges – let’s discuss setting your team up for success.

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Telecommuting is rapidly becoming a serious option for employers looking to attract and retain top talent. More workers are demanding the option to work from home – at least some of the time – and employers need to take these requests seriously.

Offering a telecommuting option can initially be attractive to employers; lower overhead, less hands-on management, increased productivity and happier employees are all potential benefits. But managing a remote workforce isn’t without its problems.

This article will look at 7 of the biggest challenges of managing remote workers.

1. Productivity

While research has shown that telecommuting leads to increased performance, many managers have a hard time trusting that employees will work efficiently while not in the office. Without the same level of ability to track and monitor outcomes, managers may not always know if work is actually getting done.

This makes having regular check-ins important, as well as having set deadlines for tasks and projects. Give employees flexibility in terms of work hours, but also be clear about your expectations – what exactly you need, and when you expect it to be done.

Productivity-tracking tools such as Time Doctor can help ensure cooperation, and you can even get in-depth email productivity analytics using a tool like EmailAnalytics.

2. Communication

According to a survey by Robert Half Technology, 30 percent of US CIOs cited communication as their biggest problem when managing a remote workforce. Without proper communication, employees and managers can feel disconnected and are more prone to experiencing misunderstandings.

To ensure proper communication, Robert Half suggests 4 tips to improve remote communication:

  • Outlining expectations: Be clear about how often you’d like remote workers to check in and be available to you.
  • Make use of technology: Without access to proper communication tools, collaboration becomes very difficult. Ensure employees are trained to use data-sharing, online meeting and project management tools.
  • Schedule real-time meetings: Build in opportunities for workers to meet face-to-face to improve communication and reduce isolation.
  • Check in with your employees: Working from home without appropriate boundaries can lead to overwork and even burnout. Regularly support and assist employees with maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

3. Data security

Employers are understandably concerned about the potential to lose important data or to experience a security breach on remote computers. Many remote workers regularly work from coffee shops or shared offices, or access the internet via other unsecured wireless networks.

Employers also have no way of restricting outside access to remote workers’ laptops or phones; if an employee allows a friend to use his or her computer while at home, for instance, the employer will never know.

Remote workers should be expected to commit to certain security measures for their work computer and data. This might include installing encryption software, restricting the use of company-issued laptops and keeping company files and devices in a secure location when not being used.

4. Training

One of the first difficulties that many companies face when they introduce telecommuting is training new hires. Even with the most comprehensive training manuals and written procedures, employees can struggle without having the in-person support of colleagues.

Having a training program in place is critical when managing a remote workforce. In addition, assign a mentor to each new hire to answer questions or offer support via phone, email or video chat.

5. Building and maintaining a strong company culture

Communicating and nurturing a strong company culture among a remote workforce can be extremely difficult. Much of a company’s culture is communicated and modeled by leadership; this is obviously more challenging when workers and managers don’t regularly work together in person.

Hiring employees who have already demonstrated similar values and beliefs as the company is a great place to start. Setting up regular one-to-one meetings between workers and management can also help, as well as periodically getting together for casual get-togethers.

6. Collaboration

Working as a team can be difficult at the best of times; but add thousands of miles and multiple time zones to the mix and it can seem nearly impossible. This is why having great tools in place is so important. Workers must be able to communicate and collaborate to share ideas and data seamlessly.

Some tools that can help with collaboration between remote workers include:

  • Skype: Use Skype to hold one-to-one or team meetings, to talk with clients or to hold group chats.
  • Dropbox: Ensure all employees have access to company files, no matter where they’re working from. Dropbox allows them to upload and share files among team members, and ensures that no important data gets lost.
  • Basecamp: This software lets you do virtually anything related to team project management, including file sharing, chatting and assigning tasks to various team members.
  • Join.me: Screen share, make presentations or hold online meetings using a tool like Join.me.

There are also a number of Gmail plugins that can boost collaboration and productivity which are worth checking out.

7. Technological Issues

When working in an office, technological problems can usually be dealt with quickly, and work can resume as normal. For remote workers, however, an issue with a laptop or software can mean hours or even days of lost productivity.

Setting up proper training and access to suitable technology can help mitigate technological challenges, as well as giving workers access to remote tech support when needed. Giving employees additional training for new software and equipment can also help avoid problems later on.

Managing a remote workforce isn’t without its challenges.

But having the proper guidelines, technologies and processes in place can help ensure your remote workers stay productive and happy.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Business News

How eBay can survive the Amazon era

(BUSINESS NEWS) eBay has long been an ecommerce powerhouse, but Amazon is now most folks’ first stop – how can eBay survive?

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While some of us are still lamenting the eBay-PayPal Break Up from three years ago, focus has shifted to the stock battle between the two brands of late, while most are wondering – how long does eBay even have as Amazon sucks all of the oxygen out of the room?

The ecommerce giant faces some heavy competition from Amazon and other online retailers and needs to reinvent its image if it’s going to thrive. Barely a year ago, nearly 15 percent more sellers were listing products on both ecommerce sites, but the trend towards Amazon has accelerated rapidly. The competition is even more messy given that eBay is very likely about to sue Amazon for poaching sellers.

How eBay moves forward will have a lot to do with how it rebrands itself. They have a huge marketplace, and unlike Amazon, they don’t continually put sellers in a position of peril. eBay represents an opportunity for big brands to sell not only on their own websites, but through a trusted, well-established seller who has been around for a long time (as summarized by ChannelAdvisor).

The brand has a number of woes to overcome to work with retailers, especially as Amazon boasts an impressive search engine optimization and is many people’s first stop shop. And Amazon’s reputation is, well forgive the joke, in Prime health – whereas some sellers still pass up Amazon to sell the slightly-attractive-but-isn’t-our-aesthetic dishes received as an inheritance or gift (despite the fact nearly 81 percent of items sold on eBay are brand new).

And the start of fixing that image is better marketing, and emphasizing what their strengths are, most notably:

  • eBay has a stronger global presence, and is in over 25 countries.
  • The relationship with sellers is much more positive – eBay is essentially a platform and a partner, an online storefront.
  • It’s much cheaper for sellers to sell than on Amazon (although it offers much less in terms of services).
  • You have more control over your brand than with Amazon, as again, it’s not competing with you.
  • The conversation around eBay is ongoing, and how the company appeals to large retailers and develops this brand is something sellers will be monitoring, because colorful tv ad campaigns won’t be enough to keep them afloat.

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Price-predictable subscription to legal help for startups

(BUSINESS) Startups in growth mode need extra help, and legal services is not where successful companies cut corners. Check out this subscription option for your growing company.

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If you’re running your own business or are planning to start one, legal help is probably low on your list.

Most of us have access to free resources from your local Chamber of Commerce or state website, or may have a “friend” who can help you with the forms and other things.

For a lot of things, a DIY attitude won’t cost you much. You could float your own drywall for example. But when it comes to the law, you must trust an expert. Trying to cut corners on legal expenses can cost you a lot in terms of liability or lead to a few headaches, disputes, and litigations. And even if it didn’t cost money, it will cost you time.

Fortunately, you may not have to pay a lawyer directly, as there are several online solutions, including LegalZoom or LegalShield that can help you with forms, provide advice or help you get your business started. Legal advice could cost you hundreds per hour, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Although online legal services are available, one thing that may be challenging for startups is that it can be difficult to budget for: cost transparency isn’t always available and it may be contingent on demand, time and resources.

Atrium is legal firm specifically designed for startups. This firm was founded by Twitch founder Justin Kan, and Silicon Valley lawyer, Augie Rakow in response to what his needs were as a startup: fast, reliable, and transparent services.

To date, Atrium boasts 890 completed startup deals; $5B raised by companies, and 10 companies started by it’s members. Atrium breaks down its services into four areas:

Atrium Counsel – which provides standard day to day legal processes, including board meetings, NDS, contract/personnel review, etc. – this is available as a subscription service or if you have unique needs, there are special projects available.
Atrium Financing – to help work with venture capital transactions and help explain the deal and it’s process, including upfront price estimates for advice with pitches.
Atrium Contracts – to help with contract review and form generations.
Atrium Blockchain – to help provide legal advice on the many regulatory issues involving blockchain issues.

Atrium’s major competitive advantage is the end of the billable hour paradigm and the focus on subscription models. This is great for a startup in growth mode because you can get a lot of value for a fixed price.

That said, Vitality CEO, Jamie Davidson said, “Just had a call with these folks. You pay a minimum of $1K a month (based on your company size) to be able to ask them questions. You then pay above-market prices for actual legal needs, like privacy policy/TOS generation ($5K), GDPR ($10+K), etc. Our current lawyer does not charge me to ask him questions, but he does charge for actual legal work.”

Others have noted Atrium’s technological advantage and expertise, so mileage could vary.

If you find that community resources aren’t available or not meeting your needs, Atrium could be the service that helps take you to the next level. If you’re considering shopping for legal services, check out Atrium’s site, get to know their team, and see if it’s the right fit for you. The bottom line is that there are a lot of places to cut corners for your growing business, but legal services are not one of them.

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Courts to decide if ‘overqualified’ is being used as a code word for ‘too old’ to hire?

(BUSINESS) Many have long held that job seekers are told they are “overqualified” when some employers mean they’re just too old and they’ll carry higher cost and leave quickly. The court system is considering this contentious topic as we speak.

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According to AARP, “age discrimination in the workplace is alive and well.” But a case before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago questions whether older job applicants can sue for certain biased recruiting practices.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the case “raises a critical question about whether job applicants can pursue” a lawsuit raising the argument whether the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects external job applicants.

Therefore, the question is, does 'overqualified' truly mean an applicant doesn't have the right qualifications, or is it a code word for someone being too old to hire?Click To Tweet

The case is Kleber v. CareFusion Corp digs into this challenge. Dale Kleber applied for a position with CareFusion. The job description asked for “3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years) of relevant legal experience.” Kleber had decades of experience, after all he was 58. The company never even interviewed him.

They ultimately hired a 29-year-old to fill the position. CareFusion insists that Kleber’s age had nothing to do with him not being considered for the role. Kleber argues that “overqualified” is a code word for “too old.”

The case has been working its way through the courts. The first judge dismissed the claim, ruling that the statue doesn’t cover external applicants, but that decision was reversed on appeal by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit which stated it “could not imagine” that Congress intended to only protect internal applicants from age discrimination.

CareFusion was given a rehearing in front of the full court in September. Depending on their ruling, the case could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

What does this mean for you?

This case is just one of many that attorneys are filing with various courts. There is a case in Arizona in which two firefighters, the oldest in the district, were let go due to their age. Age discrimination could affect anyone, because everyone eventually becomes eligible. The courts are conflicted over the types of protection offered by the ADEA, but it’s also difficult to prove when age discrimination has occurred.

For small business owners, it’s imperative that you look at your hiring practices. Think about your recruiting practices. Do you simply look for talent at your local college? You miss valuable talent if you’re not looking at older applicants, and people are working well into their 70s these days, no longer retiring early. Think about the connections and experience an older team member could bring to the job.

If you (or your company) refuse to care about any of those things, fine. But consider this – based on the results of this and other lawsuits, you could be opening your business to being sued if you overlook age in the recruiting and hiring process.

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