Five steps for employers to make sure remote workers are successful
Remote working can be excellent for both the individual and the hiring organisation when it works, but when it doesn’t, it can be a truly awful experience for both parties. We have evaluated the evidence, talked to the community and looked at some case studies. Here’s our summary of how to make it work with a particular focus on when employers hire freelancers and independent consultants as remote workers.
- Have a clear scope and defined outcomes/ deliverables
A huge part of successful use of remote resources is having a well-defined scope and clearly set out deliverables, success criteria and desired outcomes. This should have been aligned between all relevant internal stakeholders. The benefit of this cannot be overemphasised: It avoids any expectation mismatch, creates a very transparent engagement, allows both parties to track progress and it prevents scenarios where resources are pulled in different directions by multiple stakeholders – each with a different view of what the resource is there to deliver.
- A differentiated recruitment process
There must be an organised, efficient and professional assessment and selection process which reflects the differences in what it takes for someone to be successful as an on-site employee compared to a remote working resource. Different skills need to be considered, such as how self-sufficient they are, their project and task management skills, strength and style of communication and ability to build relationships. Too often, clients have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to hiring staff, whether onsite, remote, permanent or freelance.
- Proper onboarding and engagement
Just because the individual isn’t based in the office, there is no reason not to take their onboarding and experience seriously! Like any other resource, they have a choice where they work, and organisations need to create a positive environment if they are to attract the best talent and create a good reputation in the market. Freelancers, remote workers and consultants are all part of larger external networks, and – surprise, surprise – they all speak to each other! A bad experience for a highly credible individual can get your organisation red-flagged quite easily in various talent communities.
The first step to this is having policies in place. The different business functions, compliance/risk, HR, and recruitment teams all need to agree on ow remote resources should be sourced, assessed, contracted, onboarded, paid, managed and engaged.
Having a well thought through end-to-end experience will be a differentiator, helps reduce time being wasted by working things out on the fly. It also avoids the remote worker feeling like they are valued less than permanent or on-site employees. Basics like understanding data security requirements, organising a laptop, conducting mandatory training, setting people up on internal systems, sending a welcome note notifying people of the new hire are where things continue to fall over. It is still common for business stakeholders to make offers to remote resources but then for things to become completely chaotic when the request comes to central teams responsible for making it happen.
- Strong (project) governance and a clear sponsor
Once the scope is defined, and the resource is on-boarded, the next point of failure, especially in the case of remote talent, is poor governance. This manifests itself as a lack of clear ownership and responsibility from a management and oversight perspective. Putting in place a sponsor responsible for ensuring that the individual is delivering against scope, is well supported and engaged and is providing value is essential.
Using project management tools such as those mentioned above, where project progress can be shared easily, regular check-ins/huddles to set priorities and remove any blockers and open communication will all help keep things on track. The key is in identifying and addressing issues quickly and not allowing them to drift or escalate into larger problems. Both parties being willing to have honest communication is dependent on the sponsor establishing the right type of relationship and understanding the common challenges remote resources face. An individual who isn’t coming to the office each day does require a different management style, if this isn’t taken into account then it is unlikely to work.
- Create a culture conducive to remote working
To support different types of individuals and working models in the organisation requires the right culture. Remote working, in particular, requires a specific culture for it to be successful for both parties.
- Decision making needs to be dispersed
- Information needs to be freely shared
- Technology needs to be in place to support internal engagement and communication
- Data security policies need to support information sharing to external parties
- Training needs be computer-based
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, there needs to be a removal of the distrust and suspicion that surrounds remote workers driven by a traditional desire to be able to ‘see’ how hard people are working. Instead, the use of strong and thoughtful communication and digital measurement of performance/progress tracking needs to be put in place to build confidence. There also needs to be thought allocated as to whether remote working is offered to everyone or just for certain roles and circumstances, this needs to be clear to all so that there are no issues of other employees feeling unfairly treated.
There are some real challenges around remote working. Individuals can feel disengaged, isolated and ‘out of the loop’, they can also experience that their career progress is negatively impacted and that they are constantly scrutinised for their productivity. Organisations struggle to manage remote resources effectively and all the complexities around setting them up to work from home, putting in place the necessary technology and policies and ensuring they aren’t forgotten about. In addition, managers don’t often have the training on what it takes to manage remote and dispersed teams and that’s why they can frequently get it badly wrong.
Remote working, therefore, needs to be strategically considered as part of a broader discussion around how the relationship between organisation and employee is changing and the different needs and demands of emerging talent and the impact of this on employers.