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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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If you want to hire your top pick, studies say quit stalling

(BUSINESS) Waiting for more than a month to make a final offer may mean that you’re missing out on the valuable candidates you really want to hire.

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The phrase “Slow and steady wins the race” may describe your optimal strategy in some departments, but according to a study by 3Gem, hiring isn’t one of them. If you’re waiting more than a month before deciding on a new hire, you’re most likely not getting your first pick.

The study, conducted via 9,000 employees, determined that around 67 percent of employees had passed on their first job choice because they didn’t hear back from an employer before a second opportunity arose. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed said that they wouldn’t stick around for a job if the hiring process took more than a month from start to finish.

If your ears are burning, it may be time to change your hiring tactics.

This isn’t to say that you should rush into hiring; your recruiting process deserves time and ample consideration. However, taking more than a few weeks to go through the process of starting recruiting, meeting applicants, and making your final offer means that you’re both missing out on top-notch talent and wasting the time of countless potential recruits.

Consider your applicant pool: the majority of your options are either currently unemployed or heading in that direction (volitionally or otherwise). Few people can afford to stay unemployed for more than a month, meaning that any option, regardless of whether your business is the employee’s dream environment, starts to look better than your lack of a timely answer.

From an employee’s perspective, an application is as good as rejected if they haven’t heard back within a couple of weeks, and having no income during that period of time is suboptimal. Waiting for more than four weeks before making a decision, to say nothing of more than that—20 percent of the surveyed employees had experienced wait times of over two months—is unacceptable.

The math is simple: exceptional candidates have neither the time nor the need to wait for a response. If you place hiring over other activities during your recruiting bouts, prioritize the top one percent of your applicants, and make your final offer the second you’ve made up your mind, you’ll see an increase in in-house talent in no time.

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How your company can take advantage of the gig economy, not fear it

(NEWS) The gig-economy is increasing in popularity and you shouldn’t be quick to write it off.

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Gigs are expanding

The gig economy is buzzing. The term has now come to signify any contractual, part-time, freelance work, and is not limited to the tech universe.

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Freelance freedom

Between 2004 and 2014, independent contracting employment increased from 12 percent to only about 18 percent. In the last several years the gig economy has exploded onto the scene.

The 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that the rate of self-employment in America is falling, and yet more people are engaging in freelance work, which last year stood at an impressive 35 percent of the total economy.

What gives?

The answer, backed by several surveys, is simple.

People with full-time jobs are increasingly participating in part-time gigs.

And although the Uber driver has become the poster-child, the scope of the gig economy is much wider.

A growing gig nation

The BLS report clearly states, “Gig workers are spread among diverse occupation groups and are not easily identified (added emphasis) in surveys of employment and earnings.”

Linkedin predicts that by 2020, 43 percent Americans shall be engaged in gig economy.

Really not a shock

This should not come as a surprise. By now it is well known that our out-of-date model of success — “study hard—earn a degree—get a job” is failing.

There are too many graduates, and too few well-paid full time jobs.

The private sector has also struggled. In most American metro areas, more businesses are closing than new ones are opening up.

For many millennials, it is the sole source of income. For others, it is an easy way to make some extra cash. Today’s millennials have less purchasing power than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. But this picture no longer accurately portrays the essence of the gig economy.

Many of today’s gig economy participants, especially younger employees, actually have full-time jobs.

However, instead of opening their own businesses by quitting their full-time jobs (a common practice in the past), they are pouring their passion into these freelance gigs IN ADDITION to their full time jobs.

The gig economy today has thus become an outlet that captures their expressions of creativity.

Gigs reaching beyond their stereotypical niche

The tech industry is already well known for a thriving gig economy. Contractual Web-developers (~$31/hr), Software developers (~$48/hr), Graphic Designers, and Multimedia Artists are all experiencing high demands.

But gig economy culture is spreading to other sectors of the economy, largely facilitated by the internet experience.

It is infiltrating administrative & support services, healthcare and even real estate.

Seasonal gigs are still a thing

Some demands are very much seasonal. Contract Accountants (~$30/hr) are in high demand as taxpayers try to submit their returns before April 15. Other gig economies are in demand year round.

Truck delivery is one of the highest paid gigs, which got a boost through the popularity of Amazon and eBay.

Low barriers to entry also make gig economies attractive. Take for example, Airbnb. So long as you have a spare room in a well-located, highly visited city, you can partake in the hospitality business!
This is good news for our economy! The criticisms it faces are mostly unfounded, and must be resisted.

Don’t listen to the haterz

The media and the government often unfairly characterizes the gig economy. The contract worker is seen as a victim, as being preyed upon by the big businesses, entering an exploitative arrangement, often unknowingly and against his own best interest.
The advent of the gig economy is painted as the death of salaries, health insurance and vacation days.
The goal of such criticism seems to be to reduce the number of contract workers and increase the number of definable “employees”. This argument overlooks the fact that each of these contracts were entered voluntarily and fulfilled a service that was a gap in the market.

Too many benefits

A 2016 Fastcompany survey found that 75 percent of employees still prefer health benefits to usual industry benefits like remote work.

While that is certainly true of a job seeker without any other job, statistics show us that more freelancers are full-time employees fishing for side gigs.

Forcing contractors to supply fringe benefits would result in duplicative benefits.

Gigging is not predatory

The debate over how to appropriately regulate the gig economy shall continue.

Obviously, companies may come up with strategies to exploit contract employees.

But at a time when traditional employers are experiencing downward pressure on their profit margins and retaining employees while tackling soaring insurance costs has become a challenge, engaging the best and the brightest from the gig economy becomes increasingly necessary. Industries that engage in it should not be seen as predatory.

Helping not hurting

In fact, it is quite the opposite. Gig economies empower the labor market in new innovative ways, when traditional markets have failed them.

Even the best schools in our land now advise their graduates to stop looking for full time jobs and participate in the gig economy.

Therefore, the caricature that the eager job seekers of the gig market must be bottom-of-the-barrel talent pool is also grossly erroneous.

Gotta up the ante

Yet, many companies have under-invested in this area. They have done too little to lobby for themselves and entirely miss out reaping its benefits.

Some still wait for traditional application to populate their inbox instead of actively recruiting from the gig-economy.

Their recruiting strategies are also failing. Mentioning “working remotely” as a reward on the job description is simply not good enough anymore.

Take the first step

Instead, companies should stress on their own unique story: a passion-driven project, with lots of creative leeway and good pay.

Research shows that the modern employee wants flexible hours, fair but few rules, and transparent pay structures.Click To Tweet

All of this can be easily achieved in a gig economy setting. What are we waiting for?

This editorial originally ran on March 21, 2017.

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This chatbot was designed to scam the scammers #beautiful

(NEWS) This AI chatbot has been designed to waste spammers’ time intelligently, and it is just oh so beautiful!

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re:scam spam chatbot

Spam emails are unfortunately a never-ending source of email annoyance. No matter how we improve our spam filters, 2017’s Nigerian Princes never fail to come out of the woodwork.

Efforts to fight scammers and the ever evolving techniques of scams they try to do come in varied forms, or in the case of New Zealand’s tech company NetSafe – multiple personalities.

NetSafe, an international non-profit dedicated to internet safety, has created a chatbot that could best be described as a sophisticated AI troll.

Re:scam is an email bot that is designed to reply to scam emails and give them a taste of their own drama.

How it works: forward any scam email to me@rescam.org – from there, the various personalities of the app work together to respond to that scamming email as though it was a would-be victim.

This helps keep scamming relevant by drawing attention to the issue. The emails exchanged can help teach us more about scammers, who regularly adjust their techniques, and it’s hitting scammers where it hurts – their wallet. Lost profits and wasted time mean the scammers have less time to do the scamming spam sucking that they thrive on.

The website details a few of the most common scams: banking, beneficiaries, romance, and #WesternUnion. With examples of how the app responds. The emails are humorously trolling, and I could see the romance one being an almost awkward comedy skit. Plus, Re:scam boasts some amazing success: over 47,000 emails have been sent and the app is getting a lot done – so far the app boasts five months of wasted time for scammers.

The biggest concern I would have had with this chatbot is quickly dispelled: Re:scam uses a proxy email and doesn’t tangle any of your personal information after you forward the email into the conversation. The site also reminds you that this application does not serve as a spam detection tool, but it does teach you some information to help you recognize spam emails.

In addition to sounding like a perfect revenge via scamming the scammer, the Re:scam chatbot is showing some promise as a great tool to help make the internet a slightly safer place. Give it a go and #SpamtheSpamoutoftheSpammers

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