Managing a remote workforce.

Topic: Communication, Critical communications, How to:

How to manage remote workforce (especially in time of crisis). Working from home isn’t a new concept in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2016 almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed Australians were already working from home on a regular basis. But this autumn the number is likely to increase drastically with several corporates including Telsra, IPG Mediabrands, WPP and ViacomCBS (the owner of Network 10) all asking their staff to work from home for an extended period of time in bid to contain the spread of coronavirus (source).

Ensure your employees have a safe work environment

Whether working from home or from the office, employers still have the same level of duty of care for the health and safety of their employees. That means employers need to ensure that their employees’ home workspace meets the same level of Occupational Health & Safety guidelines the office premises have. Appropriate work equipment – think beyond the laptop but proper office furniture like chairs, desks and monitors – are all essential part of employers’ health and safety duties too. 

It’s probably impossible to personally drop by each employee’s home to check on their working environment, especially in the current state where things are changing so rapidly. A practical way for handling this is to share some guidelines with employees for self-checking their home workspace. Business Victoria has some great tips here on how to set up home OHS guidelines

If your employees don’t have the appropriate equipment, considering we are now apparently also short on office furniture supply, it might be a good idea to let them borrow it from the office and have them return it back after the current situation is over.  

How to communicate effectively with remote workers

Now that all your staff are working remotely, you will need to reconsider the way you communicate with them, and in fact, the way they communicate with one another. Gone are the days when staff members can walk to each other’s desk to sort out any miscommunications, or the on-the-spot brainstorming session for the most catchy headline; how do you keep your employees engaged and ensure that they are collaborating with one another to maximise productivity

Choosing the right communication channels

Technology has made it so much easier for businesses to communicate with their staff and customers. From phone calls, email, SMS, OTT apps, team messaging apps, audio conferencing tools, video conferencing tools… the list can go on. (BTW, if your company doesn’t already have a remote working tool, here are some free options.) 

But with workers reporting using an average of four communication apps, one of the main challenges (and particularly for remote teams) is to ensure employees aren’t being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages across different channels and become immune to any of them eventually. 

As a rule of thumb, any meetings that you would normally do in person should be done in video conferencing to mimic the experience as much as possible. 

While email used to be the number one channel for internal communication, it is gradually replaced or complemented by team messaging apps like Slack and Hipchat. Some companies will use both email and team messaging apps for company wide announcements. The ability to set up channels also enable collaborations and brainstorming to happen between team members on different projects to avoid clustering each others’ email inbox. This can also be used for socialising and as the default channel for employees to stay connected during the day.  

In an unprecedented time like now when things are changing by days if not hours, SMS is probably your best option for any time sensitive messages or communications that require immediate actions. If you need to update staff members on any sudden change of business operations or want to ensure that they have read and understood the guidelines from the businesses or the government, SMS can definitely help. And don’t think you are limited by the character limit, our platform now supports PDF files, images and videos as an attachment to SMS, making it perfect for delivering long form documents and rich content. 

Frequencies of communications

Unlike working at the office where you will have a chance to speak to someone over the course of the day eventually, working remotely requires everyone to make the effort to connect with each other. And as a manager, it is your job to keep your team connected. 

It’s worthwhile to have a daily 10 -15 minute catch up at the beginning or the end of the day with the team just to see how everyone’s going on, both professionally and emotionally, to replicate the interactions you would normally have during the day when you are working on site. 

Encourage employees to stay connected with one another during the day to beat the isolation of working remotely. Set up different channels on team messaging apps for different projects to keep collaboration happening. 

If you don’t already have regular catch ups with your team members, consider starting them now. If you already have them in place, ask your team members if the time still works for them – don’t assume everyone can work remotely without interruptions like they do on site – or if they prefer more frequent catch ups because they need more support. 

The bottom line is keep communicating even if you feel like you are overdoing it. The chances are it will take a while for everyone to find out the best way, and it is possible that your team members would prefer different communication styles. So stay open minded, and ask for their patience as you work this through. 

Remote or not, get on with it

Lastly, do not let remote work disrupt too much of the office traditions or the routines you and your team have. If you have a team lunch once a month, or have beer o’clock on Friday afternoon, keep that going. Set aside time for the team to dial in for a video conference to have that team lunch or those social drinks, even though it will be BYO, they will likely appreciate the opportunity to have some ‘normality’ in such a turbulent environment.

Being a global business with offices based in Australia, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal, the team here at Esendex are experienced in communicating with remote teams. If you need any help in this, please get in touch at 1300 764 946 or email us at [email protected], we’ll be able to share some stories and experiences for sure.  

Author Avatar
Prachi Bametha

Marketing Coordinator, Esendex Australia